Before Eminem Became A Cyborg

Zilla Rocca remembers the brief moment when Eminem was really fun
By    September 5, 2018

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Dr. Dre is not fun.

Eminem is not fun.

You might think they are fun artists, and they have some fun songs in their libraries, but ultimately Dre and Em are weirdo perfectionists who didn’t become fully realized until they met in 1998.

Back then, Dre was already a decorated hitmaker. Eminem was mopping the floor at Little Cesar’s when he got the call to meet Dre. Together, they made two novelty songs that would’ve been fine for longterm Joke Rap Karaoke in “My Name Is” and “Guilty Conscience.” The only problem is that Eminem was too good of a rapper to vanish into trivia game territory.

But Eminem is not fun. The whimsical nature of “My Name Is”, “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me” all act as reactions to someone else – rappers, TRL stars, Moby, whoever. They are not lifestyle raps because Eminem’s lifestyle was domestic abuse, overdosing on controlled medications, and telling other people to eat shit when they commented on his race/his influence/his standing in pop music. Eminem does not go to house parties. You can’t play his music at cookouts for more than two songs. He is a craftsman obsessed with vendettas and bending words. You don’t namedrop Treach at the Grammy’s unless you are obsessed with technical rap.

Dr. Dre and Eminem decided the insane cartoon stories of The Slim Shady LP were too sloppy, the flow choices too basic, the inflections too minuscule. What has replaced that rapper, starting with “The Way I Am” off the Marshall Mathers LP, is a cybernetic machine who can now be parodied on video by a comedian in his car, closing in on 3 million views. Eminem never raps like a person, and Dr. Dre does not produce like a person. They are self-correcting AI, re-writing new code in hopes of the perfect song. They have outsourced spontaneity and mistakes. They have eradicated mischief (word to Barry Schwartz). They have disrupted the joyful process of making rap music.

But there is a brief window in time when Eminem was a naive platinum blonde TRL darling beefing with Cage. Pre-Columbine and post Slim Shady LP, these songs show the last days of Marshall Mathers The Rascal, the nasal rapper who hadn’t yet paid for every music exec’s second and third summer home. They are songs that capture a young man who is slowly becoming famous for sticking up his middle finger and dapping up Carson Daly. His flow is not binary code spit out by supercomputers. His punchlines aren’t wholly venomous and malicious. He doesn’t perfectly land on every snare or majestically bend his voice to every bass line. He had not yet become the walking embodiment of every Dr. Dre fantasy, whereas artists sacrifice personality tics for faultlessness.

“Dead Wrong”
“Forgot About Dre”
“Any Man” off Soundbombing
“Get You Mad” with Sway and King Tech
“Bussa Rhyme” with Missy
“If I Get Locked Up Tonight” with Dre and Rockwilder off the Funk Flex/Big Kap album
“Off the Wall” with Redman off Nutty Professor II soundtrack
“Stir Crazy” with Madd Rapper

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