In the world of modern music no artist has raised more controversy than Marshall Mathers has. Mather's vulgar lyrics and cynical comments have disturbed activist groups from all across the globe. The problem with most activist groups is they fail to see the genius behind Mathers' work. Mathers' work may be too dark to actually analyze, but it must be observed if you are to intake the true meaning behind his work. Marshall Mathers' vulgar and disturbing lyrics are mere cover ups for the deep poetic thought and social criticisms translated through his two personas of Eminem and Slim Shady.
The popular view on Marshall Mathers is that he is a spoiled rich boy just trying to make a name for himself. The truth is Mathers' has grown up encountering all the problems he raps about on his albums. He is not just putting on a mask and performing, he has lived the life and knows what it is like to grow up in a broken home with an alcoholic parent.
Mathers was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit. He grew up a scrawny white boy who terrorized his trailer park (Salon.com). Mathers had it tough trying to fit into the overwhelmingly black schools he attended but his mother didn't help his pursuits. Mrs. Mathers was divorced by the time Marshall was two years old; she turned to a life of drugs and alcohol. Mrs. Mathers also became over protective of her son, denying her own addictions. Marshall grew up with out any sense of family, something that would effect him greatly in the future. Marshall's mother is the subject of many of his now famous songs, including some of his very first work.
Growing up in an all black neighborhood Mathers was a prime target for bullying. When Mathers was nine years old he started to "Get harassed daily by this fat kid named DeAngelo Baily, An eighth grader who acted obnoxious, cause his father boxes so everyday he'd shove me in the lockers" (Slim Shady track 4). This series of beatings lasted for four months and ended when Baily beat Mathers so badly he went into a coma for several days (Salon.com). After the coma Mathers developed a trend to avoid social encounters, something that lead him to his uncle Ronnie's basement.
Mathers' only male roll model in his life was his uncle Ronnie. He would help Marshall in school and take him fishing. Ronnie also had a recording studio in his basement, a place that would become a safe haven from Mathers' over protective alcoholic mother. Marshall would record in Ronnie's studio for hours on end; he eventually got to the point where he wanted to make his talent public.
When Mathers attempted to break into the local rap scene he encountered the same problem he had been dealing with for years, he is the only white guy in a black crowd. "Some people only see that I'm white, ignoring skill Cause I stand out like a green hat with a orange bill But I don't get pissed, y'all don't even see through the mist How the fuck can I be white, I don't even exist" (Slim Shady track 9). After much ridicule and more public beatings, Mathers finally got his break and was invited to open mic night at St. Andrew's Hall (St. Andrew's Hall is the epicenter of the Detroit rap scene). After Mathers' impressive showing at St. Andrew's he started developing a new rap persona that he called Eminem. Eminem was darker and more devious then Mathers plus Eminem was more beleivable to the average rap fan. Two personas were not enough for Mathers though. He felt that there was something deep down in him that needs to be brought out, something dark. He brought out his new persona Slim Shady, on his first publicly released album. Slim Shady is a dark sinister character that is used to translate the majority of Matherís inner feelings.
When writing on a subject matter as sensitive as the one Mathers taps into it will not go with out its share of criticism. A lot of modern critics blame Mathers work for causing a rise in the subjects he raps about, this is the same problem that author Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe had with his 1774 book The Sorrows of Young Werther. In his book Goethe describes the plight journey of a young depressed man who eventually kills himself. After the book had been published many younger readers had mistaken Goethe's meaning and had killed themselves. Many people blamed Goethe for the suicides (salon.com). The same thing is happening with Eminem. Society should not fear Eminem, because he is not teaching anything, he is just telling it like it is. Society should in fact fear the people that take Eminem seriously. Instead of trying to stop Mathers, efforts should be put forth to stop the actions that Mathers is rapping about.
Growing up poor and living in trailer parks, Mathers has also become a major advocate for the underground movement of popularizing "white trash" mentality. The idea of growing up in a trailer park and eating fried chicken is something that modern author Dorothy Allison has done with her books. She writes about the south and the many defects of the society (memecentral.com). Her book Skin discusses the social problems and the unwillingness of society to fix the problems, much like most of Mathers' album The Marshall Mathers LP does.
One of Slim Shady's most criticized lyrics are from the song "97 Bonnie and Clyde" were Shady describes killing his wife and shoving her in the trunk of his car. He also raps about drinking in excess amounts and doing less then moral acts while drunk. These actions are not to unlike lyrics described in many Irish folk songs. Many Irish ballads are written about beating wives and drinking in excess amounts. (www.cs.hut.fi/~zaphod/irish/). Why then is Mathers the one to get all the heat for this? Was it more socially acceptable to beat or murder your wife one hundred years ago? Or is it just that todayís society has forgotten how to just kick back and take music for what it is, entertainment.
Mathers also is capable of being a great storyteller as seen in his song "Stan", which is essentially a murder/suicide/love ballad told through a series of letter readings and responses. "Stan" resembles a short story with a Slim Shady twist. An obsessed fan sends Eminem a series of letters each one growing more angry at the lack of response he is getting from Eminem. After not hearing from Eminem for six months Stan resorts to killing his wife and himself because he feels his life is worthless without Eminem's attention (Marshall Mathers Track 3). The drama of the song is overwhelming because of the ability to incorporate sound effects and a gloomy background beat. Mathers, by using music, is able to add another dimension to his poetry, not only does he use the conventional tools of a poet but he can also develop a mood with the tone of the song.
In order to keep modern poetry appealing to younger audiences, many poets have developed irregular rhyme patterns to give their poems a jump yet all together feel. While most poets are restricted to simply written word, Mathers is one of the first rappers to incorporate what is called the inside rhyme into the rap world.
What do I think of success?
It sucks, too much press I'm stressed
Too much stares two breasts, too upset
It's just too much mess, I guess
I must just blew up quick, Grew up quick
(Marshall track 10).
Not only does Mathers use the inside-rhyming pattern in his work; he also still conveys a message or story. He also beyond just two rhymes words, he commonly uses pairs of words to help with the flow and rhythm of his songs.
Mathers pays a great deal of attention to the tone and feel of his poems/songs. Most of his poems/songs capitalize on the use of didactic meter to stress important syllables or words. The use of didactic meter also establishes a harsh feel to his poems that intensify the anger of them. I sit back / with this pack/ of zig zags/ and this bag/ of this weed / that gives me/ the shit need / ed to be / the most mean / est MC/ on this earth (Marshall Mathers track 5).
The most important thing to remember when listening to the artist Eminem or Slim Shay is that all the lyrics are written for fun and entertainment. "Any one with a sense of humor is going to put on my album and laugh from beginning to end" (homepage.mac...). In order to establish the dark humor of his songs, Mathers often uses figurative language and puns. Matherís humor is based on taking every day cliches literally. "Oh, you want me to watch my mouth, should I take my fucking eyeballs out and turn em' around" (Mathers, track 6). Although the puns are usually not humorous in an every day setting in the mood Eminem sets up, he makes the listener enjoy laughing at disgusting and offensive jokes. Mathers most popular methods of dark humor is making fun of other pop icons that either suffer from a disease, have a drug problem, have had cosmetic surgery or have recently died. Even if you do not agree with the jokes Mathers makes, it helps establish the mood of his songs, and that his lyrics should not be taken too seriously.
Most of what Eminem says should not be taken seriously, except for his excellent perception on social issues. Although Mathers is not overly political his views are still valid and accurate. "Who's bringin' guns into this county? I couldn't sneak a plastic pellet guns through customs over in London" (Mathers track 7). Most rappers rap about shooting up clubs or rival gang member's houses, Mathers is rapping about getting tighter control on guns in America.
Mathers' major view on parenting is that American parents are constantly dodging a bullet. They try to do as little as possible when it comes to protecting their kids, yet when in the eyes of the public they do all they can to seem like good parents.
"Last week I seen this Schwartzinager (sic) movie where he's shooting all sorts of these muther (sic) fuckers with ozzies, I seen these two little kids up the front row screaming 'go' with their seventeen year old uncle, I'm like guidance ainít they got the same moms and dads that got mad when I asked if they like violence? Sayin' that my tape taught em' to swear what about the make up you allow your twelve year old daughter to wear?" (Mathers track 6).
His views must be taken with a grain of salt, he of course is not referring to all the parents in the United States, but he is exaggerating the problem in an attempt to raise social awareness of what he calls lazy parents.
Unlike most rap lyrics that deal heavily with illegal drugs such as marijuana and extacy, Mathers raps about legal substances that are used illegally. He raises awareness of the abuse of vicadin and valume. Mathers frequently raps about viagra as well to give a comical outlook on drugs instead of the depressing gloom associated with harsh illegal drugs.
Although Marshall Mathers' rap style is unorthodox, that is what makes him stand alone in the music industry. Mathers is not a outsider looking in on the world of "white trash" living which allows him to make more accurate perception on the way life is. Mathers also shares the same styles as many established authors and musicians, the parallel between them shows that his writing is on the same level as many artists. Mathers' social criticism eludes that he is able to make intelligent observations on the way the world is, and wants to make a difference. It is hard to deny that Mathers' is a talented artist and poet. His unique sound cannot be compared to any other rapper or poet. To see Mathers referred to as a degrading and vulgar rap artist is a shame, and only proves that the observer is not looking closely at Matherís work.