40. Eminem, The Slim Shady LP
Release Date: 2/23/1999
Yes, we know about Infinite. It was practically unavailable outside of the Detroit metro area, and ultimately stands as a demo. It's on his proper debut, The Slim Shady LP, that Eminem effortlessly created his own world in the trailer parks, suburban living rooms, and "laundry mats where all the white trashy blondes be at" that were, quiet as kept, the natural habitat of many rap fans. Shady lived in Shady's world.
What made the album so special was the way Marshall flipped both sides of the coin. He seamlessly mixed cartoonish violence with autobiographical detail, pop culture with drug culture, storytelling songs with battle raps. But this lead to a problem when the album first came out: Listeners had no way of knowing when Em was joking and when he wasn't. We never know which persona is speaking-we're stuck in the midst of a narrative without a reliable narrator.
Over the years we've learned how to parse the meaning in his intricately wrought rhymes. But nowhere was that through-the-looking-glass tension more potent than it was on The Slim Shady LP. And in 1999, everyone knew how to listen to rap, but we didn't know how to listen to Eminem. He was that original, and that's what made him so vital-then and now.