July 6, 2022

In the summertime of 2000, a mentally disturbed, gleefully transgressive white man turned the preferred rapper of all time. Eminem was already a star earlier than he launched The Marshall Mathers LP, and he spent a lot of the album wrestling with the implications of that stardom, however that stardom had nothing on what was about to comply with. The Marshall Mathers LP turned one thing greater than an album. It was a cultural phenomenon, an issue to be solved. The Marshall Mathers LP bought 2 million copies in its first week. Inside a 12 months, it was diamond. It’s nonetheless the biggest-selling rap album of all time. Its edgelord lyrics catalyzed dinner-table fights and Senate hearings. No person knew make sense of what occurred with The Marshall Mathers LP, least of all Eminem himself. However he tried.

Two years after The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem launched The Eminem Present, the album the place he tried to grapple with what had occurred in his life, and by extension society typically, within the brief time that he’d been galactically well-known. The starvation for The Eminem Present was so nice that it threw the complete music enterprise into chaos. The Eminem Present leaked early, and shock jocks Opie and Anthony performed the entire LP on their radio present weeks earlier than it was supposed to return out. So Interscope scrambled, getting The Eminem Present into shops on a Sunday, though that wasn’t a conventional record-release day. That Sunday was 20 years in the past immediately.

Eminem had devoted his first two major-label albums to his bloodthirsty alter-ego and his authorities identify, so the title of The Eminem Present was a departure. The album had a unfastened theme of present enterprise — the curtains rising on the intro, the mostly-bare stage on the duvet. Eminem bought that title from a line on “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” the track the place he frantically ripped into his personal ex-wife and mom in a approach that was clearly and pointedly not a joke. The road is that this: “What I did was silly, little question it was dumb/ However the smartest shit I did was take the bullets out of that gun/ ‘Trigger I’da killed ’em — shit, I woulda shot Kim and him each/ It’s my life, I’d prefer to welcome y’all to the Eminem present.” A 12 months earlier, Em had been sentenced to probation for pistol-whipping a nightclub bouncer who he’d seen kissing his then-wife. Eminem knew that we’d know what he was speaking about on that line. His life had been chaotic, however now the chaos was unfolding in full view of the general public.

Looking back, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” is a captivating snapshot of what was occurring with Eminem on the time. Em wasn’t the primary rapper whose personal life was public information, however a determine like Tupac Shakur was very completely different. Pac’s brief, intense life was the stuff of a Nice American Novel. Eminem, in contrast, was just a few man. In a special actuality, his deeply unhealthy romantic life may’ve landed him on Jerry Springer. In our world, the general public consumed Em’s numerous home disputes like they had been Buddies plotlines. This was new. Em’s raw-nerve rap fashion helped make him well-known, and he wasn’t able to take care of what got here out of that fame. So Em ended up lashing out brutally at his mom — “Hailie’s gettin’ so huge now, it’s best to see her, she’s lovely/ However you’ll by no means see her, she gained’t even be at your funeral” — on a track that went to #4 on the pop charts.

At the moment, that’s regular. We all know altogether an excessive amount of about what’s occurring with Drake and Kanye West. In a time earlier than social media, although, Eminem’s entire narrative was the stuff of tabloids, and he may solely body his personal story by rapping about it. So he did. Rather a lot. An excessive amount of, in all probability. A part of the Eminem gross sales pitch, from the very starting, was that he had no filter. On The Slim Shady LP, Em mentioned a complete lot of loopy, baroquely offensive issues, and far of it landed like South Park. The worth was the shock; you simply couldn’t consider somebody mentioned that shit. On The Eminem Present, Em tried to reckon with the consequences of all that self-disclosure, to impose some intention on all that chaos, and he nonetheless ended up telling his mom that he’s lifeless to her on a track that was in fixed pop-radio rotation. Eminem was too compelling for his personal good, and he knew it.

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Eminem additionally knew why he was so compelling, and that’s throughout The Eminem Present, too. Eminem got here alongside almost a decade after white rappers had been basically laughed out of the business, and his race was an enormous think about his rise. Whether or not they knew it or not, thousands and thousands of white youngsters had been ready for a white rapper who wasn’t embarrassing. (The Beastie Boys had been on the market, however folks barely thought of them a rap group after Test Your Head. Past them, you’d should dig into the backpack underground to search out any crackers who bought any respect within the late ’90s.)

On “White America,” the primary track on The Eminem Present, Em explains precisely why he’d come into such a place of prominence: “Have a look at these eyes — child blue, child, similar to your self/ In the event that they had been brown, Shady’d lose, Shady sits on the shelf/ However Shady’s cute, Shady knew Shady’s dimples would assist/ Make women swoon, child — ooh child — Have a look at my gross sales!” Then he simply comes out and mentioned it: “Let’s do the mathematics: If I used to be Black, I’d’ve bought half/ I ain’t should graduate from Lincoln Excessive Faculty to know that.”

With these strains, Eminem was telling us issues that we already knew. (If something, he was underselling issues; a Black Eminem wouldn’t have bought wherever close to half as many information because the white Eminem did.) However it was notable that Eminem knew that — that he had some grasp of the pernicious societal forces who had pushed him to such insane fame-levels. Nonetheless, Eminem may solely perceive that stuff via the prism of his personal persecution. Eminem believed that he was continuously below assault, that he was public enemy primary for the mother and father of America, that he was essentially the most hated particular person on the earth. Perhaps he was proper. However you don’t should be a licensed therapist to listen to Eminem making use of the circumstances of his fucked-up upbringing to the brand new actuality of his overwhelming success. Eminem wasn’t simply hated; he was beloved, too. On The Eminem Present, he appeared to treat his followers and his opponents with equal ranges of suspicion.

“With out Me,” the lead single from The Eminem Present, was a purple herring — one of many few moments on the album the place Em seemed like he was having enjoyable rapping. The homophobic taunting on the track has aged horribly, but it surely’s nonetheless humorous that Eminem crowed about “no person listens to techno” on a janky self-produced cartoon-disco beat that was no less than 75% techno. (Em had rapped about going to raves on The Slim Shady LP; “With out Me” is what that hath wrought.) Within the days earlier than The Eminem Present got here out, I spent hours on a highway journey with my little brother the place we had been frantically scanning via stations, making an attempt to listen to “With out Me” as many instances as we may. We heard it so much, and we cheered each time it got here on once more. The track is usually euphoric rap-virtuoso gibberish, strains that may infest in your ears and nest. When issues get too quiet, my mind will generally nonetheless repeat “I been dope, suspenseful with a pencil ever since Prince turned himself into a logo” on a continuing maddening loop.

That playfulness extends to the video, the place Em lampoons the nascent reality-TV industrial advanced and licks an enormous turd. However even on “With out Me,” Em interrogates his unusual new place on the earth: “Although I’m not the primary king of controversy, I’m the worst factor since Elvis Presley/ To do Black music so selfishly and use it to get myself rich!/ Hey, there’s an idea that works!/ Twenty million different white rappers emerge!” Elvis comes up a few instances: “Little hellions, youngsters feeling rebellious/ Embarrassed their mother and father nonetheless hearken to Elvis/ They begin feeling like prisoners, helpless/ Until somebody comes alongside on a mission and yells ‘bitch!’” Within the video, Em performs off the fears that he would possibly grow to be an Elvis determine in rap, dressing up in a late-’70s Presley fats swimsuit and consuming a sandwich that he’s stashed in a bathroom. At the moment, we’re about to listen to the track that Em made for the brand new Elvis-biopic soundtrack. Perhaps that was inevitable, or perhaps Eminem continues to be trolling us. He was proper, anyway; 20 million different white rappers did emerge.

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The principle plot of the “With out Me” video, if such a factor might be mentioned to exist, includes Eminem dressing up like Robin and heading out with Dr. Dre to struggle crime. On the finish, we see the crime that they’re after: Somewhat child listening to an uncensored copy of The Eminem Present. It should’ve been a complete headfuck for Em to appreciate that he was mainly a reprobate youngsters’s entertainer, however that’s the place Em discovered himself: “I’m going on TRL, look what number of hugs I get.” Regardless of no matter he might have wished or meant, Eminem had joined the pop-music firmament. Em had spent his early profession combating for respect as a rapper. As soon as he reached a sure level, his still-staggering rap expertise had been nearly irrelevant.

He may nonetheless rap, although. There’s dizzy, twisty, linguistically lovely writing throughout The Eminem Present. If Eminem’s fame was an annoyance, the pure artwork of rapping nonetheless him. He put all his talents on show: stacked-up inner rhymes, fast-bounce cadences, sneaky little hooks. On The Eminem Present, Em was assured sufficient in his rap talents to choose a few inscrutable fights with Canibus, though he presumably knew full properly that Canibus was an animal with a mechanical mandible coming to wreck you. At one level, Em lists off all his favourite rappers, and he contains himself — although he places himself behind guys like Redman, Kurupt, and Jadakiss, who by no means bought wherever close to half as a lot as him. He additionally spends a lot of the album discovering his personal musical voice.

One album earlier, Eminem had been offended about being “in rotation on rock ‘n’ roll stations.” From the start, Em was getting alt-rock radio play though there was nothing rock about his music. He was the beneficiary of racism, pure and easy. However Eminem produced nearly all of The Eminem Present, usually working with longtime collaborators like Jeff Bass and Luis Resto. Abruptly, his music was filled with distorted guitars and classic-rock samples.

A few of the manufacturing on The Eminem Present is actually spectacular. The deep lower “‘Til I Collapse” deploys Queen’s “We Will Rock You” drums, an icy synth riff, and Nate Dogg’s unearthly-calm refrain with absolute confidence. That track by no means got here out as a single, but it surely’s endured as probably the greatest issues on The Eminem Present — eight instances platinum for the reason that begin of the streaming period. However Eminem’s beats are additionally the principle purpose that The Eminem Present can’t be thought of a basic on the extent of Em’s first two albums. An excessive amount of of the time, the report sounds prefer it’s bought a stick up its ass.

The Eminem Present is plainly the work of somebody who, by necessity, was making an attempt to close out the skin world. The album’s company all come from Eminem’s personal camp: his associates in D12, his protege Obie Trice (actual identify no gimmicks), his daughter Hailie laughing all via “My Dad’s Gone Loopy.” On “Say What You Say,” Em’s outdated mentor Dr. Dre throws a complete lot of photographs at Jermaine Dupri. It was mystifying, but it surely was humorous, too: “Over 80 million information bought, and I ain’t should do it with 10- or 11-year-olds.” Nonetheless, Dre is barely current on the album. Em shouts out different rap titans, however these titans aren’t on the album. As a substitute, Em is on one other wave. My sense is that he didn’t wish to suck anybody else down into his vortex.

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There are moments on The Eminem Present the place Eminem seems like he’s getting used to the concept of being a public determine and performing accordingly. When he goes after relations, he does it sincerely, not within the context of macabre jokes. “Hailie’s Music” is only a heartwarming little ditty that by no means even appears for controversy. A number of instances, he tries his hand at politics, sneering at George W. Bush and his Iraq struggle, although he by no means absolutely commits to any stances. (Perhaps we had been fortunate there. Em would later go full politics-guy, and it will be well-intentioned however simply unbelievably horrible.)

There’s nonetheless homophobia on The Eminem Present, however there’s nowhere close to as a lot. Nonetheless, we get a bizarre little humiliation-porn narrative like “Drips,” the place Em virtually fantasizes that his spouse has cheated together with his pal Obie Trice and given him AIDS. Eminem hadn’t figured all his shit out but. When he lastly did determine his shit out, he’d get a complete lot extra boring, just like the alcoholic pal who detoxes and instantly turns into a drag.

You possibly can hear all of the currents at work in The Eminem Present on “Sing For The Second,” one other track that was all around the radio for months. On one stage, “Sing For The Second” is clumsy and apparent. The grating pattern of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” seems like a bid for rock ‘n’ roll radio rotation, and Em doesn’t even do something attention-grabbing with that pattern. The track is pointedly no enjoyable in any respect. It’s yet one more defensive bromide about Eminem’s societal-scapegoat function and his numerous authorized points. However the rapping continues to be nice, and there’s a real goosebump second on the finish.

When Em mentions the youngsters who don’t have a factor aside from a dream and a fuckin’ rap journal, his voice adjustments. Doubling up his vocals, he turns from critical to even-more-serious, explaining his entire mission in a number of pointed bars: “For anybody who’s ever been via shit in they lives/ In order that they sit and so they cry at night time, wishin’ they’d die/ Until they throw on a rap report and so they sit and so they vibe/ We’re nothin’ to you, however we’re the fuckin’ shit in they eyes.” It will get me each time — perhaps as a result of I used to be a kind of youngsters.

Folks don’t have to do this anymore. Musicians merely aren’t as well-known as circa-2002 Eminem immediately. Even a monocultural determine like Drake is aware of that he’s speaking to his viewers when he makes a report, to not society typically. Eminem didn’t have that luxurious. Every thing he mentioned was information. Because of an advanced mixture of things, a self-sabotaging gutter-minded white rapper had grow to be the new-millennium model of Thriller-era Michael Jackson. That gained’t ever occur once more. All that pent-up fury and angst didn’t cease The Eminem Present from promoting one other 11 million copies — numbers which are completely baffling immediately.

Whereas he was engaged on The Eminem Present, Eminem was additionally telling his story in a special, more practical approach. Lower than six months after the album arrived in shops, 8 Mile got here to theaters. That was a special wrinkle. Eminem was nonetheless baring his soul, however he wasn’t entering into the squalid specifics of his intra-family beefs. As a substitute, he turned a fictionalized, mythic model of himself. He turned Rocky Balboa, Daniel LaRusso, a one-man Jamaican bobsled staff. 8 Mile remade Eminem as an underdog hero for the plenty in ways in which even skeptics and oldsters may perceive. Within the course of, Em managed to grow to be a grand-scale advocate for the transformative energy of rap itself. Perhaps that was Eminem’s actual triumph. Perhaps The Eminem Present, one of many biggest-selling rap albums in historical past, is finally only a historic footnote. As footnotes go, although, it’s fairly good.