Eminem may well be the most frustrating of music icons. We all know he’s a talented wordsmith — the way he manages to slice and dice the English language into new lyrical lava flows without even a high school education to work with; there’s no one in the industry who can rival him. We also know he’s capable of crafting some of the strongest rap tracks in the industry, leading both in front of the mic and behind the soundboard to create songs that resonate in their brutal honesty.
But he’s also incapable of self-editing. We’ve heard his life described in such overly wrought detail; he’s all but written a college dissertation on obsession, drug dependence, mysogyny, violence and mental illness. Through half a dozen studio albums we’ve been introduced first-hand to the fact that Marshall Mathers is capable of being introspective one minute and spiteful the next. And he’ll always turn in eighty minutes of detail when what we really want is just the best forty-five.
Relapse was the nadir, the most disgusting waste of musical talent this critic has ever had the displeasure of listening to. Eminem came back from the brink of death, personal and career-wise, and decided to assail our ears with a return to the days of ’90s horrorcore, and it failed miserably. Even his most ardent fans found it disposable at the very least. So he immediately scrapped plans for Relapse 2 and instead gives us this year’s most hyped rap album, Recovery, an album I’ve been looking forward to since the release of its first single, “Not Afraid,” which hinted at a new beginning for Mr. Mathers.
The result, rather than being a return to form, is an album which further splits the already schizoid personality of rap’s closest answer to Sybil. We get “Cold Wind Blows,” on which he raps of “show[ing] you who’s pussyfooting, I’ll kick a bitch in the cunt until it makes a queef and sounds like a fucking whoopie cushion,” only to later give us “Not Afraid,” which makes the case for his rise as “new Marshall,” redeemed and ready to save rap by having everyone follow him into a brand new world of peace, love and harmony.
I call bullshit on that.
I’ve been a fan of Eminem since his first album, and even then I could see he plays a dangerously disingenuous game with his constant tightrope walk to gain as many fans as possible. He has to keep his horrorcore fanbase, so he constantly retreads his hateful, bigoted, homophobic and anti-woman drivel on about half of each album, peppering each release with a few brilliantly invigorating tracks that assures the rest of us that he’s really enlightened, we’ve just got to keep listening for the punch line.
What Recovery shows is that there’s no going back. Eminem’s star rose in a unique moment when the music world was in the right place to put forward the most blunt songwriter our generation could offer up. He gave us everything we asked for, the freak show of all freak shows, and in the ensuing decade we’ve learned about as much about the inner-workings of his warped mind as may be humanly possible.
Now he’s approaching middle age and he refuses to grow an inch. He’ll sing of how much he loves his daughter, but how’s he going to explain the psychological warfare of “Kim?” Or if you want a more recent case, how can he pretend to be newly enlightened, ready to turn the page, when he raps on the same track as domestic violence victim Rihanna that “I love you too much to walk away … don’t you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk? Told you this is my fault, look me in the eyeball! Next time I’ll pistol-aim my fist at the drywall! Next time? There won’t be no next time! I apologize, even though I know it’s lies, I’m just tired of the games. I just want her back even though I know I’m a liar … if she ever tries to fucking leave again I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set this house on fire!”
When you get right down to it, Eminem becomes the ultimate hip-hop hypocrite, constantly alluding to a phoenix’s rise from the ashes of mediocrity only to constantly shit on our expectations by handing us drivel. We’re the ones who continue to lap up the waste year in and year out because we keep hoping he’ll bury a few more gems in the filth, while Eminem banks the rewards.
Recovery will make a lot of money and rocket its way to being one of this year’s biggest hits, that’s all but assured. But the album rewards no one in the long term, and it’s time to admit that just maybe Eminem’s got nothing left worth saying. Only then can we recover enough of our dignity to walk away from the chaos and move on to music written to enlighten rather than just to titillate.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.