Label: Web Entertainment
Producers: Mr. Porter and Peter Schom
Features: Proof, DJ Head, Thyme, Eye-Kyu, Mr. Porter, Three
Sales: 1000

Eminem had been rapping for ten years by the time he signed to Detroit-based FBT Productions made his first solo album for Jeff and Mark Bass's label Web Entertainment. His much-derided solo debut, The Infinite, stands as a fascinating case study in the narrow margin that separates mere competence from greatness. Everyone always picks on the production, which ranges from tepid (on "The Infinite") to terrible (on "Tonight"). Blame that on the Bass Brothers. But it's more instructive to focus on everything else that doesn't work on this record.

Eminem displays his wondrous wordplay all over the album's 11 cuts, but the 24-year-old MC has yet to develop his own distinctive style. His vocal tone and cadence betray a devotion to New York rappers like AZ and Nas that goes beyond affinity ("affinity and beyond!") into something to closer to biting. Aside from the unfortunate hook on "313" ("What you know about a sweet MC?") his performance lacks urgency, so it's like watching Miguel Cabrera take batting practice instead of swinging for the fences in the bottom of the ninth. Time and again, Em plays it safe lyrically. "It's OK" lists real problems in life, but serves them all up with a "don't worry be happy" twist. The second line of the title track finds him describing himself as "a zany-acting maniac in action." By the time he'd unleash The Slim Shady EP, a year later, he'd sound like he was past acting.

The real problem here is the record's intention. Lacking a creative center of gravity, The Infinite come off very much like the work of an indie label trying to keep the lights on. The "W.E.G.O." interlude, on which Proof and DJ Head talk about "It's OK" being "the number one requested song of the day" says it all. A year later, Em would be talking shit about Detroit's biggest hip-hop station—"Motherfuck JLB, they don't support no hip-hop"—and winning. —Rob Kenner