After an almost half a decade long gap in his discography, Eminem returned today with the awesome and clever celeb-bashing "We('re The Ones That) Made You," his first single and video off his fifth solo release, Relapse (due to drop May 19). After such a long time away, and with the hip hop industry changing drastically within the last year, many posed the questions of if Eminem can still be relevant and whether he was really missed at all. The Detroit born and bred rapper has been known for controversy, but unlike some of the others in his field, he has never relied on it to sell a record or make a name for himself. Instead, Eminem has set the bar for those that may follow in his footsteps by his uncanny ability to mix humor, wit, and politics.
If "Light My Candle" (RENT) is the epitome of the song storytelling in musical theater, than "Guilty Conscience" must be that for hip hop. Teaming up with his mentor Dr.Dre, Eminem's strongest song off his debut Slim Shady LP might also be his most sensitive. "Guilty Conscience" introduces multiple characters who are placed in tricky situations, and under a trance-like beat, offer said characters some advice on a way out. Dre and Eminem are the devil and the angel on these misguided youths' shoulders, self-reflexing showing off just how influential they know Eminem will become.
Sure, Eminem is great at poking fun at just about situation and every other celebrity (and himself!), like in "The Real Slim Shady: or "Just Lose It," but he is perhaps at his best when he is dealing with serious subjects. "Mosh" off 2004's Encore was every urban liberal's war cry leading up to the 2004 election. The single was released digitally on October 26 2004, "leaked" early for Eminem to rally his troops to stand up and vote against then-president George Bush (the actual album did not drop until a week after the election). Eminem had offered his take on certain political figures in the past, through a lyric or two in songs like "White America," but never before had he seemed so enraged he had to devote a whole song to his point of view. With "Mosh," Eminem seemed to be inking his place as this new generation's very own Gil Scott-Heron.
2000's The Marshall Mathers LP brought another great story-song in the form of "Stan," a tale about an obsessive fan who writes letter after letter to Em and seems to be dedicating his life to being like the star. When Eminem finally gets through all of the fanmail to respond to this kid, though, he realizes he is much too late. The song is poignant for the message it drives home about the influence of celebrities in today's society, but the moments that happened around the song, namely the Grammy Awards live duet with Elton John, are what really made this a pivotal moment in the career of Eminem but also of pop culture in general. The man everyone was calling out for being "homophobic" shut up all of the naysayers by taking the stage, and then clasping hands with, the pop idol no one thought he could, further proving he is much more as a man than the image he projects may let you believe.
"Hailie's Song" (also The Eminem Show) was the first time Eminem let his guard down even a little bit to show a softer side. In a culture and a genre that prides itself on being "hard," Eminem built up a tough guy image by brandishing a pistol and screaming about how he just didn't "give a ----" about anyone, but this song (and a few subsequent others: see "Mockingbord," Encore and "When I'm Gone," Curtain Call: The Hits) proves that is not true. Eminem is a father first, and the love he has for his daughter is almost overwhelming here, in the first track on which he attempts to sing.
"Lose Yourself," the single from Eminem's theatrical debut, 8 Mile, was not only a defining moment for the artist himself, marking his second Grammy nomination for "Song of the Year" but also for the genre itself, as it won the Academy Award for "Best Original Song," paving the way for hip hop to have a future presence at such a prestigious ceremony. The lyrics of "Lose Yourself" are quoted often-- and everywhere from locker rooms before big championship games to university commencements (Jodie Foster read aloud the chorus when she spoke at the 2006 UPenn ceremony)-- due to their inspirational, and perhaps surprising tone. Though the "he" in the song is supposedly the fictional character Eminem portrayed on-screen, the emotions are pulled directly from the artist's own struggles, and therefore, they speak to millions of young struggling artists just like him. "Lose Yourself" reaches across genre lines and speaks to people who normally may have never even given hip hop a chance.
Relapse is clever wordplay from the man who claimed he was "retiring" a few years ago. But just like Jay-Z before him, Eminem is proving that when you are addicted to something, you're bound to come back to it time and again.