Eminem: Beyond the Encore, Part III


Whoops, that should’ve read “nigga”. For better or for worse, the word has become commonplace in rap culture and comes with a litany of unwritten rules regarding its usage.

Hip Hop’s Head Nigg”¦uh, “HNICs” for 2001 were Jay-Z and Nas. Theirs was a beef played out back and forth on wax and resulted in each man raising his game to another level. Unwittingly, Eminem played a powerful part in the process.

He and Jay-Z teamed up on the track Renegade, from The Blueprint CD and the streets were in agreement: the legendary Jay-Z had been outdone on his own album. By now, everyone was following the phenomenon. And, even those who were riding it seemed to get run over by it, given enough time.

Even the bootleggers, file sharers and downloaders were no match for the might of Marshall. With reports circulating that copies of Eminem’s third album were already hitting the streets in advance of the CD’s summer release, his record label moved up the street date and included one of those unremarkable “limited edition” DVDs with the first run.

With nothing but word-of-mouth to fuel the fire, The Eminem Show sold nearly 300,000 copies in about 3 ½ days, before totaling 1.3 million in units sold for its first official full week.

In many ways, it would be his finest work to date. His monotonous and unpolished production style took several steps forward. His lyrical salvos were sharpened and included a more refined focus. This would be the album that would cement his name and status on the streets and keep his on the cover of Tiger Beat.

And, it was an excellent album. The only problem was”¦Eminem knew it.

White America“¦Now, this is what the over hyped Mosh single wishes it could be. Em dissects his own popularity, as well as an honest assessment of the role his race played in achieving that fame. The highpoint, however, is the double standard he exposes regarding the roots of much of the anti-rap backlash.

Hip-Hop was never a problem in Harlem only in Boston
After it bothered the fathers of daughters startin’ to blossom

Business“¦Dr. Dre makes his first appearance here with a beat that plays as an obvious nod to the cheesy superhero shows of the ’60s. And, it actually works, too. Lyrically, it could’ve just been one of those “how great I am” anthems, but Em spits with a style that sounds equal parts polished and unrefined.

Ease over these beats and be so breezy
Jesus how can shit be so easy?
How can one Chandra be so Levy?
Turn on these beats, MC’s don’t see me

Cleanin’ Out My Closet“¦The controversial virtual sh*t on Em’s own mother, it builds a simmering rage through each verse until boiling over at the end. The track is built on the strength of Jeff Bass’ guitar and keyboard work as, combined, the two work well at juxtaposing Eminem’s seething and sadness.

But put yourself in my position/just try to envision
witnessin’ your momma poppin’ prescription pills in the kitchen
Bitchin’ that someone’s always goin’ through her purse and shit’s missin’
Goin through public housing systems, victim of Munchausen’s Syndrome

Square Dance“¦This one’s a song that seems uncertain of what it wants to be. Em drops a few bars with political undertones, then veers into a diss of battle rapper Canibus. By the third verse, it’s completely falls apart under the weight of Eminem’s own bravado. The annoying intro and outro don’t help, either.

All this terror, America demands action
Next thing you know, you’ve got Uncle Sam’s ass askin’
to join the Army or what you’ll do for their Navy
You just a baby, gettin recruited at eighteen

Soldier“¦On the one hand, the high-speed beat and Em’s restrained ranting mesh very well. Unfortunately, the subject matter (to say nothing of the ridiculous hook) are as clichéd as commercial rap gets. Next to “thug” (which Em also uses judiciously here) there might not be a more overused word in the genre than the title of this one. And how many “soldiers” boast about their legal team?

I’m a soldier, these shoulders hold up so much
They won’t budge, I’ll never fall or fold up
I’m a soldier, even if my collarbones crush
or crumble, I will never slip or stumble

Say Goodbye to Hollywood “¦Continuing an ongoing theme for Eminem, circa 2000-2002, he goes off on how fame and notoriety aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The real-life retelling of his gun possession charge and accompanying baby mama drama already sound dated. Still, this one’s held together by Em’s surprising sincerity, as one almost believes he’d be willing to trade it all away for a little anonymity. Almost.

This is wack, this is more than I ever coulda asked
Everywhere I go, a hat, a sweater hood or mask
What about math, how come I wasn’t ever good at that?
It’s like the boy in the bubble, who never could adapt

Drips“¦There just aren’t enough tracks about STDs anymore. And that’s probably because Ice Cube covered this ground nearly 15 years ago with Look Who’s Burning. We should’ve stopped there. Obie Trice managed to recover from his guest spot on this one, but the verses are married to a meandering beat that goes nowhere. One of Em’s worst ever efforts.

So you jet back home, because you gonna get that ho
When you see her, you gonna bend her f*ckin neck back, yo

Without Me“¦Arguably, Em’s most successful “first single” to date. You know the formula: silly, ridiculous and catchy as hell. Obnoxiousness never sounded so good, as Em’s ego stroking is, in reality, one giant wink to his critics and detractors. The “Elvis” reference at the end was pretty ballsy and one he probably wouldn’t make today.

So the FCC won’t let me be
or let me be me, so let me see
They try to shut me down on MTV
But it feels so empty, without me

Sing For The Moment“¦It almost sounds like the first cut at his own mega-hit Lose Yourself. This one’s certainly earnest enough, but the shameless Dream On sample undermines everything at the first note. That’s really a shame, because Joe Perry’s guitars and Em’s slow burn on the mic deserved better than what amounts to the karaoke treatment.

And maybe they’ll admit it when we’re gone, just let our spirits live on
through our lyrics that you hear in our songs and we can…

Superman“¦This one’s probably more notable for its explicit video than for its actual content. Em’s celebrating his emancipation from his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Kim and spends a few minutes tearing down gold digging groupies. It also might be the first time that Mariah Carey was ever dissed on wax, as well.

First off you don’t know Marshall
at all so don’t grow partial
That’s ammo for my arsenal
I’ll slap you off that bar stool

Hailie’s Song“¦Eminem sings! OK”¦it’s not really “singing”, but it’s dedicated to his daughter, so we’ll cut him some slack. He goes back to his usual flow in the final verse and damned if the whole thing doesn’t”¦well, let’s be charitable and call it “listenable”.

Now look, I love my daughter more than life in itself
but I got a wife that’s determined to make my life livin’ hell
But I handle it well, given the circumstances I’m dealt

When The Music Stops“¦The obligatory posse cut, with D-12 in the role of “other rappers”. It’s actually one of their better cuts together as Em is absolutely feeling it over an understated beat and the Dirty Dozen’s undeniable chemistry is on full display. Sure, the subject matter isn’t anything you haven’t heard (guns this, guns that) before, but what else can these guys spit about?

If I were to die, murdered in cold blood tomorrow
Would you feel sorrow or show love, or would it matter?

Say What You Say“¦The Doctor has a pulse, after all. Dre drops his second beat on the album and it’s a hot one. And, amazingly, D-R-E kicks some absolutely crazy lyrical work, for good measure (OK, for him). Maybe it was the ill-fated and one-sided Jermaine Dupri feud, but both Em and Dre seemed especially inspired here.

And it’s back and forth all day like Red and Meth
I joke when I say I’m best
in the booth, but a lot of truth is said in jest

Till I Collapse“¦Eminem tag teams with Nate Dogg and the results are probably the highlight of the album. Nate provides the perfect buffer between the reemergence of “angry” Em, even though the beat does sound a little too much like We Will Rock You. Introspective and effective.

Music is like magic, there’s a certain feelin’ you get
when you real and you spit and people are feelin’ your shit

My Dad’s Gone Crazy“¦An Eminem duet with his daughter? This one’s absolutely an acquired taste, but is a good way to wrap things up. Of course, all of Em’s boasts would come back to bite him in the ass a few months later, but there are a few hints of humility in here and

And it’s back and forth all day like Red and Meth
I joke when I say I’m best
in the booth, but a lot of truth is said in jest

The long-since irrelevant rap magazine The Source gave the album a rating of four out of five and enticed readers to read the review by splashing one of Em’s lyrics about “five mics in The Source?” on its cover.

Eminem immediately went on the offensive and began telling anyone who would listen that The Eminem Show was a masterpiece and anyone who didn’t agree was”¦

Well, it really doesn’t matter what he said, since the ending of that sentence seemed to change with whatever drive time DJ was putting a mic in front of him that day. The point is, Em was feeding into his own image and internalizing”¦personalizing every increasing criticism.

Reports had already surfaced from the set of his soon-to-be released movie 8 Mile. Em had never really been “directed” before (and, seriously, no one would ever compare a music video to a big budget studio movie) with rumors that he had butted heads with director Curtis Hanson and several co-stars.

The magazine flap turned into a war of words between Em and little-known, middle-aged Ray “Benzino” Scott, who co-owned The Source and rapped in his spare time, of which he seemed to have plenty. And while, Scott was obviously overmatched on the microphone, he did have the highest-selling Hip Hop magazine in his back pocket.

8 Mile was released nationwide on November 8, 2002. While Em would be the first to tell you that the writers played fast and loose with some of the facts, the semi-autobiography climaxed with Eminem destroying several African-American rappers in a series of “battles”.

The oft-inspirational tale of the weaker minority succeeding and winning over the dominant majority had been flipped and, true or not, the streets weren’t happy.

Benzino pounced on this backlash and immediately spun their battle into the tried-and-true Black and White issue. Never mind that Scott is half-Italian, his magazine would devote several months worth of issues to editorializing on Eminem and his “exploitation” of Black culture.

Meanwhile, Eminem was winning an Academy Award for his amazing work on Lose Yourself. An Oscar”¦for a rapper? Hell, forget about that”¦he was getting credited for “transcending” rap. His Award was offered up as “proof” that the genre can inspire others. And, never once did Eminem disagree.

But, there were other rappers who came before Eminem who certainly inspired, right? And how can someone be silent while the rap game is derisively marginalized, as if transcending it is a good thing? With the world at his feet and the cameras in his face, Em could’ve brought some sanity back to the scene with a few words that explained the game for those who had no clue.

Instead, his old friend Benzino returned with a long lost tape of words”¦on Eminem’s behalf:

All the girls I like to bone have big butts /
No they don’t, ’cause I don’t like that nigger shit /
I’m just here to make a bigger hit
“¦Eminem, circa 1993

Encore, Eminem’s fourth LP, is scheduled to hit shelves on November 16.