Albums Released Between 2000-2009: The Marshall Mathers LP (2000), The Eminem Show (2002), Encore (2004), Relapse (2009)
Classic Mixtape: N/A
Group Albums: Devil's Night (2001), D12 World (2004)
Biggest Billboard Hits Between 2000-2009: "Lose Yourself," "Without Me," "Crack a Bottle f/ Dr. Dre & 50 Cent," "Shake That f/ Nate Dogg," "We Made You"
The statement that Eminem is the most successful rapper ever is inarguable. That’s #factsonly. The statement that he is the best rapper ever is arguable. It may not be a fact, but on his best days, there is no one who has ever enjoyed the confluence of intricate wordplay, innovative, well executed song concepts, and absolutely mesmerizing melodies and rhythms, that Em has. A master of his craft, who came into his own artistically in the summer of 2000 with the release of his sophomore album, The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem has dominated the genre of hip-hop in a way that cannot be understated (and perhaps, to someone who missed his zenith coinciding with music’s all-time sales peak, fully understood). And what makes this dominance so significant is that he achieved it on his own terms; on hip-hop’s terms. He is a rap nerd, an obsessive/compulsive writer who used the conventions of hip-hop—autobiographical narrative, punchlines, shock, and threats—to propel his music to mass appeal.
Between 2000 and 2004 Eminem redefined what it meant to be a successful rapper, both commercially but, more importantly, artistically. Marshall Mathers and its follow up The Eminem Show showcased a meta self-awareness that rap had hinted at (self-reference is nothing new to hip-hop) but took it to new heights with whole bodies of work that explore the relationship between artist and audience. Songs like “White America” directly addressed his aberrant success while records like “Stan” dug deeply into the psychology of fandom, examining the bizarre relationship from the vantage of both the artist and the fan. But as his confidence grew, his style evolved. By the time he released the 8 Mile Soundtrack and then Encore, his most self-indulgent and bizarre album (let’s call it his Yeezus), he began to eschew the word games and metaphors for a focus on cadence, emphatic statement, and impassioned confession. “Lose Yourself,” his most successful and best song, is a beautifully linear articulation of his ascent as an artist. And it has looped guitar licks, and a repeated, rapped chorus.
What makes Em's dominance so significant is that he achieved it on his own terms; on hip-hop’s terms. He is a rap nerd, an obsessive/compulsive writer who used the conventions of hip-hop—autobiographical narrative, punchlines, shock, and threats—to propel his music to mass appeal.
However, the later half of the decade was tougher on Em, and really the reason that he isn’t number one on this list. Drug addiction, isolation, and resistance to hip-hop’s evolving sound forced Eminem out of the zeitgeist, and, like an undefeated boxer who gets knocked down for the time, without the confidence of imperviousness, his mojo ebbed. Where he had once enjoyed effortless flow, the bars on The Re-Up and his various guest spots sound hollow and forced. His last project of the decade, 2009’s Relapse, found a clean Em struggling to find his artistic footing, anchoring himself in his well-worn serial killer mythos, perhaps due to an inability to deal with the fresh trauma of his recovery. Topically, he careened between the macabre (“3 a.m.”) and the corny (“We Made You”), grasping for purpose. That said, he raps incredibly ably on the album, marrying the best elements his I’m-so-crazy Slim Shady phase and the polished, elastic swing he developed circa 8 Mile. Records like “Underground” and “Stay Wide Awake” are impressive feats of flow, and strong arguments that even an embattled Em can put words together better than anyone else rapping.
His career has not been without blemish. But even under the harshest light, it’s undeniable that during the first decade of this century, Eminem expanded hip-hop’s creative spectrum as well as its audience. He was an undisputed pacesetter. His success was a challenge to every other active rapper, and the ripples of his artistic influence can be seen in everyone from Redman to Jay Z to Kanye West to even Drake. Without sustained, culture-wide impact, its tough to argue Eminem as the defining rapper of the aughts, so he’ll just have to settle for being the best, technically, and the most successful, monetarily. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Marshall DGAF. —Noah Callahan-Bever