Label: N/A
Producers: Eminem, Luis Resto, Dr. Dre, Kon Artis, Mike Elizondo
Features: D12, Obie Trice
Sales: N/A

It’s not really fair to compare an incomplete body of work, released without the artist's consent, to proper studio albums, but the music on the Straight From the Lab EP is strong enough that it deserves inclusion on this list. Also, because it answers the question, “What would it sound like if Eminem made a ‘normal’ rap album?”

Leaked by a friend of Eminem’s younger brother, Nate Mathers, who found a CD of works-in-progress lying around the house, this collection represents a snapshot of the solo material Eminem was creating during the post-8 Mile, pre-Encore era. Clearly influenced by his time with 50 Cent, surging with confidence from his unhindered success, these songs find Mathers making what is by far the most straight-ahead hip-hop of his career.

 

This collection represents a snapshot of the solo material Eminem was creating during the post-8 Mile, pre-Encore era. Clearly influenced by his time with 50 Cent, surging with confidence from his unhindered success, these songs find Mathers making what is by far the most straight-ahead hip-hop of his career.

 

Similar in their dark tone to the production work he'd been providing for the likes of Jay Z, Nas and 50, songs like “We As Americans” and “Monkey See, Monkey Do” eschew the use metaphors and humor that accent most of his work in favor of declamation and explanation. Even the collection’s twisted love/domestic violence ballad, “Love You More,” barrels straight ahead—replacing the clever conceits of “Just The Two Of Us” and “Kim” with unflinching passion and honest, extremely honest, urgency: “You fuck other people and I fuck other people/You’re a slut but I’m equal, I’m a mut… So it’s off and on, usually more off than on/You’re the only one I fuck without a condom on.” (Yeeesh! TMI?)

The dichotomy of “Canibitch” and “Bully,” the collection’s two diss records, really demonstrates the change in Eminem’s song writing that happened when he started hanging around 50 Cent. The former, recorded shortly after The Eminem Show, is a goofy cartoon takedown in which Em channels Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story” and spins a ridiculous Looney Tune that involves him impersonating Canibus and driving to Canada with Dr. Dre (and running over Jermaine Dupri along the way) to stomp out "Stanibus." The latter, on the other hand, is a deadly serious dissection of Benzino, Ja Rule, and Irv Gotti that contemplates the violent, and potentially deadly, outcome of rap beef: “If I get killed for this rap, I got a million in cash that says that I will get you back in Hailey’s name.” That’s a long way from threatening to peg Fred Durst with the bottle of dye that he bleached his head with.

One can’t help but wonder how different Encore might have been had these songs not leaked; had Eminem recorded the entire album in the shadow of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ and 8 Mile rather than the following year. But that’s fan fiction for another day.

It may only be a collection of sketches of an aborted album. But the Straight From the Lab EP was sourced from one of the most exciting moments of Eminem’s career and its value cannot be overstated. —Noah Callahan-Bever