Producers: Dr. Dre (executive producer), Eminem, Mark and Jeff Bass, The 45 King, Mel-Man
Features: Dido, RBX, Sticky Fingaz, Dina Rae, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Nate Dogg, D12, Bizarre
The Marshall Mathers LP is Eminem's magnum opus. Having sold 10.8 million copies, it's the 14th-best-selling album in the history of SoundScan. But sales figures aside, it was Em stepping into the prime of his career. It was a lightning rod for controversy in the year 2000 when CD sales hit their all time peak. At a time when the Billboard charts were dominated by squeaky-clean pop acts like 'N Sync and Backstreet Boys, Eminem offered a rebuttal to the hypocritical American mainstream that criticizes rap music while celebrating—and, worse, commercializing—sex, violence, and bigotry in other arenas. This album turned Eminem into a global icon. There was a huge amount of hype and controversy around it—culminating when he performed "Stan" at the 2001 Grammys alongside Elton John. But none of that takes away from its musical achievement. This album definitively proved that the Detroit rapper was a gifted lyricist, a brilliant songwriter, and a visionary artist.
In many ways, MMLP picked up where his previous album, The Slim Shady LP, left off—many of the new songs mirrorred older ones. There's another "Public Service Announcement" (once again voiced by Jeff Bass of The Bass Brothers), Em calls "Drug Ballad" his "love song" the way he called "Cum On Everybody" his "dance song," and the "holy-shit-this-guy-is-out-of-his-fucking-mind-but-also-amazing" song "Kim" is a prequel to "'97 Bonnie & Clyde."
The brutal honesty and specific clarity in the rhymes was striking, but Em's anger is the hallmark of this album. This is roll-your-windows-down, turn-your-system-up, throw-up-your-middle-finger-and-let-it-linger-music.
Unlike his debut, however, the album got past being seen as silly or cheesy. In 1999, we didn't know what to make of this angry blonde dude because it was hard to tell when the jokes started and ended. In 2000, things became clearer as he delved further into autobiographical territory. We started to hear the seriousness in the stories about how he used to get "beat up, peed on, be on free lunch, and changed school every three months."
The album sounded different too. While Dr. Dre provided only three beats The Slim Shady LP, here, he and his partner Mel-Man handled most of the first half of the album, with Eminem and The Bass Brothers taking over for most of the second. Even when it came to the production credits, duality remained a running theme for Eminem (or is that Slim Shady?)
The brutal honesty and specific clarity in the rhymes was striking, but Em's anger is the hallmark of this album. This is roll-your-windows-down, turn-your-system-up, throw-up-your-middle-finger-and-let-it-linger-music. Em's words are so precise and he's so in control of his pen, yet he's so emotionally erratic. (Maybe a lasting effect of his infamous Amsterdam acid trip, upon which he claims he wrote so much of the album that he considered calling it Amsterdam.)
He rages against everyone; past tormentors, magazines that made fun of him ("Double-XL, Double-XL!"), his mother, his wife, and even manages to aim an AK at Dre's face, just because. But he's so damn good at it you hardly want to hear anyone else rapping. There isn't a long guest list, but every voice other than Em's feels like a distraction you want to fast-forward past. How could we listen to anyone else when Em was spontaneously combusting before our very ears? The rage was magnetic, hypnotic. "Blood, guts, guns, cuts, knives, lives, wives, nuns, sluts!"
IN RETROSPECT, HIS OVERZEALOUS USE OF HOMOPHOBIC SLURS SEEMS KNOWING AND JOKEY, A SMIRKY KID REVELING IN HIS ABILITY TO PISS YOU OFF—LIKE WHEN YOU TELL SOMEONE TO TURN DOWN THEIR MUSIC AND THEY RESPOND BY TURNING IT UP AND YELLING, "WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!"
The anger spews in every direction as he takes reckless shots at pop culture's other famous figures. Maybe because Em was still a battle rapper at heart, one in need of a bullseye to aim his verbal darts at. He spends a lot of time lashing out at his critics, too. In retrospect, his overzealous use of homophobic slurs seems knowing and jokey, a smirky kid reveling in his ability to piss you off—like when you tell someone to turn down their music and they respond by turning it up and yelling, "WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!" Lines from "Criminal" like "Hate fags? The answer's yes" are way too literal for a rapper so obsessed with weaving such an intricate web of humor and horror. And there are always lines he won't cross. One verse later he rhymes "I drink more liquor to fuck you up quicker/Than you'd wanna fuck me up for saying the word..." He stops there. There's still one word out there that even Eminem won't say.
Despite the album's artistry and massive success, in a weird way, it's hard to call it an "influential" album. Sure, there are lots of white rappers today and Em certainly inspired part of that, but all of them shy away from Em comparisons. And none of them—stylistically, musically, and definitely lyrically—can hold a candle to Eminem at his peak. Really, no one of any race can compare.
Bar for bar, line for line, Eminem is and always will be a rapper's rapper. But this isn't the typical "rap" album, it's so far removed from hip-hop's sonic center and typical subject matter. It's an Eminem album, and this is when Eminem became EMINEM. And Eminem isn't your regular rapper, not your regular pop star. He's what he's shown to be on the back cover of the album, a freak genius who likes to write raps. There he sits, Marshall, and he sits alone. —Insanul Ahmed