The Marshall Mathers LP
Getting famous must’ve felt good, but you have to imagine Eminem took special pleasure when The Marshall Mathers LP got called out in the US Senate not long after its release in 2000: “He talks about murdering and raping his mother. He talks about choking women slowly so he can hear their screams for a long time. He talks about using O.J.’s machete on women. And this is a man who is honored by the recording industry.” The speaker here is Lynne Cheney, the wife of a man who, not long afterward, would become one of the country’s biggest boosters for the invasion of Iraq, and an unapologetic supporter of an “enhanced interrogation program” that would be condemned domestically and internationally as torture. Dick Cheney knew a thing or two about real-world brutality. But why go for the bigger catch when you can fry what’s right in front of you? “Now it’s too late/I’m triple platinum and tragedies happened in two states,” Eminem rapped on “Kill You,” referring to then-recent school shootings in both Colorado (Columbine) and Arkansas (Westside) before taking the responsibility people like Cheney obviously wanted him to take: “I invented violence!” By his own admission, The Marshall Mathers LP was a peak. (“I will say this,” he told an interviewer in 2017, “I am forever chasing The Marshall Mathers LP.”) The provocations were more provocative (the ultraviolence of “Kim”), and the catchier moments among the catchiest in early-2000s pop (“The Real Slim Shady”). And if you didn’t think Eminem was capable of something as complex and empathetic as “Stan,” it’s there, and as acute in its portrayal of everyday desperation as Bruce Springsteen. That said, the album also found Eminem working against himself by using homophobic slurs to insult his detractors, and by bringing back the homophobic caricature Ken Kaniff. Such jokes diluted the bigger point Eminem wanted to make on The Marshall Mathers LP, which he articulates via “Who Knew”: “Don’t blame me when little Eric jumps off the terrace/you shoulda been watching him—apparently you ain’t parents.” The subtext, of course, is that little Eric is white, and that in the absence of a more easily defined scapegoat, The Marshall Mathers LP would do. Jay-Z and Puff Daddy had helped turn hip-hop into pop, but Eminem was going beyond music entirely—the Lynne Cheney testimony, for example, took place at a hearing about the effect of violent imagery on kids in the wake of the school shootings mentioned above. “‘Wasn’t me, Slim Shady said to do it again,’” he rapped on “Who Knew,” channeling a teenage gunman. “Damn, how much damage can you do with a pen?” A year earlier, Eminem had claimed that God had sent him to piss the world off. The Marshall Mathers LP brought him one big step closer.