Why Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP is still a classic
By the time I had written this article, I realized how many memories and emotions The Marshall Mathers LP evoked in me. As a teen, I used to listen to Eminem in need of audio therapy that helped me to reveal my inner feelings, good or bad. Twenty years after ‘MMLP’ release I completely convinced myself that most of his songs from the album still turn me on and matter nowadays.
The Marshall Mathers LP is the third studio and second major-label album by American rapper Eminem, released on May 23, 2000. It might be the most divisive album in his music career as it has blended the angst of his soul together with a national crisis, its instant popularity with heavy criticism. That is why ‘MMLP’ has become one of the fastest-selling albums of all-time in the US. So far over 100 million records have been sold worldwide.
All of a sudden the blue-eyed prankster showed up, telling us the real truth about the world’s imperfections. He was so easy-going and trustworthy so crowds took the word of him and followed the rapper’s lead. They were definitely not mistaken, and I would be pleased to tell you why.
In spite of his growing popularity among simple folks, he faced a lot of criticism from the US authorities. Lynne Cheney, an American author, and ex-TV host, and a former second lady of the United States, blamed Eminem for the decline of Western civilization.
Eminem’s ruthless temper and twisted humor seemed to her as the root of all evil. She claimed that if they did not take appropriate actions, sex and violence would outrun, and as a result, mass shootings might occur. Mrs. Cheney was trying to convince people how much Eminem had distorted the world’s image by revealing corporate greed, political corruption, and economic collapse to the public. She was furious about Eminem’s poisonous effect on society and, especially, the younger generation that was absorbing his poison. She kept calling him “despicable … dreadful … shameful … awful”, and started to blame even his friends, including Dr. Dre, in all possible mortal sins.
At last, Cheney dared to call Eminem a violent misogynist, who was advocating raping and murdering his mother in one of his songs. However, it did not prevent The Marshall Mathers LP from becoming the fastest-selling rap album of all time and beat both Joe DiMaggio and Snoop Dog’s records by selling 35 million copies worldwide and introducing half of the globe to the power of hip-hop culture. Soon after that, he was awarded four Grammy nominations including Album of the Year, and two trophies for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance.
He became the leading voice of a new generation that was not afraid of telling the real truth and speaking up their mind. His lyrics were filled with spirits of Elvis, Holden Caulfield, Johnny Rotten, Kurt Cobain, Cartman from South Park, and Tupac if he shopped at Kroger. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the album stood out from the rest of postmodern music. Eminem masterly mixed up rap, rock, and pop radio to piss off PTA Puritans and Moralists.
Apparently, all his recklessness and boldness were adding even more fuel to the flames. Cheney could not cool it off, so she kept chasing Eminem by nagging and blaming his nasty personality and dirty songs. “He glories, in the same song, that he might murder any woman he comes across. Eminem talks about how he will choke the women he murders slowly so that their screams will last for a long time. He talks about painting the forest bright red ‒ or maybe it’s orange, I can’t remember ‒ with their blood. It is despicable. It is awful.”
Her outrage was rapidly spreading in the headlines especially after she found out that the white rapper’s album had been №1 all summer long. Feeling like one of the most offended and humiliated by the situation she desperately was trying to draw public attention to the Columbine shooting and Eminem’s role in it. Thereby she continued resenting and insisting on a stronger parental-advisory rating system and taking appropriate measures.
“I don’t follow the entertainment industry closely in all its aspects. But every once in a while, something like Eminem pops up,” said Lynne with a forced smile on her face. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old rapper received three awards from the entertainment industry previous week, including Best Male Performer at the MTV Awards.
Twenty years later ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ is still stirring our blood by evoking strong memories of our youth. The release of The Slim Shady LP and 8 Mile including both the film and its soundtrack are still alive in our souls thanks to a load of work and the artist’s deepest devotion to be heard. All major events and processes, which were taking place at that time, were reflected on MTV Video Music Awards, 2000. The A-list included such music beasts as D’Angelo, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, Jay-Z, Juvenile, Q-Tip, Lauryn Hill, Rage Against the Machine, Bjork, Blur, The Chemical Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, ’NSYNC, Ricky Martin, Metallica, Sisqo, Stone Temple Pilots, Papa Roach, and many others who were not honored but performed like Janet Jackson, Nelly, and DMX.
It was hard to imagine any other event that would attract so many fans of such various music preferences like neo-soul and ’90s R&B, ’80s pop, Southern rap, grunge, the best (and worst) of rap-rock, mall-punk, the boy band, and girl groups, the titans of Britpop, alternative rock, avant-garde indie, jazz-rap, the Latin explosion, UK techno-rave, industrial, the jiggy era, and Sisqo, the Vasco da Gama of thongs, etc.
The 2000 MTV Video Music Awards blended all of them into each other and turned the whole thing into a fabulous night, when life and soul of the party, Eminem and Britney Spears, were performing their best songs from the albums: Eminem’s “Kill you” and Britney’s “Oops!… I did it again”. Not surprisingly that particularly these two captured the hearts and minds of people worldwide. Both of them were born in deprived families, suffered from drug addiction and psychological disorders. Both dropped out from school for the sake of music, but their fate in the hands of big-time producers, originally came from gloomy towns Kentwood, Louisiana, and Detroit, Michigan, and even looked alike by dying their hair blonde.
Britney broke into the 2000 VMAs by ripping off her pantsuit and standing before a live television audience of millions in a bra and pants abundantly embroidered with Swarovski crystals. During her performance, the crowds were wondering if she was nude or not, where and when she lost all her innocence and modesty. Her image was appealing to the majority, nothing superfluous or extraordinary, just a typical American Dream.
On the contrary, Slim Shady was a dark horse, I would even say a Dark Knight, full of contradictions with the reality, misunderstandings with the society, his emotional distress and mental search of his true Self. Many considered him a prankster, badass, or even a criminal. As for the rest, he turned out to be their bro, homie, and even a hero of the time. Slim Shady became the hero in particular for people who would never win Prom King or Queen title or could not afford at least a ticket on one of American Idol’s show.
The Marshall Mathers LP himself was a typical dude in the street, an also-run who was brought up by a teen mother and failed to pass the 9th grade three times. He was living in a trailer and working at a burger place so-called Gilbert’s Lodge. He used to flip burgers, do the washing up, and just hope for a lucky chance to change his life for the better. In case any issue arose, he would simply flip them off by a loud “Fuck You”!
Such an open attitude towards life gathered around him the crowds of like-minded people, among them many well-known artists. “He opened the door to white America in a way that you had never heard,” said Denaun “Mr.” Porter, producer and rapper. “He knew who he was talking to, and never tried to step on anyone’s toes. … It was the voice that white America didn’t have, and it bridged the gap because black people were like, “He’s telling them all the news. We like him. He’s not holding anything back.” When you added the Dre cosign, it was a wrap.”
As soon as Marshall’s team settled down at Radio City, GLAAD’s activists went on strike to protest against MTV’s promotion of such a “hateful, homophobic, and misogynist artist.” To end the conflict they agreed to stream a 30-second spot PSA that “educates the public and discourages violence against the gay community.”
Eminem’s alter ago raised much skepticism among many celebrities as well. The man of a thousand faces, one of the most favorite comedians at that time, Jim Carrey, also expressed his indignation regarding Slim Shady’s message to the masses. “I enjoy Eminem’s music, but he scares me,” once admitted Carrey. “His lyrics are totally socially unacceptable. But I think if we just spend some time with our kids, we’ll be OK.”
“Half of the satisfaction that I get from releasing music comes from the look on people’s faces when they hear it,” said Eminem in 2000 in the internet chat room hosted by AOL.
Right after “May I have your attention please” was announced one hundred Slim Shadys lined up in Midtown Manhattan. They were all alike, blonde, pale, wearing baggy jeans and white T-shirts, just a perfect army of cloned soldiers led by a real Slim Shady. “The 2000 VMAs were a real milestone … it helped people realize that I was here for real,” would later confess Eminem in his book, The Way I Am. “I was trying to be as cool as I could and keep my composure, but for at least the first 30 seconds of the song, I could not shake the nerves off.”
Eminem was destined to succeed, and one of the most significant evidence of it was his previous year at the VMAs, where he performed “My Name Is” and “Guilty Conscience” assisted by Dre from The Slim Shady LP. He hit the big time soon after he became the first triple-platinum white solo rapper, who blew the audience away every time he appeared on the stage. He was drowning in a backward Tigers hat and an oversized hoodie until he dropped Marshall Mathers LP. The Real Slim Shady was definitely meant to turn into a credible mainstream or even mindset.
Initially, Marshall Mathers LP had to be called Amsterdam representing the capital of Ecstasy, shrooms, and weed. Eminem was convinced that everyone was taking drugs, everywhere, anytime back in the 1990s. What is more, he was on drugs too and that was an integral part of his early music career. He did not endorse his drug addiction but admitted that it was the only way to get inside the mind of The Real Slim Shady. However, his harmful obsession did not deprive him of becoming the gangsta rap pioneer who went eight times platinum with two songs “Forgot About Dre” and “What’s the Difference”.
As long as numerous song-trading networks were popping up, the albumsoon became downloadable. It was recorded in one of the drug-stuffed studios in the San Fernando Valley within two months. All at once, Em realized that he is up sheet creek and there is no way out. His mother sued him for libel with a $10 million claim for compensation, in an instant he was surrounded by long-lost relatives in need, and this was just the beginning. GLAAD and the Parents Music Resource Center were demanding his crucifixion while Interscope was insisting on a pop hit.
Besides that, Bugz, one of his crew D12 members, was murdered in Detroit. Three months after the album dropped he got divorced with his wife Kim. In return, five days after that Kim sued her ex-husband for $10 million. That was the very moment when it all went wrong and the fear that his next album afterward would be a complete failure.
“The whole message behind The Marshall Mathers LP is just to show people that I’m just like them,” shared Eminem with his thoughts about the album on MTV. “I never knew that I was going to get this big … that any of this was going to happen to me. The first album was a lot of punch lines. But this album is on a little more serious vibe to it. It’s me telling it like it is to the third power.”
The ‘MMLP’ sessions were divided into Dre’s team and Detroit’s Bass Brothers so each one produced half a record. Dre and his coproducer Mel-Man were responsible for the drums, guitarists Sean Cruse and John Bingham, a keyboardist Tommy Coster Jr., and the bass god Mike Elizondo. While waiting for Eminem’s arrival they would play instrumental jam sessions. The rapper would also recreate the sounds in his head so the musicians could reproduce them. Therefore, one late Friday night “The Way I Am” was released through a united effort of the whole team. Finally, the last song “The Real Slim Shady” was recorded, and for a month or, so he was chilling in the most luxurious hotels.
Later the Bass Brothers together with Eminem and DJ Head settled down at Burbank’s Mix Room to create “Marshall Mathers,” “Drug Ballad,” “Criminal,” “Amityville,” and “The Kids”. They used to cooperate for a while to tailor the tracks to Eminem’s violent temper and playful mood.
“We’d send over a song, he’d immediately have the lyrics written for it. They were all good too. That was when I really realized the extent of his genius,” said Jeff Bass, F.B.T. production team.
One of my favorite ‘MMLP’ songs, ‘Stan’ became the third single from the album. It reached number one in twelve countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, and Australia. This track is a direct response to some of his fans who had sent him disturbing letters. In fact, they had taken some of the content from his 1999 album ‘The Slim Shady LP’ way too seriously. Strange but true, the word ‘stan’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2017 as both a noun and verb to describe “an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan.”
The more you dive into Marshall Mathers LP the more subjects it brings up apart from homophobia, hyper-violence, and misogyny. As a result of mental problems and a difficult childhood the topic “save the children” is of paramount importance even though it is spiced up with dark humor, profane language, and it all goes beyond all possible bounds of decency. None among us are without sin, are not we?
In an interview given around the release of The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem describes his music as “sarcastic and political.”. Once he is asked a question about adapting his lyrics to meet censorship requirements he replies: “You want me to fix up lyrics while the president gets his dick sucked?”
One minute he is poking fun at disabled actors (‘Who Knew’), and the next he is branding girls as “nothing but a slut to me” (‘Kill You’). Elsewhere, he makes jokes about the gay community (‘Bitch Please II’), and on ‘I’m Back’ he renders the shooters of the Columbine High School massacre as the real victims.
All in all, The Marshall Mathers LP proved to be a killing album and according to its author “the height of what I could do”, “The Way I Am” became the title of his autobiography. His first sole production credit that convinced millions to regard him as a serious artist, the best “motherfucker” ever, or the all-time hero, or all of the above at once.