Eminem – “The Real Slim Shady”

Released: 5.16.00

Peak: #4

All kids hate a hypocrite, and “The Real Slim Shady” articulated that universal contempt in specific terms for a new generation, zeroing in on the adolescent insight that the same adults who commercially exploit your hormonal overdrive will tiresomely lecture you to keep it in your pants. Slim may be self-aggrandizing about his candor–free speech nuts typically are–but he lived up to his promise to make “the things you joke about with your friends inside in your living room” mainstream discourse. If he couldn’t keep up that game himself, it’s not just that immaturity can’t be feigned forever. Time marched on, and once the public sphere neared within spewing range of every Slim Shady with online access, the rabble needed no rouser.

“The Real Slim Shady” is dated. That late-model Dre electro sound (what up, Mel-Man?), manifested here in a comic-horror harpsichord trill with corresponding synth bass, was fresh in its day, but soon outwore its welcome. And Em always chose his targets indiscriminately–free speech avatars typically do–deeming nothing beneath his notice. Not Tom Green. Not the Bloodhound Gang. Not an offhand Christina Aguilera comment on MTV. Sure popular culture was a little cheesy ’round the turn of the millennium, but that’s no excuse to stoop so low as to dis the goddam Grammys. He won one anyway. Serves him right.

But if “The Real Slim Shady” is a bit overly immersed in its moment, that’s satire for you–try reading The Dunciad without footnotes. Eminem played an essential role in hip-hop’s transition from cool subgenre to pop music’s default mode, if only because he had no choice. Young blonde cutie that he was, he couldn’t ignore teenyboppers as blithely as Jay-Z might. In blurring the boundaries, regardless of his contempt, he made it possible for the Justins and Britneys to leap over the racial divide into R&B.

And yet, Slim never inspired the melanin-free stars that Presleyphobes always prophesied. Hell, we had to wait a decade just for Asher Roth. Which somehow makes sense, since the real punch line here is that the amassing army of Slim Shadies don’t hop on the mic in imitation–instead, the anti-social vandals sulk around dismantling your very own neighborhood while you’re distracted by Eminem’s harmless public stunts. Me, I’d like to claim Marshall Mathers for a different tribe. Irreverent and verbose, compelled to acknowledge pop detritus, spouting critiques dependent less on logic than on verbal acuity, white–no wonder rock critics loved him. He was One of Us.

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