I have always judged the "success" of an album by how much I am inspired to write while listening to it-- not write in response to it, mind you, but what kinds of song lyrics or even short stories I imagine while feeding off of the creative juices of another artist. Looking back through old collections of writings, I have come to find (maybe not-so-surprisingly) that the majority were spurred by the words of Eminem.
Like so many things I end up really loving, I came to Eminem a bit late in the game, after holding one of the girls in my day camp group's CD player during swim period. She had "borrowed" "The Marshall Mathers LP" from her older sister, and I "borrowed" it from her then. And just like Em proclaimed, "I was instantly hooked right in." I connected with what he was saying, especially his "Encore" album. I have always preferred him when he is political and personal, and there, combining the anti-Bush anthem "Mosh" with the soft and sensitive ode to his daughter "Mockingbird," he is at his most so. His humor and celebrity-bashing makes for some fun, lighthearted tracks, but it is when he is introspective that causes me to be so, as well.
Lately I haven't been inspired to write much of anything but these blogs. I can always find something on television about which to have-- and want to share-- my opinion, but it is a much rarer for thing for me (at least of late) to come up with something from nothing. Perhaps that is because I am not surrounded by creative people in my daily gig at the corporation. Perhaps that is also because Eminem has been on hiatus for the past few years. So needless to say, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of "Relapse," and each time it was pushed, I felt a little bit of me worry I'd never write again. Two weeks ago the album leaked online after the first two videos had already been released. Already feeling somewhat let down by the first two single choices, I wasn't jumping out of my skin to track down the album online. I looked it up on YouTube and managed to hear each individual song-- though not in the proper order-- and I couldn't help but notice how much they all sounded the same. I was further disappointed, but I decided to hold my tongue-- or my keyboard, as it were-- until I downloaded the album legally, and listened to it from start to finish, skits and all.
What I found was that while the majority of the songs do have the same opening (with Eminem using more "Yos" and "Uhs" than one would expect from someone of his caliber), and though a handful (such as "Bagpipes from Baghdad") bring up old-news celebrity stories, Eminem does not find himself reaching too far for interesting things to say. Though the "voices" he puts on can be a bit off-putting because they just don't sound like him, it is clear they are done on purpose and with a deep purpose. On each track, Eminem is revealing a part of the split personality that comes with being an addict: one moment you're the fun life of the party drinking and drugging with your buddies but the next you're on the floor, shaking and head-spinning. It is on "Relapse" that Eminem is his darkest but perhaps also most challenged. Given handpicked beats by his mentor-producer Dr. Dre, Eminem approached each track like a mini-test to find the strongest compound-syllable sound combination to work for each. Though his taste for crude shock-value has never been more present, like on "Medicine Ball" where he cusses superfluously and takes stabs at Rihanna, if you really stop to listen-- not just to the words, but the pain behind them-- you'll find that though he sings that it "Must Be The Ganja," Eminem's lyrics have never been more sober.
On "My Mom," Eminem does not continue to diss Debbie Mathers as he has on tracks past but instead finally takes a look at how her addictive personality caused his own. His voice echoes at the end with the unknown hanging on the tip of his tongue: will he pass these demons on to his own child? In "Deja Vu" he opens up about just how bad his addiction got and what it still stands to lose him. Just take a listen at the bonus "Careful What You Wish For" and "My Darlin'" to hear his deepest fears ("I'm not in the mirror/I'm inside you"). Titling a song about the depression he fell into in the last few years "Beautiful" is poetic on so many levels. When he raps after the intro bars: "I'm just so f***ing depressed/I just cant seem to get out this slump/if I could just get over this hump/but I need something to pull me out this dump," I sit straight up in my chair because I, too, know the feeling all too well.
After a tumultuous break-up/reunion/break-up with Kim, the death of his best friend, and two rocky stints in rehab, just as Dre rapped in "Say What You Say" ("The Eminem Show"), Eminem is "unstoppable...alive and on top again." There's no obstacle he can't conquer. "Relapse" is Eminem's "spark to get psyched back up...in order for me to pick the mic back up." Anyone who says he doesn't have anything new to say obviously hasn't listened hard enough. And not surprisingly, it is also mine to open a new blank document in Microsoft Word and get started...though on what for me still remains to be seen.