Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • The Slim Shady LP [Aftermath/Interscope, 1999] A-
  • The Marshall Mathers LP [Interscope, 2000] A
  • Fucking Yzarc [[bootleg], 2000] A-
  • The Freestyle Album [[bootleg], 2000] *
  • The Eminem Show [Aftermath/Interscope, 2002] A-
  • Encore [Aftermath, 2004] A
  • Relapse [Aftermath/Interscope, 2009] B-
  • Recovery [Aftermath/Interscope, 2010] A-
  • The Marshall Mathews LP 2 (Deluxe Edition) [Aftermath, 2013]  
  • The Marshall Mathers LP 2 [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope, 2013] A
  • Revival [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath, 2017] **
  • Kamikaze [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath, 2018] B+
  • Music to Be Murdered By [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath, 2020] A-
  • Music to Be Murdered By: Side B (Deluxe Edition) [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath, 2021] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Slim Shady LP [Aftermath/Interscope, 1999]
Anybody who believes kids are naive enough to take this record literally is right to fear them, because that's the kind of adult teenagers hate. Daring moralizers to go on the attack while explicitly--but not (fuck you, dickwad) unambiguously--declaring itself a satiric, cautionary fiction, this cause célèbre runs short of ideas only toward the end, when Dre's whiteboy turns provocation into the dull sensationalism fools think is his whole story. Over an hour his cadence gets wearing, too. But he flat-out loves to rhyme--"seizure"/"T-shirt," "eyeballs"/"Lysol"/"my fault," "BM"/"GM"/"be him"/"Tylenol PM"/"coliseum," "Mike D"/"might be"--and you have to love the way he slips in sotto voce asides from innocent bystanders. Sticking nine-inch nails through his eyelids, flattening a black bully with a four-inch broom, reminding his conscience/producer about Dee Barnes, watching helplessly as an abused Valley Girl OD's on his shrooms, cajoling his baby daughter Hailey into helping him get rid of her mom's body, he shows more comic genius than any pop musician since--Loudon Wainwright III? A-

The Marshall Mathers LP [Interscope, 2000]
Unless you hope to convince the platinum hordes that you live on Mars, there's even less point moralizing about this one than there was with the last. Right, Marshall Whoever is homophobic; right, he breathes. In context, the worst thing about his casual fag-baiting is that it's at once so received--like the shock-horror his boys envision in "Amityville," the one provocation here whose boundaries are predictable--and, because he's a devastating wordslinger in every context, so hurtful anyway. But the real Slim Whoever seems far more deeply disturbed about stardom, drugs, his marriage, and boning his mom--which latter, like it or not, is the fantasy (or whatever) that sets all the rest up, a big fat fuck you to the black culture Eminem respects and owes so explicitly, for if Snoop or Too Short or DMX would never say such a thing, just how bad can they be? Disable your prejudgment button and you'll hear a work of art whose immense entertainment value in no way compromises its intimations of a pathology that's both personal and political, created by one of those charming rogues you encounter so much more often on the page--exceptionally witty and musical, discernibly thoughtful and good-hearted, indubitably dangerous and full of shit. He may yet give a fuck--he has it in him. But not on anyone else's terms or timetable. A

Fucking Yzarc [[bootleg], 2000]
No connoisseur of commercially illicit music, I neglected to seek this out when it surfaced last summer and ended up taping a borrowed one, though I'm sure the Napster-literate could burn something similar. We've all heard some of this music, but having the guest shots compiled here on one longform cements what a nonstop force he is. "Stan" or no "Stan," he's a rhymer not a storyteller, an inspired free-associater who like so many rappers loves rhyme as raw technical device and finds fresh sonic material in a self-renewing English language hooked on celebrities, brand names, neologisms, code--and a world where "real" poets long ago distanced themselves from rhyme the way "real" composers distanced themselves from tune. Unlike such African American coequals as Mos Def, or Aceyalone, say, he has no apparent metaphysical ambitions--he's a comedian and prankster whose own art mines the metaphysics of entertainment, a/k/a celebrity. He's totally ill here, more into sex, and smack up against Dr. Dre's or Missy Elliott's his flow rocks. Interscope: You got the juice. Market an improved version when Marshall Mathers falls off. A-

The Freestyle Album [[bootleg], 2000]
Just illin'-rhymes 'n' beats, some worked out over multiple takes and then released elsewhere ("15-27 Freestyles," "8-13 Freestyles"). *

The Eminem Show [Aftermath/Interscope, 2002]
See: White American. A-

Encore [Aftermath, 2004]
Any lingering doubts that puking and diarrhea noises might effectively forestall maturity were allayed by the crinkled noses and pursed lips they've elicited from arbiters of creativity at Billboard and Cokemachine-glow alike. Except to report tediously that he sounds bored and complain ad infinitum that he's obsessed with the love of his life (plus, right, the beats are no good, details later), how else to objectify the cycle of disinterest inevitably inspired by the mainstreaming of 8 Mile? Me, I say good riddance to his rock dreams, so much vainer than his mosh dreams, and note that said noises are hard to listen to, which is a compliment. Funny, catchy, clever, and irreverent past his allotted time, he can't make records this good forever--no one else has. But I also note that the mostly unreviewed three tracks on the bonus disc keep on pushing--"We as Americans" is a high point. That's rare. A

Relapse [Aftermath/Interscope, 2009]
As he told "XXL": "I wanted to go back to Proof's idea of, 'Let's just say the most f*cked up sh*t we can say.'" In other words, this great artist's big concept for his first album since 2004 is a D12 homage. Having slyly categorized it as horrorcore early on, and riding Dr. Dre's most bombastic beats ever, he unrolls the offensive work of art bluenoses have always insisted was there: misogyny up the wazoo, lesbians-only homophobia, libels for a stepdad, murders unnumbered, sexual humiliations previously unknown to hip-hop and more dropped names than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who's funnier--and also, uh-oh, more boyish. In a socially redeeming denouement, all of this and more is blamed on the drugs we hope he's kicked, we really do. There's even an inspirational number no more boring than the one about offing Lindsay Lohan. But for the first time in his career Eminem settles for sensationalism straight up, and, worse still, makes you wonder whether he ever truly knew the difference. Em, this is not a Slim Shady album. Slim Shady had a lightness about him. B-

Recovery [Aftermath/Interscope, 2010]
The comeback is for Eminem, not Slim Shady--and for Marshall at his most martial. His most confessional as well--he admits Relapse was "ehh," admits he came this close to beefing with Wayne and Kanye, admits "I'da had my ass handed to me." No matter how cleverly he's rhyming, which varies, he could use subject matter beyond married-to-the-game and his traditional obsessions. But with Shady in the shadows, rarely are these themes lifted by Em's long-recessive sense of play. Bringing the proceedings over the top, however, are the three final tracks: Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie" hook depositing some bodily fluids on Em's conjugal seesaw, "You're Never Over" nailing Marshall's love for Proof, and the bonus boast "Untitled" renewing our love for Shady. And delivering the best music qua music in 77 minutes is none other than Lil Wayne, whose 16 on "No Love" would be the funkiest thing here if Wayne didn't then hand Eminem his ass back by inserting acutely timed grunts and such for the rest of the track. A-

The Marshall Mathews LP 2 (Deluxe Edition) [Aftermath, 2013]
[2013 Dean's List: 7]  

The Marshall Mathers LP 2 [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope, 2013]
Because I was between gigs when it came out in late 2013, I never reviewed Eminem's finest post-Encore release. But with Kamikaze dropped just nine months after Revival was trampled into the sod by a gaggle of sheep, I remain impressed by an underrated album that left Eminem well behind such dullards as Queens of the Stone Age and Phosphorescent in the Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll that year. Already Marshall Mathers had worn out his welcome like Jerry Lee Lewis banished with his child bride, an analogy anyone who knows more than two Jerry Lee songs should consider. Lewis wasn't a very stable or likable guy either, but he was an irrepressible virtuoso. He seemed connected to his piano by the brain stem, so imbued with music that he emitted it unbidden, launching songs of every provenance that he might do this way and might do that--or the other. Eminem is far less spontaneous. But here his musicality runs free as his practiced articulation reminds us what flow used to mean, delivering lyrics honed until every line offers up an internal rhyme or stealth homophone or surprise pun or trick enjambment. Also, he holds his Slim Shady side in check here--offensive cracks remain undeveloped, with the "I'm a sucker for love you a sucker for dick" stanza delivered by none other than guest paragon Kendrick Lamar. You don't like it, you don't really like the art form, simple as that. A

Revival [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath, 2017]
Much cleverer than lemmings claim, bluntly and intelligently political too, but so received in its cartoon misogyny and pop grandeur you know he felt irrelevance bearing down even before #MeToo killed this album on the vine ("Untouchable," "Chloraseptic," "Like Home") **

Kamikaze [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath, 2018]
Strangely, the album he devotes to demolishing the Metacritic drones and social media ignorami who slimed Revival is more substantial than that clumsy labor of pride itself. That's because it's about hip-hop, his truest passion and sole area of undeniable expertise, rather than the larger emotional and political themes of what he conceived as a groundbreaking statement of principle. I mean, I like Migos, "Hanna Montana" as much as "Bad and Boujee." But anyone who got through the ambient overkill of Culture II without falling asleep should kick meth, and the parodies of the trio here are overdue--"Brain dead, eyedrops/Pain meds, Cyclops/Daybed, iPod/May-back, Maybach" or "Lug nut coaster [actual online-available consumer durable]/Lung jug roaster [set-up]/Young Thug poster [wham]/Unplugged toaster [cool]" even more than the thematic "Hatata batata, why don't we make a bunch of songs about nothin' and mumble 'em." Similarly, the relationship songs are Kim songs that don't mention her name--metaphors for the emotional dysfunctionality of a narrator whose only show of relatable feeling here comes with his highly belated farewell to his D-12 crew. As for calling Tyler the Creator the F-word, can I mention that rebel without a clue Tyler has misused that odious term far more freely than Eminem ever did--and that the pro forma p.c.-ness of Mathers's apology ("hurting a lot of other people," attaboy) comes as a relief from someone we can hope comes to terms with conventional morality e'en now. B+

Music to Be Murdered By [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath, 2020]
Boring is in the mind of the beholder, and the old-timer's third meaty full-length in two years is nothing like de trop no matter how many jaded journos claim otherwise. It's animated by his compulsion to show off a skill-set-not-genius unmatched in hip-hop, a distinction he specifies on the closing "I Will," which follows a sorry run of battle rhymes with the undeserving Joe Budden and the like by calling the enemy "doubters who question my skill." So I'm touched by his felt need to cram 179 crystalline words, 22 of three syllables or more, into precisely 30 seconds of the Juice-WRLD-aided "Godzilla." Other cameos go to Black Thought, White Gold, Young M.A, Alfred Hitchcock, and a wasted Anderson .Paak, and for old time's sake a newly woke Royce Da 5'9" is all over the record. I recommend the one where young Marshall tries to kill his stepfather. And while some may dismiss "Darkness" as merely morbid, I say the morphological ambiguity of an alcohol-addled Em slowly transmuting into the Las Vegas shooter is as deep as any other gun-control analysis this side of an assault-weapons ban I hope and pray I'll see in my lifetime. A-

Music to Be Murdered By: Side B (Deluxe Edition) [Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath, 2021]
Docked a notch because Marshall has decreed that mad fans who want the 16 so-called B-sides here--purportedly tracks left off January, 2020's Music to Be Murdered By, although since the Covid ones were obviously recorded later we assume some of the others were too--must buy the A-sides all over again. But have some respect, people. Here is more proof that Eminem loves rhyme as compulsively as MF Doom himself: "Yeah I'm a card like Hallmark/At Walmart with a small cart buying wall art," "Kris Kristofferson-Piss Pissedofferson," dumbbell-thumbnail-her spell-gun barrel-my girl. If he's not as playful or surreal about it as Doom, he sure does enunciate better, with a timbral dexterity never quashed by the rock-inflected production style that Dr. Dre laid on him decades ago and oversees here. There's more braggadocio and less delight in these words for their own sake than in the Side A's, and nothing as powerful as the Busta Rhymes-powered "Yah Yah." But there's also this plague wisdom: "This pandemic got us in a recession/We need to reopen America/Black people dying they want equal rights/White people wanna get haircuts." America-haircuts--there's a rhyme for you. B+

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