Published on April 14th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ – Eminem 
Summary: Marshall reacts to commercial success with mixed results. The peaks raised eyebrows. Unfortunately, so did the valleys.
Length: 72:14 | Release: May 23,2000
Producers: Dr. Dre (executive), Eminem, Mel-Man, The 45 King, Bass Brothers | Label: Aftermath, Interscope, Shady
Top 40 U.S. Singles: 1 | Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 1
“…all of a sudden I’ve got 90-some cousins…”
Such was life for Marshall Bruce Mathers in 2000.
The Marshall Mathers LP was released nearly 14 years ago and it remains Eminem’s best-selling album in the States thanks to people like my friends and me. I was in junior high when the album took over. Back then, Eminem’s role in your life was pretty straightforward. If you were like most guys, he was the outlaw. If you were a girl, he was the bad boy.
If you were on the cheerleading squad, he was irrelevant.
A BBC interview with Mathers from 2000, the height of his impact.
He cast a shadow – artistic and otherwise – over not only middle-class middle schools like mine, but also throughout high schools and on college campuses across the country. In early 2014, it was reported that the record had sold 10.8 million units in the United States to date. It sold over 7 million copies the year of its release.
But in order to break down The Marshall Mathers LP, we must understand it was a reactionary record. It was, in essence, a sequel.
So let’s jump back a couple years.
Marshall’s raps were introduced to the Dr. Dre by Interscope head honcho Jimmy Iovine. Once paired with Dre, Em recorded and released the stunning Slim Shady LP in 1999. It was good for business. The album went platinum a little more than a week after its release. He rode the popularity of hits like “My Name Is” and “Guilty Conscience.” Em’s fragmented delivery and go-anywhere rhymes gave us our first generation-specific anti-hero. He probably also delivered our first proper whiff of commercial satire. You don’t forget those people.
Oh, and did I mention the dude sold records?
By definition, that made him a “pop” artist.
However, Marshall Mathers was always the guy at the lunch table who would suck a lemon for a dollar. So what happens when that guy becomes the biggest pop star on earth?
The Marshall Mathers LP happens.
“I’m trying to develop these pictures of the devil and sell ‘em,” he raps on “Kill You.” And when Eminem could focus long enough, he was able to do that in 2000. And that was a good thing.
“The Way I Am” is one of the hardest tracks of Eminem’s career.
From “Who Knew:”
Who’s bringin’ guns in this country?
I couldn’t sneak a plastic pellet gun through customs over in London
And last week I seen a Schwarzenegger movie
Where he’s shootin’ at all sorts of these motherfuckers with an uzi
I see three little kids, up in the front row yelling, “Go!”
With their 17-year-old uncle
I’m like, “Guidance – ain’t they the same mom and dads who got mad when I asked if they liked violence?”
Still, I believe The Marshall Mathers LP is a lesser album than the records that came immediately before and after it. And that’s because it sounded like Marshall was distracted much of the time.
From “I’m Back:”
And by the way, N’Sync, why do they sing?
Am I the only one who realizes that they stink?
It’s one of many references to boy bands, teen pop idols and homosexuals. For reasons still unknown, he makes fun of Sonny Bono Christopher Reeve. Not only do his targets get repetitive, he picks on the little guy.
From “The Real Slim Shady:”
I’m sick of you little girl and boy groups, all you do is annoy me
So I’ve been sent here to destroy you
On later records, his barbs would become more pointed (the Bush administration, classism, single-parent households). And it felt good to hear Eminem picking on someone his own size.
And how many “flipping the bird” references pepper this record? The middle finger? Seriously, Marshall?
We should note the difference between anger and blind rage. Anger typically translates well to rock and rap. However, anyone’s decision making – let alone recording artists’ – can suffer when acting out of blind rage.
Eminem never totally loses sight on The Marshall Mathers LP, but it happens often enough.
That said, he couldn’t have played the singles game any better. He covered all sides of his personality with “The Real Slim Shady,” “The Way I Am” and “Stan.” And I must admit I’m still a sucker for vintage Eminem beats. Those skittery prank-like beats lay the groundwork for Em’s next punchline. Thank you, Executive Producer Dr. Dre.
The epic 6-minute murder-fantasy that is “Kim” is interesting for a number of reasons. One of them is that he actually bothers to retrace the couple’s crisis to where it originally went wrong.
Never knew cheating on you would come back to haunt me
But we were kids then, Kim
I was only 18
That was years ago
I thought we wiped that slate clean!
Slim gets personal on the semi-title cut “Marshall Mathers” live in 2000.
Now let’s get totally real. The narrative heft of “Stan” was always overrated. He executed a similar thing better on “Guilty Conscience” the year before. You’ve got to give Em props on the take-a-look-at-yourself-anthem “Who Knew,” but we also must acknowledge he made the same points better on “Renegade” a year later on Jay Z’s Blueprint.
The success of the Slim Shady LP had no celebratory effect on Eminem in the recording studio. The demands that come with success seemingly heightened the desperation and fear that were always right below the surface. On “Drug Ballad,” Marshall raps:
When it’s all said and done I’ll be 40
Before I know it with a forty on the porch telling stories
With a bottle of Jack
Two grandkids in my lap
Babysitting for Hailie while Hailie’s out getting smashed
In 2000, it could have easily gone that way. With only a single hit record under his belt, Eminem had definite flame-out potential.
Actually, despite the fact Marshall is 41 now, it could still go that way.
Marshall Mathers was the guy at the bowling alley who threatened to beat your ass. But when he’s at his best he can use his talents to rise above his insecurities and make sense of them. When he’s off … well, he’s off. He’s punching at the breeze, as Bruce Springsteen would say.
What the hell is a fella to do?
For every million I make, another relative sues
We’re probably lucky we still have him around. If the Marshall Mathers LP taught us anything, it’s that 2000 was a grating year for him.