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The Dre connectionbolstered by Eminem's yzarc willingness to both use Mr. Nigga With Attitude as his conscience and put him in his placeseems the main reason that rap's answer to Jeff Gillooly (Kim being Tonya Harding, natch) is given props by r&b stations that would never touch Kid Rock or the Beastie Boys. Before you reach the whistling G-thang conclusion of Em's ridiculously catchy current smash "The Real Slim Shady," though, you've got to work your way through stanzas dinky enough to be nursery rhymes and taunts about how "you act like you never seen a white person before." Molly (remember her?) says he sounds like Porky Pig. In the tradition of onetime funk-crossover stars Kraftwerk and Devo, his nasal whine is the ultimate parody of an Anglo-Saxon nerd: He makes no attempt to sound black. Yet at the same time, he's the rare rapper who gets on rock stations without any attempt to sound rock, unless you count the "Back in Black" riffs in certain bootleg "My Name Is" remixes. "How can I be white?" he asked last year. "I don't even exist."
Like Teena Marie, perhaps the last Anglo-Saxon to so fully achieve approval across the great divide, Eminem complexly switches voices within songs for different characters (five or six in "The Real Slim Shady" alone), different emotions. He can be as verbally complicated as anybody else in rap, without limiting himself to anti-mainstream hip-hop's gratuitous aren't-you-impressed-by-my-thesaurus spelling bee. But most of the remarkable displays of technique ("skillz," "flow," who cares) on his breakthrough album last year weren't compelling enough to return to much, maybe because his word-slinging sensibilities totally dominated over the music. For all its competently eclectic production, The Slim Shady LP was hardly conducive to background playit had to be paid attention to, like a singer-songwriter record, almost. But The Marshall Mathers LP is another story: The ever increasing variety in Eminem's voice (drawled Southern-bounce cadences, impatiently curt throaty staccatos, flat Beck-like deadpans, crying and screaming) somehow feels completely conversational, and the musical backdrop (calypso/Caribbean, Gothic etherea, jiggy disco evolving into P.M. Dawn) is frequently, of all things, beautiful. Heart-stopping use of musique concrète sound effects adds to thesuspense and tension and weirdness: Smith-Coronas typing fan letters, machetes impaling tracheas, music boxes jingling for baby, cars splashing in the lake, hostages shrieking in the trunk, insane clowns slobberingly sucking each other off. And it's worth noting that, as on the debut, some of the best parts ("Stan," "The Way I Am") are notproduced by Dr. Dre. One conceivable influence for all the funeral bells and blues-guitar-dirged waltz passages is the British Gregorian-rap group Faithless, whose trip-hop diva Dido croons behind Eminem in "Stan," an impossibly eerie stained-glass rainstorm.
"The Real Slim Shady" blatantly announces itself as a sequel, and it's got loads of unexpected bits, even beyond how Eminem rhymes "mammal" with "Discovery Channel" mere months after the Bloodhound Gang (and enunciates the word "clitoris" mere months after Danish hard rockers D.A.D.'s undiscovered cunnilingo classic "Kiss Between the Legs"). At least one line can be heard as explicitly pro-gay: "Who says a man and a man can't elope?" (rhymes with cantaloupe, and antelope). But mainly, the thesis here is that a million other Slim Shadys are out there, walking and talking and cussing as scary as our herostrange, because give or take maybe MC Paul Barman, no rappers have exactly plundered the dude's dialect so far. Plus, if "every single person is a Slim Shady lurkin'," then Eminem by definition is not the real Slim ShadyMichael Jackson or Iggy Pop or Attila the Hun is. Or Adam and Eve.
None of which matters, though, because Eminem recites it all like it's just nonsense words to jump rope to. When it comes to exploring ways to deflate his own pretension, he's up there with Richard Meltzer, almost: "Women wear your panty hose, sing the chorus and it goes. . . . " Check out the hook while the DJ revolves it. He can singsong demands to "take drugs, rape sluts, make fun of gay clubs" like they're Dr. Seuss; he can turn the seven words George Carlin couldn't say on television into skooby-doo-wop scatting. Or last year, in the most Sesame Street smile around: "Hi kids!:-) Do you like violence?:-)." Identifies himself as the bad guy who persecutes people who die in plane crashes, but what he persecutes more is his own persona.
"This is for children who break rules," Eminem says, "and every single teenager who hates school." For somebody who hates school, though, he really does love playing with language (a pastime which school as often as not discourages, admittedly). He gets off on vowel sounds: "Don't blame me if little Eric jumps off the terrace, you shoulda been watching him, apparently you're not parents." By the time he's 30, he predicts, he'll be in a nursing home pinching nurses and jerking off with Jergen's 'cause the Viagra's not workin'. He can't rap anymore, he confesses once; he just murdered the alphabet. Seems to be keeping the Physician's Desk Reference alive, though.