"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Death Of "The Real Slim Shady"

"I miss the blonde hair and the awkward doo rag..."

On perhaps his finest song, “The Way I Am”, Eminem lashed out against the pressure of having to continually record a “poppy sensation that got [him] rotation at rock and roll stations.” An irony that gets lost when you consider that he’s spent his career doing that exact same thing over and over to continually diminishing returns. It’s been a long time coming but Marshall Mathers finally got his wish. After five solo albums, two D12 albums, and tens of millions records sold, Eminem finally got to release a single that isn’t “My Name Is.” Eminem’s latest single, “Not Afraid,” bares no resemblance to the pop culture-lashing, pop chart chasing singles that have made him a mainstay of TRL (that still exists right? No? Well, don’t I look like an ass!) for over a decade.

“Not Afraid” is a bombastic yet a paradoxically sober affair with Eminem beating his chest and crowing that he is prepared for a life of sobriety and responsibility after years of portraying himself as an unhinged, drug-addled gremlin both in his music and his personal life. If the song has a direct predecessor, it would be T.I.’s post-weapons charge anthem, “No Matter What,” in both tone and delivery. Both songs aim at being anthemic and Eminem remains as technically virtuosic as ever but if you close your eyes, it would seem as if the words were coming out of Tip Harris’ mouth himself. The flow is so obviously similar that it seems as if Eminem locked himself in his rehab suite and listened to “Paper Trail” ad infinitum while he nursed himself into sobriety.. Even the basic song structure and subject matter bare almost identical similarity where as Tip stood defiant in the face of a long jail sentence, Em stands against the difficulties of post-rehab sobriety. If one were completely cynical, one could easily accuse Em of biting Tip’s song wholesale which makes sense if you consider that T.I. was one of the few non-Shady/Aftermath artists that Em worked with during his post-Encore/Proof’s death exile from rap music.

Ignoring issues of artistic thievery for a moment, the ultimate problem with “Not Afraid” is that it seems far more flaccid and generic than Tip’s titanic anthem. Eminem seems unsure of how to make music outside of his typical oeuvre. “Not Afraid” not only lacks the caustic wit of the Slim Shady era but it bears none of the bitter catharsis of his darker, more personal work like “Kim” or “Kill You.” The song works like a B-grade “Lose Yourself” content to kick lyrical clichés that sound as if they are the lesser aphorisms of inspiration pimps like Tony Robbins. When Eminem says that he’s “not afraid to maker a stand,” one is forced to ask “Against what?” The self-seriousness is almost laughably Keith Olbermann-like.

The question remains is how will this new Eminem function beyond this song in the absence of the artistic crutches he usually relies on. His upcoming album, “Recovery,” suggests an album that will be reaching towards something that approaches maturity but can Eminem sustain an entire album without reaching into his old bag of tricks. Does the public even want that? What if the single is received far worse than it’s predecessors and Eminem is forced to go back to the Slim Shady reserves for one last run? It’s easily conceivable that if “Not Afraid” flops, he will be making dated Tiger Woods jokes before you know it. (It should be noted that “Not Afraid’ is #2 on iTunes as I’m writing this so my postulating could be as easily redundant as an Eminem pop culture reference.) Still if the execution is slightly rote, it’s hard to fault Eminem for taking such a chance on a song like “Not Afraid” so late into his career. Eminem remains one of the few viable album-selling monsters and one must be tempted to stick with the formula that keeps him successful. If he’s going to remain a viable artist, he has to change with the times. The question is what left does he have to say?


Namson Ngo-Le said...

While I very, very, much appreciate that Eminem decided to change the formula from his typical lead single, I agree that the type of upbeat optimism of Not Afraid is not his comfort zone, and quite frankly, it lacks the charisma that made him so appealing early on in his career. Then again, he hasn't had that career for nearly a decade now, so hey we shouldn't have been expecting it. I'm still very dubious of the notion of Eminem doing a serious or mature album, but it can't be much worse than the horrorcore of Relapse. We'll see.

Robert said...

I believe the concern is warranted for "Recovery" in only that Em hasn't made a legitimate album that critics and the public agreed on since 2003's "Eminem Show". But haven't we learned from Weezy that killer guest spots are now the requirement to move huge units? And all of those features have him in some sort of rap elder-statesman role so an album full of similar material shouldn't be too much of a stretch. Em's shit on every rapper that he's featured with since "Relapse"'s release 12 months ago and I think its matter of supply and demand. The fact this guy has been in the game long enough to be running laps around yesterday's and today's "Best Rapper Alive" in Jay-Z to Wayne has to be a testament to him being one of the greats.

Trey Stone said...

he's shit on every rapper only if you just care about multis and not flow, cuz on all his recent guest spots and this song he ignores the beat and sticks with this tightly wound shouted delivery that's as irritating as the accented bullshit. flow's garbage but he's tryin' to kick knowledge, etc., etc.

personally i think it's kinda silly to give dude brownie points for a song this lame just cuz it's different. i mean even "Just Lose It" at least had its so dumb it's mildly amusing charms. but then i don't really care either way cuz dude's been done and it kinda baffles me to see people on different sites still treating dude like he's GOAT status despite the obvious skill dropoff since '04 (not that he was the best doing it before that in any case)

DocZeus said...


I definitely don't agree about Em's flow on his recent guest appearance. Yes, he's flowing in a rapid fire manner but he's definitely staying within the confines of the beat. Technically, all his stuff has been masterful even going back to "Relapse" which was terrible for reasons beyond his delivery.

And I DEFINITELY wasn't giving him props for this song simply for being different. I'm not sure how you picked that up.

Jessen said...

I liked this song. The beat was a pretty big let down as far as being so bland it might as well have not been there, but I'll take almost anything these days over a shitty dre beat (Yes, Dr. Dre's beats sucks, and have for years now.) We Made You was just about as bad as you can get with the My Name Is repeats so I really have no problem with something very different. People got mad at relapse for being too over the top and stupid, and this is too wimpy and uninteresting. What does he has to do to win?

P.S. I also miss the awkward du rag and blonde hair, Eminem should not be trying to dress himself if he's not going for the "highschool thug" look.

Trey Stone said...

maybe reading too much into your whole "hard to fault" bit at the end, my bad. i don't listen to blogs i just skim through 'em

technically you're right dude might not be offbeat on the recent freestyles/guest verses, a better way to put it might be how Noz did a little while back when he commented on "Drop the World" that Em's flow's so rigid he "tramples the beat." him stuffing all these multis together seems to come at the expense of interacting well with the music like superior rappers do, letting it breathe. it's also that i dig looser flows and dude's recent delivery is anything but.

granted i don't even really listen to dude's classic-era stuff like that any more, even though like a lot of whiteboys he was kinda my gateway into rap, but his flow used to be less one-note i think. or maybe i'm thinking tone. i dunno

DocZeus said...

Yeah, It's hard to fault him for trying something new but I also called the song a flaccid and generic of "No Matter What" soooooo....

"technically you're right dude might not be offbeat on the recent freestyles/guest verses, a better way to put it might be how Noz did a little while back when he commented on "Drop the World" that Em's flow's so rigid he "tramples the beat." him stuffing all these multis together seems to come at the expense of interacting well with the music like superior rappers do, letting it breathe. it's also that i dig looser flows and dude's recent delivery is anything but."

I think that's kind of the point now isn't it, though. I kind of see this use of this rapid fire delivery to serve warning that he's still one of the best rappers doing it. It's like he's releasing the stress and tension of years of personal struggles and drug addiction through his delivery.

dereklipkin said...

Great post, sir.

But beyond Em's lyrics, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on Em's production. To be frank, it is tired. Even if he can find a way to break from his go-to lyrics for commercial success, his transformation is all for naught if I hear the same damn synth keyboard and orchestral backings.

Since "The Eminem Show," the steady decline in musical value of Em's production has been so pronounced. Everything had blended together, to the point where the interesting differences in music that marked the wide range of sound on his first two major LPs (and even "Infinite") has been entirely lost. All I hear are bland strings and MPCs.

Why does Em stick to this musical formula? Maybe it is a result of not listening to the radio (I try to say that with the least pomp and circumstance possible), but are these really the kinds of beats that Americans like? Maybe it's me; maybe my taste in hip-hop is just so skewed toward classic sampling and breakbeats that I am not a good judge of Em's musical selections. But it strikes me as far too played out to provide more success.

As an aside, do you ever wonder what would happen if Em had his album produced by Primo? Pete Rock? Jay Elect? SOMEONE OTHER THAN EMINEM.

Bottom line: beyond lyrics, Em's music needs a transformation. I think about Em with Mos Def and Black Thought over Primo spinning for the BET Hip-Hop Awards, and I can't help but shout, "WHY IS THAT NOT EXPANDED INTO AN ALBUM?"

Literally. My neighbors were concerned.