The Eminem Show
If The Slim Shady LP was the start of Eminem’s journey, and The Marshall Mathers LP a document of the rapper’s struggle to get to the top, 2002’s The Eminem Show is what it sounds like when the only real fight left is the one with yourself. He’s still angry, especially when you get him started on America, which had just thrown itself into yet another war against an enemy (“terror”) it couldn’t quite define (a topic Em tackles on “White America” and “Square Dance”). But on The Eminem Show, he also shows he’s done some softening up, taking on the subject of parenting (“Hailie’s Song”), and addressing his moral responsibility to his audience (“Sing for the Moment”). He even apologizes to the mom he spent two albums pretending to kill, at least kind-of (“Cleanin’ Out My Closet”). “I never would’ve dreamed in a million years I’d see/So many motherfuckin’ people who feel like me,” he raps. Is that a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. But at least he knows he’s not alone, no matter how alone he sometimes feels. The fact that he got the album’s name from Peter Weir’s soul-searching 1998 Jim Carrey drama The Truman Show gives you a sense of where Eminem was at. Life wasn’t a simulation, but reality was definitely getting bent out of shape—even his daughter’s eyes couldn’t ground him anymore (“My Dad’s Gone Crazy”). If the music felt heavier and more dramatic—well, you get it. Or maybe you don’t, until you sell 10 million albums and find yourself making movies loosely based on your own life (8 Mile). No rapper had ever sounded so vicious, honest, and breathtakingly arrogant at the same time: “My songs can make you cry/Take you by surprise at the same time/Can make you dry your eyes with the same rhyme/See, what you’re seein’ is a genius at work,” Eminem raps at one point on The Eminem Show. That withering psychoanalytic criticism you just thought of? He said it five minutes ago—but it’s cool, you got a lot going on. Before The Truman Show, people wrote Jim Carrey off as a comedian, too.