November 18, 2004

Eminem: Encore

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I have some good news, and I have some bad news. Everybody likes to hear the good news first. Here’s the good news: Eminem is back! After almost two and a half years filled with lawsuits and inconsistent side-projects, the poet laureate of disgruntled American teens has returned again, riding on the rhythmic stallions of beat-master Dr. Dre. Unfortunately, it appears as if we fans will have to wait another few years to see if our hero will regain the hunger and desire that powered his first two major albums.

Let’s break this bad news slowly. When I think of Eminem’s three major releases, I am reminded of the original Star Wars trilogy. The first Star Wars movie was light-hearted but pensive, much like The Slim Shady LP. Between that release and The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem underwent artistic growth comparable only to that of The Beatles between Help! and Rubber Soul. With his second major release, Eminem redefined every boundary of rap and lyrical elasticity, sparking controversy unlike any album before it. Like The Empire Strikes Back, The M.M. LP was extraordinarily dark and brooding and is possibly the most revealing and introspective record of personal psychosis ever. And finally, as The Return of the Jedi was inferior to its predecessors, so was The Eminem Show. More light-hearted and frivolous than angry, it appeared as if Eminem’s evil alter-ego Slim Shady had finally been exorcised. But with the completion of the trilogy came the question: where do you go from here?

For the Star Wars franchise, the clear answer was to sink its artistic credibility faster than Leonardo DiCaprio sank at the end of Titanic (one of the most unintentionally funny moments in movie history). Eminem, on the other hand, attempts to grow up (a bad spot to be in for a man who once rubbed his ass in N’SYNC’s face) rather than turn his work into kindergarten happy time.

Have faith Eminem fans. Eminem is no George Lucas; he’s not fat and he doesn’t try to replace Chewie with Samuel Jackson. Encore, however, is possibly the most disappointing album of my lifetime for a number of reasons. This is an above average rap album, but average standards can no longer be applied to Eminem because we have come to expect so much more. Furthermore, Eminem is now thirty-two years old, and one would think that a certain level of maturity would be attained by Shady in what he has claimed will be his final album, yet this album still finds Eminem whimpering about his absent father, drug-addicted mother and the infamous Kim. While a few tracks take on political and social issues, Eminem’s egotism on Encore is surprising. Another weak point comes from Dr. Dre. The pioneer of gangsta rap has never been more inconsistent than on this album. Many of the songs feel very similar and appear lazily produced while some of the best beats on the album are wasted by Eminem’s writer’s block. Please, Marshall, do not quit now; Shady’s hectic, neurotic style has been lost. Find it and regain your throne on top of the rap world.

Archived article by Stan Feldman
Sun Contributor