Eminem Encore

[Shady/Aftermath; 2004]

Styles: mainstream hiphop, self-aware comedic rap
Others: D12, Cage, Thirstin Howl III, Weird Al Yankovic

On the song "If I Get Locked Up," a Funkmaster Flex compilation track from 1999, Eminem, amidst a barrage of brilliant lines, states "quit fuckin' buyin' it, I'm tired bitch, I'm dyin' to quit." Five years later, we're beginning to wonder -- was he serious?

As Eminem became the biggest rap star in history, it was clear to many people that he was also the most technically sound rapper ever. His command of rhyme schemes, multi-syllable rhymes, his flows -- it was the total package -- a fine polishing of many traits and skills picked up along the way from a number of pioneering influences. What was even more remarkable about Eminem was his deranged humor. The clever quips and quick wit gained him an insurmountable edge. The clown always wins the argument.

Before the hip-hop community had a chance to adjust, Eminem was the most feared individual, possibly ever, in the genre. He even caused heavyweights such as Jay-Z and Nas to tighten up their drawstrings. Just look at the albums of these men since Eminem's arrival on the scene. We've had Jay-Z counting his syllables extra carefully and Nas putting more effort into his writing than he had since the Illmatic days. Both expressed praise, and to a certain extent, worship, towards Em. Jay-Z went ahead and featured him on "Renegades," and Nas subsequently used that against Jay ("Eminem murdered you on your own shit"), but also applauds Eminem indirectly through that lyric. They both knew better than to become enemies with Em. They both knew better than to put their well-established legacies in jeopardy. This is the impact Eminem had.

Many would argue Eminem has been on a decline ever since the Slim Shady LP. Though this can be considered, the lackluster performances really didn't emerge until after the very fine Marshall Mathers LP. Eminem separated himself through alter egos (Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers, Eminem), while at the same time these alter egos functioned to excuse him from under par performances. A diehard fan could always argue the lack of seriousness in a song by claiming it was meant to be ridiculous as to fit the "Slim Shady" persona. The same could be said when things would get a little too sensitive and mushy ("Hailie's Song") -- that's just "Marshall" being real.

The decline of Eminem has come to a head with Encore. The first single, "Just Lose It," was, as expected, overly-poppy with a circus-sounding beat. We know by now that this is the formula for Em's first singles, but where the past three have had some redeeming qualities, this has NONE. The track is vacant of any patented slick humor and has no resemblance to the technically sound work of Eminem. He has set the bar exceptionally low for himself, openly admitting in interviews that the song is about absolutely nothing. The rapidly released second single, "Mosh" (following the strict trend of serious single-after-goofball single), though mindful of important issues, is boring and adolescent.

Upon listening to the album, it becomes immediately obvious that Em has deviated too far from what made him great. There is too much focus (or carelessness, perhaps) on his herky-jerky flows that match drum for drum, and the simple rhymes and tired messages are pathetic. The other striking aspect to the album is how alarmingly reflective he is. There is an over-the-top Kevin Williamson-type of self-awareness here as well. Eminem is certain of his impact, definite in his self-analysis, and conscious of his power.

The reflective songs are the strongest -- "Yellow Brick Road," "Mockingbird," and the surprisingly sincere and mature "Like Toy Soldiers." Aside from these three songs, the album is more like an elementary school birthday party, complete with naughty cuss words, annoying singing, and bathroom humor. That's not to say this hasn't been Em's domain in the past, but it has been pushed beyond its limits on Encore. Unbearable nursery rhyme hooks and incoherent verses littered with pop culture references cause a constant cringe. The production doesn't help matters.

Kanye West was recently quoted as saying: "Eminem has some of the best drums in hip hop." This coupled with his opinion that Em is one of the top beat-makers around. Don't let the most times-reputable Kanye West's assertions fool you -- Eminem's production is mostly synth garbage. And the drums -- don't even make me get descriptive. Em has proven to have some rare shining moments with his production, but most of these occasions are due to heavy sample jacks. The lowly production on the album of both Em and Dre fades from thought as the lyrics continue to boggle.

Em speaks of an "experiment" on "Big Weenie." This experiment must be what he describes in "Ass Like That." "I can get away with anything I say and you will love it." So that's what this is all about. The self-aware Eminem knows, and is directly telling us, that we will adore anything he releases. It seems he has found proof in his experiments and is now confident enough to throw the results in all of our faces. Therefore, Eminem has chosen to take all the liberties he's earned and use them, use them, USE THEM. He's at the point where nobody can tell him otherwise -- not Dre, not 50 Cent, not Jimmy Iovine. They can't tell him otherwise because they know he's right. Dismally, this wild public experiment doesn't make for a good album. Maybe in the future, critical essays written about Eminem by scholars will claim it is -- stressing that Encore is a bold Andy Kaufman type of artistic statement, ranking up there with Dylan's Self Portrait. For now though, it's shameful trash -- perhaps he's pushing us because he's truly "dyin' to quit."

1. Curtains Up (Encore Version)
2. Evil Deeds
3. Never Enough
4. Yellow Brick Road
5. Like Toy Soldiers
6. Mosh
7. Puke
8. My 1st Single
9. Paul (skit)
10. Rain Man
11. Big Weenie
12. Em Calls Paul (skit)
13. Just Lose It
14. Ass Like That
15. Spend Some Time
16. Mockingbird
17. Crazy In Love
18. One Shot 2 Shot
19. Final Thought (skit)
20. Encore / Curtains Down

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