- Author Verity Burns
- Published August 4, 2014
Why I love… The Marshall Mathers LP
It’s not for parents but it certainly was for a 16-year-old Verity Burns… Albums that you queue up for you hope will be keepers. The Marshall Mathers LP did the job.
Fourteen years ago, on a Tuesday morning in May, I was stood outside my local music shop, clutching a £20 note and counting down the minutes until they opened their doors.
Luckily the date had fallen during my school holidays but I’m not sure even a month’s worth of detentions could’ve stood between me and the album I’d been waiting months for.
That album was The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem – the rapper’s second commercial release and one that carried with it great expectation. His debut, The Slim Shady LP, had been the fuel behind Em’s meteoric rise to fame – all eyes were on him to see if he could do it again.
Same old, same new
A lot of the MMLP picks up where the SSLP left off – there are skits that tie the two together, songs that reference one another and the chilling ‘Kim’ that prequels SSLP’s ’97 Bonnie and Clyde. Yet despite all this, they are two very different albums.
You only need to take one look at its title to know the MMLP is a very personal affair, an almost autobiographical piece of work that pushes past the occasional silliness of the SSLP and presents itself with a brutal honesty – rarely seen in hip hop.
The angry blonde we heard on the rapper’s debut is arguably angrier – but about different things. He’s no longer broke, overlooked and undervalued, but a hesitant pop star, scrutinised at every juncture and openly struggling with the effects of fame – getting everything he ever worked for but at a price.
This album acts as a ‘f*** you’ to all his critics, an expletive-laden symphony that turns the mirror on society and demands it take a long, hard look at itself. From pop culture to the President – there isn’t any subject off limits, each one dealt with and dismissed with the same acidic tongue and lyrical wit that fires shots much closer to home, at his mother and wife. Scathing verse after scathing verse, the underground rap battler in him needed a target, and he found plenty.
Did it make you mad?
It’s certainly not an album for the easily offended – it ruffled plenty of feathers for its language and imagery – but many would argue that was exactly Eminem’s intention, even admitting on the album’s last track: “Half the sh*t I say, I just make it up, to make you mad.” If anything was going to distance himself from the N*Syncs and Britney Spears’ of this world, it was this.
Look past the inflammatory language and shock tactics though, and you’ll find lyrically one of the best rap albums ever. It might not sound like your traditional hip-hop album – in sound or content – but Eminem’s multisyllabic rhyming structure is something to behold, and something few rappers, past or present, can compete with. For a good example, just listen to the opening verse of ‘The Way I Am’ – it’s close to perfection.
All of this is delivered with a fiery passion that can still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. ‘Kim’ is certainly no easy listen, but Em pours every last drop of himself into the track, laying himself and his emotions bare in all their ugliness. There’s no airbrushing, no let up, no happy ending – this is about as raw as it gets.
The jokes in the darkness
There’s plenty of humour on the album too, although it remains suitably dark, poking fun at everything, from the church and feminists to his own fans. He even jokes that he’s killed his mentor (and boss) Dr Dre – not once but twice, in two different songs. There really are no boundaries that he won’t push.
Raw and uncensored, The Marshall Mathers LP remains a shining example of Eminem’s talent, a demonstration of his clever songwriting and storytelling that few can match. It had a 16-year-old me reeling; revelling in the rebellion of it all and soaking up every last clever metaphor like a sponge.
My friends hated it, my parents even moreso but in it, I finally found a genre of music that I connected with, catapulting me even further into my discovery of hip-hop that had begun with The Slim Shady LP.
To this day I still revisit it regularly, every line sounding as fresh, clever and biting as the first time I heard it. It is Eminem at his best; The Real Slim Shady in all his inimitable glory, throwing up a middle finger and letting it linger that little bit longer than most people would ever dare to.
Verity Burns is multimedia editor on What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine.
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