Label: Aftermath/Interscope/Shady
Producers: Dr. Dre, Eminem (executive producer), Jeff Bass, Mr. Porter
Features: Obie Trice, Dr. Dre, Dina Rae, D12, Nate Dogg, Hallie Jade Mathers
Sales: Diamond

The Slim Shady LP made him a star. The Marshall Mathers LP was his masterpiece, a moment when he opened up his own life and bared his soul on record. The Eminem Show was a response to the backlash, and that response was to push everything to a new breaking point, each illustration receiving depth of shading and color.

Eminem was a bona fide superstar, increasingly conflicted about his place at the top of the charts. His relationships—with his fans, with the media, with his daughter, with white America—became more complex. His rapping became more intricate, his vocals more impassioned. In the lead-in to the album’s release, there was concern that he might be approaching mannerism if he tried to follow up “My Name Is” and “Real Slim Shady” with a similarly-themed lead single. He pulled it off, though, with "Without Me," his rapid, increasingly dense lines snaking through the beat with fluency that makes the whole thing feel second nature. Each line has its own carefully composed cadence: “A little bit of weed mixed with some hard liquor/Some vodka that'll jump start my heart quicker than a shock when I get shocked at the hosp-ital…”

 

Despite its lead single, The Eminem Show was a more ambitious move, wrestling with the issues raised by his success in a serious way. At the time, it received criticism for abandoning some of the more irreverent cartoonishness in favor of capital-I Importance. He helped foster this impression, no doubt, with the increasingly dramatic production choices of songs like “Til I Collapse” and its extended intro, and “Sing for the Moment,” which took musical steps towards stadium-sized performances.

 

It wasn’t the only lighter moment on the record. “Business” was perhaps Dre and Em’s greatest work together as a duo, and one of the better examples of Dre’s post-2001 style. The Eminem Show also found his relationships with women evolving, although not necessarily in the most positive ways. “Superman” suggested a fame-informed transactionalism that seemed colder and more detached than the kind of dependent anger of his earlier work.

This time around, though, he was cognizant of many of the criticisms he was receiving, ducking and weaving and trying to make sense of the seismic impact of his still-snowballing popularity: “A visionary, vision is scary, could start a revolution, polluting the air waves a rebel/So just let me revel and bask, in the fact that I got everyone kissing my ass.” “White America” tackled his race head-on. Whereas it had been laughed at on The Slim Shady LP (“How the fuck can I be white? I don’t even exist...”), his outsized success forced him to come face-to-face with the intrinsic advantages he was suddenly aware of.

In other words, despite its lead single, The Eminem Show was a more ambitious move, wrestling with the issues raised by his success in a serious way. At the time, it received criticism for abandoning some of the more irreverent cartoonishness in favor of capital-I Importance. He helped foster this impression, no doubt, with the increasingly dramatic production choices of songs like “Til I Collapse” and its extended intro, and “Sing for the Moment,” which took musical steps towards stadium-sized performances.

But what could have been an increasingly dour record is saved by his increasingly elaborate rapping, which reaches its apex on “Til I Collapse.” What should have been a leaden monster, as the bass-heavy funk of the Bass Brothers and Dr. Dre was dropping away in favor of arena-ready epics, was saved by Nate Dogg’s urgent hook and some of the most elaborate-yet-purposeful rapping of Eminem’s career. —David Drake