Eminem - The Slim Shady LP (1999)
Here it is. The most innocent Marshall Mathers will ever be. That's not to say his least angriest, he'll find plenty of things to get pissed off about later on in his career, but this is the album where he'll focus more on the relationships in his life and how they affect the average life of an everyday rapper. Before the fandom rocketed into the stratosphere, before the drug addictions, before the retirement/comeback, before basically he became too self-aware to really be himself anymore and only a caricature of himself. And it's a really good album.
You got to give a guy credit who describes killing his own wife/baby-mama with the help of his daughter in such a playful and creative way on "'97 Bonnie & Clyde." Can anyone honestly say that his more recent fanfare dissing on Kim Kardashian and (gasp!) Michael Jackson are anywhere near the same caliber as he is here? Or how he plays already responds to the controversy such songs will cause on "Role Model" as he tells the viewer that if they get violent they'll be just as famous as himself. He'll reminisce about this later on one of his greatest songs "Stan," but this is before that so there's still some innocence to how demented the guy is actually being. His freedom to take the listener all the way to the edge is unprecedented because how could he ever know that he would blow up and become such an influential character?
That's not to say that he's always on point. Eminem's problem on most of his albums is he seems to lose track of which identity he wants to be and the songs just become boring. "If I Had" is a predictable look at how things could have been, "My Fault" has his typical call-and-response between himself and himself, but doesn't really give Slim a proper flow to create something worthwhile. "Rock Bottom" doesn't add much as well and only creates more forgettable tracks in the middle of what could be a great album.
"Just Don't Give A Fuck" shows off his swagger a bit more, showcasing his mid-sentence rhyming pattern a bit more and hinting at his style to come. The "fuck the world" attitude of Em is in full force here and, yet again, makes his innocence to the whole stardom to come sound much more interesting than the path he's chosen lately. The creativity behind the two lead singles off the album, "My Name Is" and "Guilty Conscious" are some of the brightest on the record. The battle between him and maestro Dr. Dre on the latter is a great evil vs. eviler, Marshall not afraid to remind Dre of his misdeeds of the past ("You Gonna Take Advice From Somebody who slapped Dee Barnes?") but is quick to inhabit his persona and be just as mischievous. And the breakout single that launched the man to super stardom has faded somewhat over the years, the references still recognizable and he would perfect the craft of slamming celebrities while at the same time acknowledging his greatness in the lead singles to come, but here it's understandable why he broke out because of it and it's still got those great verses.
Do a handful of great songs make up for a good portion of mediocre ones? It's hard to build a respectable rap when it's based around a so-so hook (see "I'm Shady" and "If I Had"), but his rhymes are the mark of the album that would keep listeners coming back for more. It turns out to be a fun album that Em will never quite be able to match again but will try continuously, but most of all seems like a sign of things to come from the white guy from Detroit. He sums up his whole career to come in one line: "Extortion, snortin, supportin abortion/Pathological liar, blowin shit out of proportion." Couldn't agree with you more, Marshall.
Standout Track: "'Role Model"
Overall Rating: 8.1