Listeria: Ten Moments When Eminem’s Reign Was Officially Over
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 16, 2009
Have you seen the new Eminem video? If you have, don’t worry, I won’t spend too long recounting how awful it is, and if you haven’t, you might as well take a gander now (above) and get it over with. Suffice to say, Em cuts down such sacred cows as Jessica Simpson and Tony Romo, Samantha Ronson and Lindsay Lohan, and worst of all, Brett Michaels. There was a time when Eminem coming out with a video like this might have seemed the definition of fresh, in 2009, it is the definition of, uh, something else. I actually think the beat and hook are kind of decent, but Marshall’s got no tricks left up his sleeve lyrically, and his delivery sounds more demented than ever–and not in that youthful, just-don’t-give-a-fuck way, but in that sad, post-nutso, I-got-too-famous-and-lost-all-touch-with-reality way.
Eminem’s fall from grace has been a tragic and shockingly rapid one. It was as recently as a half-decade ago that Slim was considered to be the most relevant artist in all pop music, selling millions, earning critical raves, even winning an Oscar or two. A mere year or two later, the man’s career was done and done–a truly spectacular flame-out that was only fortunate in that it didn’t (to my knowledge) involve any sex scandals or racist radio interviews. How did this all happen? Well, let’s examine the ten moments that transformed Eminem from seeming like the Bob Dylan of his generation to making a feud with Brett Michaels seem like something close to a fair fight.
- August 29th, 2002: Feuds with Moby and Triumph the Insult Dog at the Video Music Awards. Arguably the first true sign of the inevitable onset of madness, Eminem took things personally when Triumph the Insult Dog made a couple cracks at his expense during the ’02 VMAs, getting as close as you can to a physical altercation as one can with a hand puppet. And Moby, long of Slim’s shitlist for knocking his music as violent and homophobic, countinued to draw his ire, as Em made the immortal threat that he “will punch a man with glasses.” For a man who always seemed to be in on the joke, it was the first time I can remember where Marshall seemed to be the one putting himself in the position to get laughed at. Sadly, this was not the last time Eminem and Triumph the Insult Dog would cross paths.
- February 23, 2003: Releases “Sing For the Moment” Single. The first Eminem single that was greeted with…well, not much of a reaction at all. No significant controversy, no real acclaim, nothing. Lyrically all over the place and built on a largely uninspired sample of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” it seemed like Em was just treading water with this one, cranking out another top 20 single just because he could. It’s not nearly as bad as some later atrocities, but throw in that the video was that dreaded staple of the beginning of a musical career’s downslope–the lazily-assembled Look How Many Fans I Have Concert Video–and it’s hard not to see “Sing for the Moment” as being a pretty significant turning point for Slim.
- May 9, 2003: Pulls the Plug on “Weird” Al Yankovic’s “Couch Potato” Video. In another early, disturbing example of Eminem not being able to take a joke, Em forbade Weird Al to release a video for “Couch Potato,” Al’s parody of the previous year’s “Lose Yourself.” Weird Al planned on doing a pastiche of various iconic Eminem videos–in the style of, say, every Weird Al video ever–but Slim put the kibosh on the clip, worried that the video would somehow tarnish his rep as a serious hip-hop artist. What happened to “Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” Em? Plus, ever heard of a rapper named Puff Daddy? Coolio? You don’t see anybody questioning those legacies, do you? (Interestingly, four years later, Weird Al would have a top ten hit with “White and Nerdy,” a parody of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” for which even Cham would acknowledge that Al could actually flow a little bit).
- April 23, 2004: Has “Ghetto Pass” Revoked By Steve Harvey. Nobody really knew what to make of “Just Lose It,” Eminem’s sexually confused, meta-puerile, stream-of-consciousness comeback single released to lead Encore in 2004–five years later, and I feel like it still might be five years ahead of its time. But several key members of the black community had very definite things to say about the video, which parodied Michael Jackson, among other out-of-date targets. For its cruel treatment of MJ–“kicking a man when he’s down,” claimed Stevie Wonder–comedian Steve Harvey made the honorary gesture of revoking Eminem’s “ghetto pass,” meaning he was no longer welcome in the hearts and homes of our country’s African-Americans. It was a statement that was arguably even more ridiculous than “Just Lose It” itself, but it showed that Em, previously untouchable in the hip-hop community in a way no white rapper had ever been before, was losing his footing a little.
- November 23, 2004: Feuds With Benzino on “Like Toy Soldiers” Single. Previously, Benzino’s feud with Eminem was treated as the one-sided joke that it was–the guy from The Source, whose career as a rapper was so laughable that he had to resort to putting his own “hits” on otherwise legitimately smash-stacked Source compilations? Feuding with the biggest rapper in the world? Yeah, Ja Rule probably had a better shot against 50 Cent. But Em still rose to the occasion, respondingto the bait on “Like Toy Soldiers,” where he recounts the amnesty between himself and the rapper/editor (“I heard him say Hailie’s name on a song and I just lost it,” Slim explains). Em took the final verse to be the better man and walk away from the feud, but the fact that he even acknowledged that there was a feud there was extremely discouraging, as this seemed to signify the beginning of Marshall’s Scarface period–paranoid, seeing threats from every possible corner, and (possibly) coked out and lusting after his sister.
- June 7, 2005: Releases “Ass Like That.” I don’t even know where to begin. He lusts after JoJo. He mocks Pee Wee Herman (again). He uses the word “pee-pee” (or “slinky,” depending on what medium you’re hearing the song) in the hook. He quotes Arnold Schwarzeneggar for no reason. He raps the entire song from the perspective of Triumph the Insult Dog–replete with mock accent. And to cap it all off, he gets the Crank Yankers assholes to do the video. If you wanted to look at one moment in Em’s career as the official Jump The Shark moment–the moment from which there was absolutely no coming back–it’d have to be this one.
- January 3, 2006: Releases “Shake That” from Curtain Call. Bad enough that Em was already releasing a Greatest Hits album–nothing says “my career isn’t over yet” like releasing a pointless hits comp less than a decade into your career–but a basic, run-of-the-mill strip club anthem as the hit single? Really? I mean, normally any strip club anthem with Nate Dogg singing the hook is a positive cause for celebration, but coming from Eminem, it just felt off-puttingly rote. A half-decade prior, an Eminem song about a strip club would either involve him getting arrested for exposing himself to a dancer onstage at one, taking a girl to one on a date just to see her reaction, or burning the place down because why the fuck not. You knew he could be doing so much more, and it was infuriating to watch him go through the motions like this. (Side note: “When I’m Gone,” the unfathomably overwrought other single from Curtain Call, was arguably even worse.)
- January 16, 2006: Marries Kimberly Anne Scott for the Second Time. Uh, what?? The same Kim from, uh, “Kim”? You’d think that after a man cuts your throat and stuffs you in a trunk on record, you’re pretty well purged from his life, but evidently Slim still carried a torch for his ex-wife, and remarried her for all of 82 days in the winter of 2006. It’s hard to explain why this was upsetting, but I guess you could say that it made the vitriol of those early kiss/kill-offs seem retroactively inauthentic. I think they might ahve even gotten engaged a third time after that, officially reducing Marshall Mathers to being a character on Sex and the Trailer Park.
- August 16, 2006: Appears on Akon’s “Smack That”. Arguably the worst single of 2006, “Smack That” certainly didn’t need Eminem’s help to make it a low point in 00s pop, but he showed up anyway to deliver a miserable, almost surreally phoned-in verse to punctuate the insult. “Shake That” was boring (and similar) enough, but Em seemed determined here to deliver a verse that was as replacement-level as Tim Thomas, sucked completely dry of any of the humor, originality, or even the unhinged craziness that made Eminem so irresistible earlier in his career. This is what he had been reduced to–a completely unemorable 12-bar-for-hire. The fact that it came as the first we’d heard from Eminem since his initial maybe-retirement seemed like a double nail in his coffin.
- February 21, 2009: Tops the Charts With “Crack a Bottle”. After three years of being almost completely out of the limelight, I was willing to give Eminem one more chance to redeem himself with “Crack a Bottle,” the non-official-single which nonetheless topped the US pop charts on the strength of nearly a half-million digital sales. Needless to say, my faith was not rewarded, as the song was another snoozer of a party anthem, with a non-sensical chorus to boot (“Don’t be a sloppy model / you just won the lotto”???) It even lied on the crutch of guest appearances from 50 Cent and Dr. Dre, neither of which are really the kind of rappers you want if you’re trying to take your comeback song to the next level. Mostly, I had just wanted it to be about something–anything, of minor or major importance–and was very disappointed to find yet another Em effort with no purpose whatsoever. Of course, after seeing “We Made You,” maybe writing about something isn’t the best idea either anymore.
Understand it all a little bit better now? I wish I did.