My affinity for this record has never faded, back when I was a troubled teenager, as most teens typically are, this albums excessive out pour of frustration, anger and hopelessness was comforting as an emotional outlet. It was Eminem's major label debut and it broke through with a ton of controversy over its lyrical content loaded with vile language, violence and rape. Em's Slim Shady character took the musical world by the scruff of its neck as a breakout mainstream artist with alarming content. Although his Marshal Mathers persona would go on to take this even further, I have always adored this moment in his career for being closest to his troubled upbringing and failure as a rapper, which lead to a very unique form of inspiration.
This record is Em at his breaking point. Haunted by his past and unable to forge a future in his adored Hip Hop world, the Slim Shady character is a persona unable to take anything seriously, a self parody born of despair and frustration in his dreams to make it as a rapper. In the 90s no lables would take him seriously but thanks to the EP released two years prior, he caught the ear of Dr.Dre which landed him on Interscope Records. And so this record marks a moment we will never hear again, a young, desperately ambitious and energetic Em, foaming at the mouth with his opertunity to flip the middle finger back at the world that rejected him.
Obviously all the passion in the world would fall short without a sharp set of skills to express it and Em arrives unexpected as one of the keenest rhymers with an unrivaled technical prowess. With topics of self hatred, bullying and mental illness he turns Rap on its head, rhyming from the perspective of the victim as opposed to the all to common self affirming braggadocio the genre is drowning in. It was massively refreshing at the time yet smothered in controversy as Em expressed in through vivid violent lyricism striking out at almost everyone around, including himself of course.
That ability to turn it in on himself gives the record a subtle undercurrent of comedy rooted in self loathing that crops up all over the verses in brilliantly executed lines, one of my favorites "My mind wont work if my spine don't jerk". His talent is raw and powerful, illuminated by his use of conversational characters in songs like "Brain Damage" where his genius story telling walks us through the troubled tales of his bullied youth, intersecting the rhymes with sound affects and the voices of the people in his rhymes. It brings the words to life, the jump out of the song and paint a picture. His back and forth with Dr.Dre on "Guilty Conscience" another illuminated example of his brilliance and Em plays a devils voice whispering into the ears of characters in testing situations. "Just Don't Give A Fuck" gets a merit for its slew of disgusting rhymes taking aim at just about everyone. It includes the records best hook "So when you see me on block with two glocks, screaming fuck the world like 2Pac". Its loaded with smart rhyme schemes and tantalizing word play, including Em dissing the white rappers that came before him, he gets the names in so quick it can pass you by. Pete Nice, MC Serch, Milkbone, Everlast and Vanilla Ice get dropped in a couple of lines that flow swiftly from the talented delivery and unrivaled flow of Em.
Knowing every word of this record I could waffle on for hours about the topical schemes that come with every song on this record but to mention my favorites, "Role Model" has Em saying just about everything he shouldn't say as a potential role model for young people, of course its drenched in a critical, cynical sarcasm. "97' Bonnie & Clyde" tells a tale of Em taking his daughter in the car to dump his murdered wife in the lake. Its truly haunting, the sorrowful, gloomy instrumental paints an uncomfortable setting for Em talking to his infant daughter as they throw her body in the water for to nap in her "bed at the bottom of the lake". He is obviously venting his relationship troubles with Kim but the fantasy of him and his daughter disposing the body is alarming. Beyond the rhymes Em has the Bass Brothers at his side again, providing crisp and bold instrumentals with tight drum grooves that still sound ship sturdy to this day. The capture the mood and tone of Em perfectly with melodies that reflect the gloomy anger in his lyrics.
This record has undoubtedly been eclipsed by his follow up and Ive heard it talked about as a raw and unpolished precursor but Id have to disagree. I think this raw, of the moment Slim Shady is what makes this record everything it is, the frustrations and anger manifest into an endless string of genius rhymes draped in controversy and approaching a twenty year anniversary its rhymes still sound sharp, witty and potent. It has a few songs that fall behind the mark and sound a little aged but those are fantastic tracks among classics, which are mostly carried by Em alone who only has two guest rappers across the whole record. One of my all time favorites from the era where we form the strongest bonds with music.
Favorite Tracks: 97' Bonnie & Clyde, Role Model, My Fault, Ken Kaniff, Rock Bottom, Just Don't Give A Fuck, Still Don't Give A Fuck.