By no means does The Eminem Show indicate that its author has washed his hands of his deviously dark mirth.
"As a man I matured a lot, but I still like to clown and have fun," he says. "I have fun at my job. The day that I don't, I'll quit."
But just like The Marshall Mathers LP ironically brought his Eminem persona to the forefront, this album paradoxically reintroduces us to someone we forgot about.
That's Marshall Mathers, the misunderstood underground battle rhyme specialist who wants you to empathize with his pain. He tries to make you feel him again throughout his new album, especially on the ballad-y ode to his child, "Hailie's Song"; his narrative of anguish, "Say Goodbye Hollywood"; and the open letter to his estranged parent, "Cleaning Out My Closet."
"Just try to envision/ Witnessin' your momma poppin' prescription pills in the kitchen/ ... Goin' through public housin' systems/ Victim of Munchausen Syndrome/ My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn't," he rhymes on the track.
"Honestly, there is no relationship with me and my mother," Eminem explains. "There wasn't really one to begin with, but that song is like my closure song."
Em's Show is what I Am (the in-store LP and classic bootleg) was to Nas, Me Against the World was to Tupac, Life After Death was to Biggie and The Blueprint was to Jay-Z. All albums perfectly capture their stars at a turning point in their lives.
"I feel like I really matured, and [with] this album, more than anything, I wanted to show growth as an artist," Eminem says. "In order for you to stay afloat in this business, you have to mature and you have to reinvent yourself, stay fresh. Especially with hip-hop. It's so changing forever, and it keeps elevating and going onto different levels."
"Indeed so," co-signs Rakim, Em's labelmate and arguably the greatest to grab the mic. "His content, he's gonna take you there. He definitely stepped his skills up. His album is crazy, too. It's Eminem, but he's gotten better. He's placing his words iller. His styles are iller. He's bringing skills back to the game."
And just like Nas, Pac, Big and Jay left no question as to whether or not they were this generation's hip-hop legends with their aforementioned opuses, Mathers is hoping that this LP can place Eminem among the modern-day greats. Some of his peers feel he doesn't have far to go. Just ask Jay-Z, who solicited Em's appearance on The Blueprint, and Lil' Kim, who's been publicly imploring him to appear on her latest project.
"I have to see after this album comes out," says Em, who raps about getting overlooked as one of the elite mic slayers on " 'Till I Collapse." "I'll have to see what happens as far as the respect level. Yeah, I feel like I've got credit. I obviously sold records. But the things that I feel are the greatest, the rhymes that I've actually sat there and worked on for hours I don't get recognized for them.
"A lot of the rhymes that I've penned in 10 minutes will get recognized, and I always sit back, like, 'That's not my favorite sh-- I've said,' " he explains. "A lot of the stuff, it seems it does get slept on."
"Lyrically, he's up there with the best of them," vouches Diddy, who has produced records for Big, Nas and Jay-Z. "He gets that respect. Who could say he ain't hot? I don't think anybody really wants to spar with that cat on just making a record. He has a unique style. I think he's valuable in the game."
"The average listener, I don't know if they actually see what it is or hear the patterns and syllable rhyming and stuff like that," Eminem explains. "I don't know if they really catch that. I think they just listen and appreciate it for the beat or what it's saying.
"But it's a certain way that I said [those things]. [A certain way] that I write, that Jay-Z writes, Nas ... they crafted rhymes to the very last detail," he continues. "I don't know, they make it look easy so the average listener may think it's easy. But the truth is that everybody would be doing that if it was so easy."