“He has written the world one very long autobiographical essay and we love it,” is what producer and recording artist Pharrell Williams once said about the iconic rapper. And it’s an essay that’s still being written today as Marshall Mathers is in the full swing of what I like to call the “Legend era” of his career. After almost twenty years since The Slim Shady EP dropped, the tape that made him the hottest free agent in the underground hip hop scene which led to him being discovered by Dr Dre and Interscope records, Eminem has raised the bar and push the envelope of every facet of the art form of rap while simultaneously achieving critical acclaim and becoming the most successful crossover act that the genre has ever seen. All this while making music that contains so much transparency that it took self deprecating and getting personal in hip hop to another level. Sure rappers before Eminem got personal, emotional, and talked about their pain at times, but when Mathers did it…he gave you a name, face, even the time and place despite the fact that it resulted in many law suits. But you can bet that the rappers that came after him took a page from his book on exposing your problems and skeletons in your closet to the world. From Kanye West to Kendrick Lamar to J Cole and Chance The Rapper and so on. Hell even artists such as Usher were inspired by the honesty and emotion with The Eminem Show having and influence on albums like Confessions.
Now the landscape of music has changed an the industry as well. It’s a constant change. You would think for an artist like Eminem who’s had this long of a career and success that the next decision would be to take it easy and hit cruise control. Maybe focus more on the brand and becoming more of a celebrity personality like most other seasoned veteran rappers who’ve experienced success in the past do, such as reality TV and what not. Now when most of these prominent rappers of today say that they have an album coming they’ll usually go on about how they’ve “returned” or are “back” in the studio, a return to music. But here’s the thing about Eminem when he’s got an album on the way…he never left. He’s always been about the music and his craft. Treating the studio like it’s a full time nine to five job. Many producers and engineers can confirm this. Even when no album or music is on the way he constantly continues to sharpen his lyrical arsenal and writing while still managing to be one of the few major stars left in the music industry that still has a certain mystique about himself, meaning he’s not one that you can easily reach out and touch, see in public, or overtly shows and exposes himself on social media. Most other stars in music who were like this are dead (Michael Jackson, Prince, etc). Now as I mentioned earlier, Mathers continues to add to his autobiographical essay. After his four year hitaus, the albums Relapse (2009) and Recovery (2010) showed his struggle, battle, defeat, but eventual victory over drug addiction. When you listen to Relapse’s Deja Vu followed by Recovery’s Going Through Changes, it really paints the full picture and shows the ideology of both an addict and someone who was fresh into their sobriety. Eminem’s entire catalog so far does a pretty good job of showing all the ups and downs of his life. The anger, frustrations, heartbreak, paranoia, and to be quite honest, most of the feelings and emotions men experience in life. Then there’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013) which saw him revisit themes of the first LP to tie up loose ends and display self awareness of where he was with his career at that time and what others were saying about him. I do believe this is one album that will contribute to his legacy in a positive way. Take a minute to marvel at the fact that a rappper in his forties was able to craft and album like that. Where lyrical dexterity and rap athleticism are on full display while weaving together stories and narratives that make sense through clear enunciation despite the fact that he bends and contorts words and vowels in so many ways.
So here we are in 2017 and what’s next? Well the political climate and discourse in America seems to have gotten pretty extreme and hostile due to the recent election and Mathers himself has also been pretty vocal of it. Starting with Campaign Speech freestyle in October of 2016 in which he also revealed that he’s been working on a new album, he takes aim at Donald Trump and other political known affiliates, he does this again on Big Sean’s 2017 No Favors song. It looks like we can maybe expect an Eminem similar to the one who launched verbal assaults at the Bush Administration in the early 2000s. By the way, for him to say what he said on songs like White America and Square Dance along with that 911 reference on the third verse of My Dad’s Gone Crazy in a post 911 America after the attacks had just happened a few months earlier and the government was super sensitive about all speech…gives The Eminem Show an underrated level of controversy. Now another reason why I think Mathers next album will have some social commentary on the recent events is because of what he said on the intro of fellow rapper Crooked I’s song Welcome To Planet X off of Crooked’s 2016 album Good VS Evil. “I live in a world that’s different than your world. Your world still believes in things like free speech and democracy. Those things don’t exist in my world anymore…welcome to my world. Welcome to planet X motherfucker” is what Mathers says on this haunting intro here
Sounds like some pretty serious stuff. Now as a long time fan of Eminem, it’s what he said in a town hall meeting with interviewer Sway on Shade 45 in 2013 that’s gotten me more infatuated with him in recent years than ever before. He said “One day I wanna be able to master the genre of hip hop. Just do every style of rap, every beat that you could possibly make…my vision is that.” Here’s the interview, skip to the 36:50 mark to hear it
I don’t know how he’s been doing on the producing side of things but he’s definitely been experimenting with the rap aspect of the music. Since saying that statement he’s been experimenting with flows, delivery, and rhymes in a capella freestyles. No beat allows for more freedom, you can rap however you want. Here’s a set of freestyle performances he’s done from 2013–2015
2015 Sway in the morning Shade 45
2015 D12 Devil’s Night mixtape intro freestyle
After listening to those performances, there’s no doubt that the first hip hop artist to win an Academy award was a battle rapper! There’s a line that Mathers says on Big Sean’s No Favors song…”Hundred pound pistol, pull the trigger and this gun’ll sound and you’ll get a round like Digital Underground!” Now that might be the most Smack/URL battle rap bar that I’ve heard him say so far! That line and these freestyles are more than enough proof to show that Eminem is a huge fan a today’s battle rap scene, he’s stated that himself as well and it looks like it’s been influence his rapping as well. He’s and avid fan and watcher, which leads me to my last point.
Eminem is a competitive emcee and he has said many times that he pays attention to what’s going on in hip hop and what the other elite emcees are up to. Great rappers push and motivate each other and so for the last two years now, Mr Mathers has been watching his partner in rhyme in Royce Da 5'9 obliterate mics with his Layers album (2016) and The Bar Exam 4 (2017). He’s also been seeing Kendrick Lamar annihilate verses on his DAMN album (2017) and Jay Z ignite the flame once again on his recent album 4:44. I get excited for the album when I hear these projects because it will surely make him step his game and show us what he can do. Eminem was also a fan of 2 Chainz latest album Pretty Girls Like Trap Music. When you hear the beat to the first track, Saturday Night, one can see why.
Some don’t want an Eminem album. That’s fine, I don’t care. I don’t care if the roll out will be better than Jay’s 4:44, I don’t care how much it will sell or what the streaming numbers will look like, and I certainly don’t care what somebody who works for a major hip hop news/media outlet will have to say about the album. Whatever writers, journalist, and curators say about it, I just don’t fucking care. Same goes to any pop culture critic that’ll way in. I’m excited that we will be getting a new chapter, a new book, a new issue, in this mans story. Another page added to the autobiographical essay. Some think Eminem’s music is outdated. The only think outdated about Eminem in 2017 are the people who still think he’s homophobic or a misogynist. The current hot topic of discussion in hip hop media right now is the violence against women and gays that these newer current rappers like XXXTentacion and Lil Uzi Vert have exhibited. Say what you want about Eminem’s lyrics but they are all tongue and cheek. He never beat or assaulted a women or gay person like these guys or Chris Brown, never exhibited predatory actions like R. Kelly, never made a female reporter cry like the Beastie Boys did back in the 80s or did an extremely homophobic song like A Tribe Called Quest’s Georgie Porgie. Mathers even helped Marilyn Manson’s career by helping him get cleared of those accusations of his music being responsible for horrific events like the Columbine shooting by defending him in songs and interviews. And I must say it’s quite interesting that Eminem could be the reason why more and more prominent rappers are coming out and declaring their sobriety and no more drug use ever since the Recovery era. Mac Miller, Kid Cudi, and others come to mind. This all happening while you rappers today talking about popping pills and doing drugs that Eminem already rapped about back then. I wonder what he thinks of all this? And of course there’s the whole fatherhood in hip hop and how it’s viewed now. More and more are coming out and doing songs about how much they love their kids and even putting them on songs. Yes you had rap songs in the past before Eminem that talked about parenthood but it was more so a call to action like Ed OG’s Be a Father to Your Child record. Nobody was putting their kids on tracks with them and talking about them like Eminem was. 97 Bonnie & Clyde, Hailie’s Song, My Dad’s Gone Crazy, Mockingbird, When I’m Gone are all proof of this.
So anyways that’s what I think. I’m not sure how this next album will sound like since Eminem always changes his sound from album to album. He’s experimental and can’t really be placed in any traditional rap category. And he’s a lot less problematic than most other music artist. He’s also one of the few stars in the history of pop culture who beat the dark side of fame. We will never know what could have been with the many actors and musicians who died tragic deaths whether it be to overdose or suicide. So many on that list but there is one who hit rock bottom, beat death twice, but found his way back to the top and we get to see what’s to come of him next, it’s quite the privilege. He’s proven himself through his craft time and time again. His spot is forever reserved as he once put it. Now let’s sit back and watch this creature evolve into it’s next form.