Revisiting Eminem's debut album The Slim Shady LP 20 years later

Don’t you want to grow up to be just like me?” asks Eminem on the track “Role Model from his major label debut The Slim Shady LP. In 1999, long before teenagers across the world were dancing to “Love the Way You Lie remixes, Eminem was a vile, disturbing, disparagingly hilarious, and the most controversial figure in popular culture.

Back in ’96, Eminem released an album titled Infinite. It was a massive commercial failure. After spending months selling copies of Infinite out of the trunk of his car, Eminem was ready to give up. His abuse of drugs and alcohol, coupled with personal problems, culminated in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. It was around this time that Slim Shady was born. On The Slim Shady LP, Eminem dropped all filter between thoughts and words. There was absolutely no topic out of bounds. Everyone was on Shady’s radar.

The songs on The Slim Shady LP were fuming with rage, despair, misanthropy, nihility and impressively descriptive acts of violence. The debauched sense of humor with which Eminem rapped about the complexities of his life is both hysterical and deeply unsettling.

It begins with the satirical “Public Service Announcementwhere Shady employs his uniquely engrossing storytelling skills to serve a single purpose: Pissing people off.

On “My Name Is“, he urges kids to do exactly as he does. Presenting himself as a role-model of new-age America, Eminem boasts about dropping out of school, and being embroiled in violence. On “Guilty Conscience“, Eminem raps about ethical dilemmas. Dr. Dre, the album’s executive producer, serves as the angel while Shady is the devil; trying to convince Mathers to commit unforgivable deeds. “Brain Damage” is about Marshall’s days in school where he was picked on and beaten up by bullies. Paul (Skit)“, the fifth track on the record, is a voicemail from Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg who says, “Can you tone it down a little bit? Because there’s only so much I can explain“.

On “If I Had“, Marshall raps about money. He recognises the fragility and hollowness of chasing money but admits he has no other choice. The following track, ’97 Bonnie & Clyde“, is perhaps the most disturbing Eminem song. Marshall indulges in a one-way conversation with his infant daughter Hailie explaining why her mother, Eminem’s wife Kim, is stuffed in the trunk of his car. On “My Fault” and “As the World Turns“, Eminem displays how hauntingly discomforting and revoltingly funny his storytelling skills are. On the eighteenth track “I’m Shady“, Eminem, for the first time, introduces the Slim Shady character to the masses as a drug dealer.

Eminem raps about strangling people to death; claims it wasn’t OJ Simpson who murdered Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman but he and Marcus Allen “did it“; goes after Bill and Hillary Clinton; urges teenagers to smoke weed, take pills, drop out of school, kill people and drink; and all of this in just one song! On The Slim Shady LPEminem found humour in the bleakest of scenarios. From suicide to sexual abuse, there was nothing Eminem wouldn’t joke about.

The Slim Shady LP was an instant classic. Dr. Dre armed the album with groovy, muscular and bass-heavy beats. Tracks like Cum On Everybody and “My Name Is” became international radio hits. The Bass Brothers and Dr. Dre created a sound that would become Eminem’s signature. Infinite failed to give Eminem an identity; The Slim Shady LP gave him more than one.

The album’s release was followed by a number of lawsuits, outrage over its lyrical content, and demands of ban and censorship. With words, Eminem painted a picture many didn’t want to see. He found a way to make his own a genre that hasn’t gotten any different in the last four decades: By becoming everyone.

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