Music to rubberneck by
As an artist and rapper, Eminem is a twisted car wreck - you don't want to look, but something primitive inside you compels it. "The Eminem Show" has plenty of sights that delight and disgust, but overall it's a work of flawed genius by a master self-marketer.
There's no question Eminem is the best technical rapper working today. His rhymes are intelligent (in spite of the profanity and name-calling), and his lightning-quick nasal delivery is pure Sherman Peabody-meets-Ice Cube. Nothing is sacred in this show; Eminem plays the race card on the first song ("White America"), and goes on to shatter such taboos as verbally slashing his mother and comparing himself with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
What ultimately makes The Eminem Show so engrossing is how skillfully Eminem molds his persona through a series of maddening contradictions. Is he a loving father ("Hailie's Song") or bitter son ("Cleaning Out My Closet")? Is he a rap mercenary ("Soldier") or censored artist ("White America")? Is he the aggressor or the victim? He spews hatred at just about everybody, but then casually remarks, "I'm only kidding." Some say Eminem is a complex and complicated person who's working through his demons on record instead of on a therapist's couch.
But I don't buy it. Here's the chorus to his first single, "Without Me": "Well, this looks like a job for me/So everybody, just follow me/'Cuz we need a little controversy/And it feels so empty without me." There's a void in teenage America that Eminem fills: the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Everyteen who flaunts sexuality, disses authority and taps into universal insecurities. And, as luck would have it, those things sell a lot of records.
I don't doubt that Eminem is made up of a little bit of all the personas he describes. I also don't deny that this is an album of incredible skill and emotional depth, and will be on my playlist for a long time. But I also won't forget how the album opens ("Curtains Up") and closes ("Curtains Close"). Good show, Eminem, good show.