Upon revisiting Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP, there’s one facet in particular that never ceases to amaze. The development Em’s signature sound, forged through the combined efforts Dr. Dre and the Bass Brothers, two uniquely different stylistic entities. The former spent his formative years as an integral piece the Death Row movement, ushering in a crisp and hard-hitting brand G-Funk in which samples were interpolated through live musicianship; even his transitionary work in launching the Aftermath movement contained strands The Chronic DNA, which would eventually blossom into the urban gothic soundscapes 2001. Yet when tasked with handling six out eighteen the album’s tracks (fourteen, if you deduct the skits), Dre and Eminem came to discover a strange yet alluring hybrid, drawn from both their respective strengths.
Consider The Slim Shady LP for a moment, a natural successor to Infinite in many regards. The further Em’s persona seemed to shift into a mean-spirited satirist, the more difficult it became to find suitable sonic backdrops; how can one be simultaneously zany, menacing, and genuinely poignant in one fell swoop? Yet somehow, Eminem and Dr. Dre (and Mel-Man, we mustn’t forget the guiding hand Mel-Man) achieved the formula as early as opening track “Kill You,” an unconventional instrumental driven by an unsolicited Jacques Loussier sample. Though said sample ultimately led to a ten-million-dollar lawsuit, I daresay it might have been worth the trouble. Em took to the minimalist guitar arpeggio like a man possessed, shocking the world with a violent evolution the Slim Shady persona; a gleefully misogynistic, self-loathing, intellectual Leatherface. Playing out like the infamous home invasion Clockwork Orange scene, Eminem channels Alex DeLarge through his performance, effortlessly tiptoeing over screams and signature Dre percussion. Though “Kill You” made people uncomfortable upon its release – I still remember the full-page Newspaper spread warning parents about Eminem’s unstoppable rise – it might have cause full-fledged meltdowns in today’s social climate.
Eminem – “Marshall Mathers”
And yet, chalking the success The Marshall Mathers LP up to mere shock value dismisses much the project’s artistic merit. Much has been put to paper about the brilliance “Stan,” itself standing as a hallmark in hip-hop storytelling. Yet it’s the underappreciated gems that help lend the album its timeless quality, particularly those blending Em’s noted love hip-hop historicism with his uniquely animated persona. For that reason, the RBX & Sticky Fingaz collaboration “Remember Me” has aged particularly well. Backed by a creeping, bass-driven instrumental, RBX bridges the gap between The Chronic and Dre’s new Aftermath guard with a maniacal, free-flowing verse; which self-respecting MMLP fandoesn’t recite the words “banned from TV” with his exact cadence? To this day, there are many who crown Sticky Fingaz as the lone rapper to have outshone Em on his own track. From the opening cries “No, No, NO!” to the twisted multisyllabic onslaught, Sticky comes through with a defining performance, the perfect mirror image Em’s own sadistic brilliance. By the time Slim closes it out with an imagery-laden depiction the Columbine shooting, Dre himself comes through to deliver the final nail in the cfin.
The cycle continues as MMLP pushes forward through two the strongest songs his career. First, the darkly comedic biopic that is “Marshall Mathers,” a title track sorts set to the tune a Deliverance-esque campfire guitar jam. There’s something folkloric about his self-depiction throughout, that a bratty, ghoulish manchild prone to mischief and scathing social commentary. Only Em can dexterously tongue twist “talking about I fabricated my pass, he’s just aggravated I won’t ejaculate in his ass,” and aim the diss at his mother’s attorney Fred Gibson. Prior, he’s flitting between conjuring devilish imagery walking headless Rottweilers and airing out his ever-growing list real-world foes. To this day, “Marshall Mathers” stands as one Em’s definitive tracks, pairing the macabre whimsy Shady with the real-world introspection Eminem, a combination that helps set him apart from his contemporaries steadily grounded in their own reality. Many rappers have come to embody alter-egos, but Eminem’s handle on fictitious worldbuilding is but one many tools in his authorial kit.
As for “Bitch Please 2,” the mere fact this one even exists makes for a compelling narrative in itself. A sequel to a Dr. Dre-produced Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, and Nate Dogg collaboration originally released on Snoop’s 1999’s No Limit Top Dogg album. Yet the sequel popped up on Em’s sophomore studio drop, bringing back all the original’s contributors for another go-around. This time around, Dre revamps the haunting banger, dropping the opening verse while simultaneously validating his new protege; this is the “Up In Smoke Tour” incarnate. The track also marks the lone collaboration between Uncle Snoop and Big Slim Dogg, which further imbues “Bitch Please 2” with a sense mysticism. Xzibit and Eminem’s chemistry has been well-established through subsequent collabs like “Don’t Approach Me” and “My Name,” but the foundational elements were laid down here. In the greater context the album, it’s somewhat an aberration, teetering at the midpoint between 2001 and MMLP; like “Remember Me,” however, “Bitch Please 2” serves as a welcome reminder that Eminem is a crucial part the Aftermath lineage, capable hanging with the boys in and around their wheelhouse.
Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, & Nate Dogg – “Bitch Please II”
Nineteen years later, many have concluded that The Marshall Mathers LP is Eminem’s crowning achievement. A fair argument, and one worthy exploration. You’ll likely find ardent defenders Slim Shady LP and TheEminem Show, perhaps even Relapse, given the recent outpouring retrospective appreciation. Yet Em’s sophomore album marked a milestone in his career, ushering in the development a sound he’d carry forward for the years to come, across Devil’s Night, The Eminem Show, and the 8 Mile Soundtrack. Technically brilliant, delightfully mean-spirited, and adventurous in both thematic and musical execution, there’s no shortage reasons why The Marshall Mathers LP is held in high esteem across the board.