‘The Eminem Show’ Review: A Stellar Conclusion to the Classic Trinity

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Title: The Eminem Show
Artist, year: Eminem, 2002
Labels: Shady, Aftermath, Interscope
Singles: “Without Me,” “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” “Superman,” “Sing for the Moment,” “Business.”

‘The Eminem Show’: Background

The year is 2002, and Eminem was on the top of his game. He co-signed 50 Cent with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, who later scored the highest first-week sales any rapper could ever dream of with Fif’s Shady/Aftermath debut Get Rich or Die Tryin,’ made his debut foray into acting with Oscar-winning rap battle drama 8 Mile, and on top of that, proved that he’s more than just a whiny ‘Angry Blonde’ who raps about a primal howl of rage with a plethora of hatred against the world with his stellar third major label album The Eminem Show.

The Eminem Show, inspired loosely by Jim Carrey’s 1998 drama The Truman Show, is the last installment of the classic trinity and, while it’s not always everyone’s favorite, it’s the one that actually cemented Marshall’s longevity in the rap game and his stardom status as one of the most important figures in the popular culture.

Drawing the lines, lyrically and sonically

Pissing people off, pushing the envelope, and poking fun of taboo subjects have always been the backbone of Eminem’s career, something he’d executed perfectly on The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). There was a power of rage that drove Marshall’s creative force in the first two albums, whether it’s against the critics, his highschool bully (‘Brain Damage’), his mother (‘My Name Is’), his estranged lovebird (‘Kim’), or even his fans (‘Stan’), leaving everyone wondering if he could recapture the magic or even leave Dr. Dre’s shadow.

The short answer is yes, he did. The Eminem Show captures a much matured side of the Detroit rapper and draws the line between all the three personas: Slim Shady (violent, over-the-top crazy), Eminem (witty, rapid-fire), and Marshall Mathers (the human being behind all the masks). Combine it with a perfect timing and an abundance of attention-grabbing controversies (Marshall was at the height of hip-hop feuds against Canibus, Ja Rule, and other rappers, and he’s on the verge of losing the custody of his daughter Hailie as a result of his then-ongoing law battle after pistol-whopping a club bouncer in 2001), then you’ll have one of the highest-selling albums of all time (a record of over 27 million records sold).

The 77-minute album kicks off with ‘Curtains Up’ skit, with bells playing in the background as Marshall walks up to the microphone before the explosive transition to the yelly, rock-influenced ‘White America,’ criticizing the hypocrisy of the censorship agenda (“Hip-hop was never a problem in Harlem, only in Boston / after it bothered the fathers of daughters starting to blossom.”). He further attacks former vice-presidential wives Lynne Cheney and Tipper Gore, threatens to urinate the White House, and being a little harsh on himself by admitting his white priviledge in the rap game, “Let’s do the math, if I was black, I woulda sold half / I ain’t have to graduate from Lincoln High School to know that.”

Dr. Dre comes to save the day in ‘Business,’ the only track of the album that the former NWA rapper produced, playing a fun superhero game to save rap from ‘whack rappers,’ “Look at all the bullshit that goes on in Gotham / When I’m gone time to get rid of these rap criminals.” Things get real in ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet’ as Em breaks down his troublesome relationship with Kim, his wife, and his mother, and he does it so vividly and flawlessly with silky-smooth flow without sacrificing the rhyme schemes, ending it with one killer bittersweet final verse, “See, what hurts me the most is you won’t admit you was wrong / Bitch, do your song / Keep tellin’ yourself that you was a mom,” Eminem dares his mother. “But how dare you try to take what you didn’t help me to get? / You selfish bitch, I hope you fuckin’ burn in hell for this shit.”

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That being said, it’s not an Eminem album if it doesn’t lure you into his world of eerie, dark fantasy in a fascinating way of storytelling. In ‘Drips,’ Eminem introduced the world to his latest Shady Records signee Obie Trie in a hillarious twisted love tale of how Eminem’s fictional girlfriend passes a sexually transmitted disease to Obie. He recreates the intensity of his infamous 2001 altercation where he pistol-whopped a 6’2″ Hot Rock nightclub bouncer John Guerra in Warren, Michigan for allegedly kissing his estranged wife in ‘The Kiss (Skit)’ before it smoothly intertwines with the next song, ‘Soldier.’

Sonically, things have never been brighter for Em. In fact, he produced the entire album with almost zero help from Dre except for ‘Business.’ The ‘Dream On’ by Aerosmith fits perfectly in ‘Sing for the Moment,’ as Marshall gets real about his current state in hip-hop, “For anyone who’s ever been through shit in they lives / So they sit and they cry at night wishing they’d die / ‘Til they throw on a rap record and they sit and they vibe / We’re nothing to you, but we’re the fucking shit in their eyes.” ‘Square Dance’ is Eminem like never before, bringing the hard-hitting Dirty South-esque while dissing Canibus and US’ war-mongering president George Bush. He picks the string in ‘Hailie’s Song’ and gives his then-7-year-old daughter a much-needed eulogy and shelters her from the crazy world of her parents. The boombap funks and comedic raps are back in ‘Without Me,’ giving a much-needed follow-up to the previous ‘My Name Is’ and ‘The Real Slim Shady.’

Final verdict

“I’d like to welcome y’all to The Eminem Show,” Marshall promises us in ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet,’ and it doesn’t disappoint. The Eminem Show is a perfect collection that sums Eminem’s career & life and brings the audience to the rebellious nature of him while solidifying his work as a producer. It’s funky, retrospective, and rich in replay value without being too much of a self-loathing torture artist. The way skits beautifully intertwine with each track and set the tone of the album proves that The Eminem Show is exuberant in its content. 

Mr. ‘Don’t-Give-A-Fuck’ is here to stay. It’s peak Eminem, and his last ‘fuck you’ scream to the the world before falling into pill addiction problem during the latter stage of the ‘Old Em’s’ career.

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