Eminem: A Decline in Criticism

Laser Time, Marshall Mathers, Eninem, Slim Shady LP, Marshall Mathers LP

Seven solo albums, a Wikipedia page devoted solely to the awards he’s won, a movie loosely based on his life, an Oscar, the death of a close friend, and a drug addiction. All of these accolades and struggles mark the professional career of Marshall Mathers.

Whether you love or hate him, you know his music. Eminem is unquestionably one of the most important pop culture figures of the early 21st century. He attracted so much frenzied media attention for such a wide breadth of reasons: prejudiced content, violent lyrics, and simply being a white rapper. But he also pissed people off for another reason, and it’s a reason that makes his first albums resonate a decade past their releases.

Eminem used to be one of the most incisive political and social critics in popular art.

Laser Time, Marshall Mathers, Eninem, Slim Shady LP, Marshall Mathers LP
Eminem post-addiction, post-obesity, and pre-resurgence.

In “Role Model,”off of his first studio album The Slim Shady LP, he foresees his own role as an alleged role model for fans and criticizes himself as an unsuitable example for kids: “I been with 10 women who got HIV/Now don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me?” he yells sarcastically.

He deals more media and social criticism in his next album, The Marshall Mathers LP. On “Who Knew,” he blames parents for not raising their children right: “Don’t blame me when little Eric jumps off of the terrace/you shoulda been watchin him/apparently you ain’t parents.” It’s harsh and almost cruel, but the message is on point.

Gaming fans can attest to that. Eminem found himself in the same shit-storm the games industry finds itself in on a regular basis, but on a more personal level. And he found another target: parents who relied on entertainment to raise their kids. He had a finger pointed at him and turned it back, asking tough questions that weren’t getting asked.

I’m like, “Guidance – ain’t they got the same moms and dads

who got mad when I asked if they liked violence?”

And told me that my tape taught ’em to swear

What about the make-up you allow your 12-year-old daughter to wear?

By ruthlessly turning the mirror back on his critics, Mathers turned himself into a critic of American culture at large. He used his medium to convey a message about how hypocritical, negligent, and falsely self-righteous we can be. He could be funny, outrageous, vulgar, sincere, and brutally and uncomfortably right. Sometimes all at once. He was pretty much the George Carlin of rap.

Laser Time, Marshall Mathers, Eninem, Slim Shady LP, Marshall Mathers LP
Arguably his crown jewel, and his most controversial album.

Unfortunately, there’s none of that social criticism in his music anymore. The vocabulary, lyricism, and skill are all there, but what makes those first albums really special isn’t to be found.

Laser Time, Marshall Mathers, Eninem, Slim Shady LP, Marshall Mathers LP
Off drugs, but still out of his mind.

Change is not inherently a bad thing; the ability to adapt to new times and revitalize yourself is an important aspect of any artist. But change should never mean stripping away essential elements of one’s art that made it so impactful in the first place. Look to Eminem’s “Rap God” for that. He left the social criticism but kept wordplay and gay bashing.

And despite these issues, he’s still good. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 contains some of his most profound growth as an artist and isn’t just a cash-grab sequel like I initially feared. He calls back to his old work to criticize himself and his fans while continuing that endless soul search that has become the only dimension of his raps.

His music now takes one form: introversion. I admire the quality–it takes more guts than most of us can fathom to be so open about one’s issues. He always put all of himself on record, warts and all, exposing his misfortunes and anxieties to the world.

Eminem’s music used to be about so many things besides him. Now it’s just about him. But I guess I’ll take an average Eminem album over most “great” albums.

Article by contributor Michael Jones.

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8 thoughts on “Eminem: A Decline in Criticism

  1. Wow, this is the last thing I was expecting to be on Lasertime, but it’s still a great article! Honestly, I’m a big fan of Eminem, but I never listened to some of his deeper cuts. This makes me have more respect for the man and makes me want to listen to more of his songs. I hope that some day he will finally make peace with whatever inner demons he’s still fighting.

  2. Interesting read. I liked it. I’ve been listening to the Marshall Mathers LP lately and i was amazed as to how well it holds up.

  3. At least he’s not totally fixated on his parents and daughters anymore. We get it, your mom sucked as a parent, your dad ran out and it’s hard being a good father when you’re a world-famous rap star. There was a good 8 years of that.

  4. I think the lack of scathing criticism to society or others is less because of Eminem himself, and more because how much society’s mindset has shifted in the last decade. People in general have become more open minded and tolerant of others in theory, but they have also become less and less tolerant of any kind of criticism that attacks what they view are their lifestyles. Society is developing more and more a “Let me live my life however I want, and I’ll let you live however you want” mindset, and as such, find any kind of critic or insult to how they live something offensive, and something they definitely don’t want to listen to.

    With Eminem, notice how a parody song in which he insulted and made fun of celebrities was almost customary in his albums, but even those are gone from his last 2 ones. (I could be wrong though, I haven’t listened to them in full.) And even though it’s clear to me that those songs aren’t meant to be taken seriously, do you think society today would welcome them like they once did with “The real slim shady” or “Without me”?

    And I mean, not just with Eminem, I think you can see this in almost all media, including this network’s shows. Back in the TalkRadar days, Chris and company were far more irreverent with their humor and commentaries, and nowadays they seem to have to tiptoe around more and more things lest people get offended.

    1. You bring up some good counter points, but whenever I think back and compare how TalkRadar and LaserTime are different I figure it more has to do with a hunger and rebellion. They were out to prove something and were part of a big cooperation that could be raged against, but at the same time it gave them credibility in the industry. With LaserTime its all in their hands and being offensive or insulting would just be another free voice putting more ugliness out on the internet.

      But is it like a snake shoving itself up its own ass to examine the culture of podcasts, a medium built out of examining culture?

      1. But see… that’s the thing, even back in the Talkradar days, I wouldn’t say that they were putting ugliness or anything like that, even when they did anything “offensive” it was usually just to be funny, and not really to attack or oppress anybody. And most reasonable people could see it as such. Same with a lot of comedies and movies of old, that were way more risky with the stuff they set out to do.

        I agree that attacking and/or others for the sake of oppressing or making yourself feel superior sucks and that shit definitely should go away. At the same time, I also feel like sometimes people nowadays even look excuses to get offended and immediately get outraged. Both extremes are lamentable, methinks.

        Back on the topic at hand, a lot of what Eminem did in his earlier songs was offensive, sure, but a lot of it was also incisive and had a reason to it. Calling out when people acted hypocritical or stupid isn’t something I’d consider to be a bad thing. Yet once again, in today’s current climate, even doing that would be considered unwelcome and crossing a line.

  5. As long as he doesn’t change his name to “Slim Lion” and start making reggae music im still on board with Eminem. Great article Sir!

  6. I enjoyed this article. Mostly my problem with Em nowadays is the fact that he’s not talking about himself in the right way. The lack of social commentary is part of it, but I felt like all of that was mostly just retaliation from people ridiculing him, not just the media and parents, but other rappers taking shots at him. Eminem started as a battle rapper and it shows with how prone to confrontation he is and how many rappers he’s had “beef” with in the past. Back then his maniacal lunatic persona fit well with seeming like a legitimate public enemy. Now, he’s much more of an accepted figure and doesn’t really have many people daring to target him anymore.

    Without having that image to him anymore, and the fact that he seems a lot less like an emotionally unstable wreck, makes a lot of his new songs feel less impactful. I mean, Asshole from MMLP 2 could have had the same power as Marshal Mathers on MMLP 1, but in the latter he mentioned something specific in every verse, whether it be his less-than-positive feelings on pop music or his hatred for ICP. Asshole just had a bunch of alright punchlines, which is still entertaining, but just not as interesting. There was a brief aside about Asher Roth, but that’s it. There’s also the fact that I really don’t care for his production and he’s become so obsessed with technical ability that he’s lost all the charm in his flow and delivery, but that’s neither here nor there.

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