Updated: Jul 18, 2020
Friday, May 23, 2020 was the official 20 year anniversary of arguably one of the greatest rap albums ever released: The Marshall Mathers LP. If it wasn’t one of your favorites, you could at least agree that it was a cultural reset for hip-hop. Not only was Eminem among one of the first white boys to burst among the scene, and actually be good, but it was also the sheer shock and controversy that followed the album that made it timeless and famous, or infamous, depending on how you look at it.
Because Eminem is one of my personal favorites, and because he is the best selling rapper of all time, I decided it was only right to revisit this iconic album on its anniversary, song by song and piece by piece. Grab your old album off the shelf and join me as I travel back 20 years ago to revisit The Marshall Mathers LP.
1. Public Service Announcement 2000. This album lays the groundwork from the very start with its straightforward message. Eminem is fed up, he is going to kill you, and by listening to him, you’re kissing his ass. This is the type of humor/anger combination that made listeners return to this album following The Slim Shady LP.
2. Kill You features a line often screamed at Eminem concerts even today, as the rapper shouts, “You don’t wanna fuck with Shady,” and the crowd relays back “Cause Shady, will fucking kill you.” Sure, on the surface this song just sounds angry, which of course, it totally IS perfect for bumping when you’re in a bad mood, but the most amazing part for me is the lyricism. “Serial killer hiding murder material in a cereal box on top of your stereo.” Just look how many times Em manages to rhyme in this SINGLE sentence. A genius, undeniably.
3. Stan is iconic. It coined the term for “stalker fan” that is used online today to describe an obsessed fan, or something bigger than a fan, a “stan.” The first three lines is from the perspective of Stan, who describes how much Eminem means to him to the extent of naming his child after one of his songs. As the song goes on, Stan gets angry that Em doesn’t reply to him. Later, this song shows the danger of tongue-and-cheek lyrics being taken too seriously, when Stan says he is murdering his girlfriend because he is just like Em.
In the end, Stan gets so upset that he kills himself by running his car with his girlfriend in the trunk off the bridge. When Eminem finally responds and explains why he didn’t answer, he realizes that Stan had been the man he heard about on the news that committed suicide. The realization at the end of the song is heart wrenching and brings me chills every time I hear it. It shows that Eminem is self-aware about the impact his music can have, and he makes it clear that this isn’t what he wants to happen.
4. Paul (Skit). This short skit gets straight to the point. Eminem’s manager, Paul, is once again, flabbergasted (to say the least) about Eminem’s lyrics, and he doesn’t even know what to say about it.
5. Who Knew is another song about realization. Eminem talks about how his music has went on to affect children in the most negative way possible, but he holds his stance clearly: their parents should have been parents. He talks about young kids watching inappropriate movies in the theatre, getting cussed out by their bus driver, and wearing tons of makeup. In the last verse, he says this phrase that truly makes you think. “Damn, how much damage can I do with a pen?”
6. Steve Berman. Another skit featuring a chairman at Interscope Records. This time, Eminem walks in for a meeting and asked how first week sales are going, and Steve tells him that the album is garbage and should be changed or else it’s not coming out.
7. The Way I Am follows right off the end of the previous skit where Shady walks out of Interscope’s office obviously upset. In this song, Eminem addresses his struggles with fame and the media, including some of the controversy he’s faced thus far in his career. He is pissed that he is blamed for tragedies such as school shootings because of his lyrical content, when in reality, parents just shouldn’t be letting kids listen to him. The chorus says it all, if you want to think Eminem is this bad guy, then maybe he is.
8. The Real Slim Shady is a classic. It won MTV Music Video Awards and a Grammy after landing number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, his highest peak at this point in his career. Notably, Eminem raps “You think I give a damn about a Grammy?” on a song that did, in fact, win a Grammy. This comedic song addresses that Eminem isn’t afraid to say what he wants to say, and he throws punchlines at other celebrities to prove it.
9. Remember Me? Featuring RBX and Sticky Fingaz, this song is as dark as it gets as each rapper takes turns speaking about controversial topics. They each scream “Remember Me?” while quoting some of their most famous lines. Eminem begins verse three with “When I go out, Imma go out shooting. I don’t mean when I die, I mean when I go out to the club, stupid.” He then makes a joke about not saying the word “fuck” for 6 minutes to appease critics, but of course, he breaks this before the verse ends.
On a more serious note, Eminem addresses how Bill Clinton has blamed him for a school shooting, and he says it in one of the most lyrical ways. “Sick, sick dreams of picnic scenes. Two kids, sixteen, with M-16's and ten clips each. And them shits reach through six kids each. And Slim gets blamed in Bill Clint's speech to fix these streets?!” Eminem is TIRED of being blamed for bad parenting.
10. I’m Back is a classic re-introduction for his third album. “You think of my name now whenever I say hi,” points out just how popular his most simple songs, such as “My Name Is” can get. In just a few words, this song is subtle brag about his success at this point, accompanied with some disses to boy bands and pop stars. On an interesting note, he recites a line about Columbine that was blurred out even on the explicit version of the album. He says it again in MMLP2, released in 2013, and it doesn’t get blurred out. I guess it was a bit too sensitive for 2000.
11. Marshall Mathers has a ballad-style chorus that cuts deep: he doesn’t understand why people give a hell about his opinion now when he was ignored his whole life. After this, he explodes into a fire-y verse where he disses the Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, and Britney Spears, but after these less-serious stabs, he goes on to destroy the Insane Clown Posse by recounting a story about when the group ran from him when they saw him in a club. One of my favorite disses from the song? “Vanilla Ice don't like me, said some shit in vibe to spite me, then went and dyed his hair just like me”
12. Ken Kaniff digs even DEEPER at the Insane Clown Posse as an audio plays that pretends to depict Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent Jay performing sexual acts with each other. One thing has always been for sure about Eminem, when he has a real beef with you, he isn’t afraid to say how he feels.
13. Drug Ballad came before Eminem went through his serious addiction issues and the overdose that followed, so it comes with a playful light. He addresses his love of drugs and alcohol and says that he doesn’t have many plans for quitting because basically, you only live once. It’s a catchy song that is fun to bump, but in all honesty, I’m glad he isn’t on drugs anymore, considering we almost lost him in 2007.
14. Amityville features his friend from D12, Bizarre, and because they grew up together, they refer to Detroit as Amityville. On the surface, this song seems like a dark joke, but in some parts, Eminem is truly addressing the terrible things that goes on in his hometown. This becomes clear in the last verse: “That's why they're crowned the murder capital still. This ain't Detroit, this is motherfuckin' Hamburger Hill. We don't do drive-bys; we park in front of houses and shoot. And when the police come, we fuckin' shoot it out with them too.”
15. Bitch Please II is a continuation of Snoop Dogg’s “Bitch Please,” and it features Snoop (of course), Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg, and Xzibit. If it sounds like a total smash, that’s because it is. The song is insanely catchy and even though every rapper goes hard, Eminem delivers the most incredible verse at the end of the song. Speaking about his tough time with the spotlight once more, he talks about the picket fences that people hold outside of Interscope to protest him.
16. Kim. What can I even say about this song? This song is one of the biggest shockers of all time. One, because you can’t believe someone is actually saying these type of things on record, and two, because his passion and aggressiveness in the song is the rawest emotion ever recorded for a song, period. Is it genius? Is it insane? Does anyone know?
17. Under The Influence is a fun muscle flex recorded with his band, D12. The chorus basically just tells you to suck his dick, but what the chorus lacks the verses make up for. Who didn’t become stunned when Eminem blurted out “I'm like a mummy at night, fightin' with bright lightning frightened with five little white Vicadin pills bitin' him?” I mean, look at the multiple line rhymes and syllable play. This is rapping for the sake of rapping, which is a good look when you’re a good enough rapper to pull it off.
18. Criminal. We’ve made it to the end, guys. This song ends an album like this one perfectly. Eminem begins with a speech about how so many people believe he would actually kill people, and how so many people think he does everything he says he does. He provides a plot twist at the end of the speech, saying “If you think that, then I’ll kill you,” before he blasts into the song’s powerful namesake, “I’m a criminal.” The entire album just finished addressing all his controversy, and he uses this song to tell everyone, “screw it, you’re right. That’s who I am.” Amazing. Mic dropping.
When people say they like this album, they’re not saying they agree with murder, violence, and drugs. They’re saying that this album is undeniably game changing in the world of hip-hop because of his wordplay alone. He could have been saying anything with the way he rhymed, but he decided to shock the world by saying what he said anyway.
There is so much about his legacy that people find wrong, and yes, he wasn’t perfect. He had a rough childhood and was a newlywed with a newborn baby, and he had to make money, quick. He invented Slim Shady and made music that was shocking to catch the public’s attention and put food on the table, which he successfully did. In doing this, he spoke to the disgruntled teen, and the kid being bullied, and he made teenagers feel like somebody related.
If you’re a big fan of Eminem, or you just want to learn more, one of the most interesting sources of information is the book Eminem wrote about his life: The Way I Am. If you're not even a big fan, I'm sure you've seen or heard of 8 Mile, but if you want to own a copy, you can buy one here.
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