Eminem's lyrics are provocative, potentially offensive and some would
argue art -- modern day versions of Greek tragedies. To Eminem, at
least, these raps make a point about the tragic comedy that is life.
And if it causes controversy in the process, well, then so be it, he
"There's a deeper meaning behind everything I say, making fun of all
the f---ed up sh-- in the world," said Eminem, whose rapping voice
wavers between a mocking whine and an exaggerated, off-kilter yelp.
"It's comical sh--, but people will see that it is really political.
I'm not a baby sitter or a role model. I never claimed to be any of
The major label debut by rapper Eminem, The Slim Shady LP,
kicks off with a jokey disclaimer about the tales of violent murder,
mayhem, rape and drug taking that unfold over the course of the album.
"This is a public service announcement brought to you in part by Slim
Shady," says the cheesy announcer at the outset. "The views and events
expressed here are totally fucked, and are not necessarily the views
of anyone, however the ... suggestions that appear on this album are
not to be taken lightly.
"Slim Shady is not responsible for your actions."
What follows is a one-hour trip through the often violent mind of the
24-year-old Detroit rapper (born Marshall Mathers), who is the latest
protégé of N.W.A founder and gangsta-rap icon Dr. Dre
(born Andre Young). Just a week after its release, the album's graphic
-- and, at times, horrific -- lyrics have resulted in a tersely worded
condemnation from the editor of Billboard magazine and a strong
reaction from several women's groups.
In songs such as the album's first single,
(RealAudio excerpt), Eminem raps about dreaming that he slits his
father's throat. A duet with Dre on "Guilty Conscience" finds various
Eminem alter egos contemplating robbery, murder and the drugging/rape
of a 15-year-old girl.
Expecting that his graphic rhymes might cause some controversy, Eminem
took time prior to the album's release to describe the "Slim Shady
concept" of his main alter ego as the "dark, evil, creatively sick
part of me."
The rapper, who said he'd never met his father and had a seriously
strained relationship with his mother, defended his often violent,
misogynistic lyrics by saying that if he actually did any of the
things he raps about he'd "be in jail right now."
Eminem said that, before the album's Feb. 24 release, he had excised
lyrics in "My Name Is" that described raping lesbians and confronting
an unwanted advance by a homosexual grade school teacher. Several of
that song's profanity-laced rhymes and graphic situations are
sanitized for the radio single and video version of the track.
"If something's on my mind, I'll say it," Eminem said, adding that he
changed the lyrics to "My Name Is" at the behest of an unidentified
gay activist. "To be honest, I don't have nothing against gay people ...
The world will get offended when they listen to my sh--. I'm glad,
because at the end of the day, I don't give a sh-- what I rapped about."
The lyrics to "My Name Is" and those of
(RealAudio excerpt) drew mixed reactions from women's and anti-domestic
violence groups. In the latter, Dre plays the part of a good angel
trying to stop Eminem's character, "Grady," from committing the rape
and shotgun murder of his unfaithful wife.
Judith Meuli, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National
Organization for Women, said she preferred to fault the label that
promotes and distributes albums with such lyrics rather than the
"I think about it the same way as prostitution," the 30-year NOW
veteran said. "You shouldn't fault the woman [who prostitutes herself] ...
but the people buying it and those that denied her a proper education
and opportunities. The guy's just trying to make some controversy and
Eminem's label, Interscope Records, had no response to this story,
according to a spokesperson for the rapper.
While cultural history has been rife with images of murder and
familial violence (the patricide in the Greek myth "Oedipus," the
murderous blues of the late Robert Johnson, etc.), an advocate for
domestically abused women and children decried the rough images in
"I had a very visceral reaction [to the album]," said Kate Cloud, the
executive director of Boston's, Respond Inc. "When we have a popular
artist whose music is promoting the victimization and abuse of an
intimate partner, it speaks very much to what we're trying to work
Cloud said she had not yet heard the album and was not aware of such
songs as " '97 Bonnie and Clyde" -- wherein a husband under a
restraining order dumps the body of his murdered wife at sea -- until
she received a call last week from Billboard Editor-In-Chief
Timothy White. The Billboard editor penned a repudiation of the
album's content in the current issue of the music industry weekly.
Already a 10-year veteran performer at a relatively young age, Eminem
had been toiling on the Detroit rap scene for more than five years
before hooking up with Dre. Now, he is following in the footsteps of
Dre's previous protégé, multimillion-selling gangsta-
rapper Snoop Dogg.
Despite his protests, Eminem revealed a glimpse of his hard-nosed
persona during a SonicNet Music News interview by promising to
"go choke them motherf---ers" in a cell phone call about a personal
The subject matter on Slim Shady LP ranges from the travails of
an awkward teen in the song, "Brain Damage," to Eminem's self-
description as a "sick, sick bastard" in "Cum on Everybody," to an
endorsement of "[doing] acid, crack, smack, coke and smokin' dope" in
"Just Don't Give a Fuck."
At the other extreme, Eminem described the melancholy rap ballad,
"Rock Bottom," as embodying the fear and panic he felt just a year ago
before his career took off. In the song, he frets about not being able
to heat his house or provide for his daughter, to whom the album is
It's "about all the scary sh-- that was going through my head ... when
nobody had faith in me," he said.