Eminem’s fourth studio album The Eminem Show came out on 28th May, 2002. It was the highest-selling album of the year in the United States.
At that time, I had just turned 11. I remember when my older brother got the album for his birthday he had the CD playing non-stop for weeks. Back then, my biggest idol was probably Britney Spears. I barely knew anything about this Eminem guy and I knew absolutely nothing about rap music. Yet I didn’t mind when my brother blasted The Eminem Show in our house until the songs became ingrained in my brain – in fact, I enjoyed every moment of it.
Listening to the album many years later, I can say that even though I’m an occasional rap listener at most, it is one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to. Indeed, The Eminem Show is often claimed to be one of Eminem’s greatest and most personal work, and it is not surprising why – it’s passionate, it’s provoking, it’s powerful. Eminem sits us down and tells us “It’s my turn to talk and you are going to hear what I have to say.”
The album starts out with a short skit Curtains Up that serves as an intro to White America, Em’s angry rant about government’s censorship of his music in fear that it would have a bad influence on American youths. Naturally, Eminem does not take kindly to these attacks and delivers his brutally honest response in fierce verses that leave no one untouched. Humorously though, he ends the song in a joking manner “Haha, I’m just playing, America. You know I love you.”
Business which was produced by Dr. Dre continues in slightly lighter tones by imagining Eminem and Dre as the hip-hop versions of Batman and Robin in the noble mission of ridding the world of talentless rap criminals. It’s confident and unapologetic.
But things get a lot more personal with Cleanin’ Out My Closet, one of Eminem’s highest-charting singles of his career, where Em pours in all his anger and resentment towards his drug-addicted mother Debbie as he reveals the scars of his childhood. The song is filled with sarcasm and raw angst, remaining as one of my all-time favourites from Eminem. Although, it’s worth mentioning that Eminem apologized to Debbie last month on Mother’s Day by releasing the music video for Headlights, expressing his regret over the harsh comments he has made about her parenting, particularly with Cleanin’ Out My Closet. It does serve as nice mature conclusion to the unresolved family drama that has lasted for decades.
Eminem addresses his long-time beef with Jamaican-American rapper Canibus in his next track titled Square Dance. It’s rather low-key for a diss-track, showing Em’s clear disinterest in the feud. However, the song is more intriguing as a political rant as it also tackles political issues and criticizes Bush’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the following three tracks The Kiss (skit), Soldier and Say Goodbye to Hollywood Eminem retells the events of his assault on a bouncer whom he had seen kissing his wife Kim. He talks about his legal troubles, bashing lawyers and judges, and about wanting to quit his career as a musician because fame makes him feel alienated from reality: “I sold my soul to the devil, I'll never get it back.”
Drips, in collaboration with Obie Trice, is extremely explicit (though, expectedly so considering the subject matter) as Eminem and Obie take turns to tell a story about a girl who gives them both STD. Perhaps not the most profound song from the album, but it serves as a proof that there isn’t anything Em is afraid to discuss in his music.
And then there’s Without Me which is pure genius (along with its absolutely hilarious music video). Eminem takes on the role of his alter ego Slim Shady and gives us the most addictive song from the album. It’s a wonderful example of Eminem’s talent of making jokes about himself and laughing along with us. Though he fearlessly ridicules pop artists, Em also doesn’t mind poking fun at his own image. But most of all, he recognizes his importance in the rap music scene, particularly because of his controversial statements that get everyone riled up. After all, it simply “feels so empty without him”.
Another skit follows titled Paul Rosenberg, where Eminem’s manager leaves a frustrated voicemail to Em because of a gun incident at the studio, telling him to leave his “fucking gun at home”.
Eminem reflects more on the destructive effect that fame has had on his family life in Sing for the Moment. The song beautifully incorporates a sample from Aerosmith’s Dream On, emphasising the power and influence of music. Eminem once again defends himself against accusations on his rap lyrics, claiming instead that his music offers hope for depressed youths.
Next up is Superman, featuring Dina Rae, which explores Eminem’s past relationships with women who were only after his money or fame. The message is misogynistic and, at times, the whole song comes across as rather disturbing. It was rumoured and later confirmed by Eminem that Superman was about his relationship with singer Mariah Carey, or to an extent at least.
Hailie’s Song, however, is another personal favourite of mine. The tough custody battle with Kim over their daughter serves as an inspiration for this tender and emotional tribute to daddy's little girl Hailie. Eminem sings more than he raps in the track, and although he doesn’t have the vocals of a singer, the refrain still has a unique memorable sound.
In Steve Berman skit, Eminem finally "snaps" and shoots the CEO of his record company, having heard enough criticism about his lyrics. Though ironically, the man was just about to praise Em's new album.
Eminem’s hip-hop group D12 is featured in When Music Stops, rappers taking turns to talk about their lives and how fame has changed them. But above all, the song is about differentiating music from reality and about the rappers’ responsibility towards their young fans.
The second and final diss-track from the album is Say What U Say by Eminem and Dre in response to Jermaine Dupri. As I feel rather unresponsive towards diss-tracks in general and because it simply doesn’t hook me, it’s my least favourite song from the album.
Fortunately, the intense verses of Til I Collapse (featuring Nate Dogg) wake me up right after. In this track, Eminem raps about the rap music scene that is flooded with popular but uncreative rappers.
Eminem ends the album ever so gloriously with the playful but bat-guano-bonkers My Dad’s Gone Crazy. Inspired by Hailie playing with the mic in daddy’s studio, the song begins with Eminem snorting cocaine and Hailie unexpectedly walking in on him. The contrast between Hailie’s adorable yelps in the chorus and Eminem’s effortless but awfully obscene raps is both disturbing and humorous, yet oddly compelling nonetheless.
And finally the Curtains Close as another one of Eminem’s alter egos, homosexual Ken Kaniff steps on the stage to deliver the last lines of The Eminem Show:
“Is this thing on?
Where'd everybody go?
Guess who's back?
Ken is back, tell some…men
Rub my back, rub my back, rub my back, rub my back…