I have always had a vague, white guy fondness for hip-hop but listening to Romesh Raganathan’s excellent podcast on the subject has reawakened a long dormant passion for all things rap. Eminem is an artist I don’t listen to loads any more but he is undoubtedly the reason I listened to hip-hop in the first place and also the rap artist that I have listened to the most. This post was supposed to coincide with Em’s latest album Revival but I am lazy so it hasn’t. Amazingly, I haven’t done one of these articles since October 2016 when I tackled the Bright Eyes back catalogue. I reckon this one is overdue…
9. Infinite (1996)
Key Track: Infinite
What They Said: “Infinite was me trying to figure out how I wanted my rap style to be, how I wanted to sound on the mic and present myself. It was a growing stage. I felt like Infinite was like the demo that just got pressed up.” – Eminem
It is odd that one of the most successful recording artists of all time began his career with such a forgettable footnote. Infinite barely qualifies as a proper album but even on this raw, unpolished debut there are some moments of genius to be unearthed. Whether it be a clever bit of wordplay or something less tangible, you can tell there is talent buried somewhere beneath the clunky production and predictable flow.
8. Revival (2017)
Key Track: Heat
What They Said: “Revival is another late-career album that does little for his legacy.” – Pitchfork
After the moderate success of the confidence boosting Marshall Mathers LP 2, expectations were raised for Revival more than any other records in the latter part of his career. Boy, was this a let down. Lead single Walk on Water improves with repeated listens but is far from a classic Eminem single and some of the ‘artists’ that Em chooses to collaborate with here are nothing short of a disgrace. What the fuck are Ed Sheeran or Pink doing on this record? What could they possibly add that would have any kind of artistic merit?
Revival is overly long, unsure of itself and trying too hard to please. The result is an album that I genuinely wish I had never heard. The few stand out tracks are washed away by a sea of mediocrity. Massively disappointing.
7. Relapse (2009)
Key Track: Insane
What They Said: “I don’t hate Relapse. I don’t hate it at all… that was one of those instances where I got in a zone, like, “Yo I just want to be this demented serial killer on this album…” – Eminem
In a way you kind of have to admire Relapse. For the biggest recording artist in the world to release an album that is basically unlistenable is a pretty ballsy move. Relapse isn’t bereft of ideas or terrible, it just genuinely, excruciatingly odd. That being said the best songs on this album are as good as any track off any Eminem album, the problem is that they are too few and far between.
One thing this record does have going for it is the lack of attention it has received means that it’s better moments still feel quite fresh and certainly underrated. Insane is the only song where the extreme horrorcore properly pays off in any kind of tangible way, We Made You is a classic Eminem single and Crack A Bottle sees Mathers teaming up with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent with devastating effect. The rest of it though… Nope.
6. Encore (2004)
Key Track: Mosh
What They Said: “That’s when the wheels were coming off. Every day I had a pocketful of pills, and I would just go into the studio and goof off.” – Eminem
More than any other Eminem album, this one has aged the worse. While Mosh still sounds insistent and Just Lose It is a whole lot of fun, the other albums more famous moments sound pretty terrible now. Ass Like That is laughably awful, Like Toy Soldiers was perhaps the beginning of the end for Eminem singles and even Mockingbird sounds embarrassingly emotionally overwrought more than a decade later.
Encore is the sound of the most famous recording artist in the world exhausted by drugs addiction. It would take almost a decade for Mathers to fully recover.
5. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013)
Key Track: Rap God
What They Said: “His flows are exceptional, the wordplay is dazzling. The jokes, in places offensive, are relentless. There is no apology; no concession; just a virtuoso application of talent” – The Guardian
Self proclaiming your new record as a direct sequel to the one of the most successful albums of all time is a ballsy move. Eminem must have been confident enough in the material to go down that road however and that shows in the finished product. Rap God is an astonishing technical feat but crucially it is also a fantastic song. Elsewhere, the Stan sequel Bad Guy is a perfect album opener and the Kendrick Lamar featuring Love Game showed that Eminem could still be funny. Not to mention the massive singles Survival or The Monster.
It felt like this incarnation of Eminem was dead and gone before MMLP2 dragged Slim Shady back into the booth like a demented dragon. It’s frustrating to know that Em still has an album this good in him and yet he has fallen back on bland, forgettable records like Revival.
4. Recovery (2010)
Key Track: Cold Wind Blows
What They Said: “Recovery just reminds me of how I was feeling and why I would never want to go back to that place” – Eminem
Recovery was the album that confirmed that Eminem was properly back. Opening track Cold Wind Blows is perhaps his most underrated song and it is one of a number of great songs that grace an eclectic album bursting with ideas and lyrical dexterity. One notable thing about Recovery is the quality and success of the singles. Not Afraid and Love The Way You Lie introduced Eminem to a whole new generation of hip hop fans. It also contains one of his best ever collaborations in the shape of the Haddaway sampling, Lil’ Wayne featuring, No Love.
In many ways Recovery was the last great Eminem album. The last record to successfully find the balance between artistically credible hip hop and straight up pop success.
3. The Slim Shady LP (1999)
Key Track: Guilty Conscience
What They Said: “You’re a white boy, what the fuck are you rapping for? Why don’t you go into rock & roll?’ All that type of shit started pissing me off…” – Eminem
The album that started it all. I remember the first time I heard My Name Is it absolutely blew my mind. It was like suddenly being told that I could fly or being introduced to a new colour I had never seen before. Something that was previously unimaginable became real. I immediately went out and bought The Slim Shady LP, unfortunately I accidentally bought the clean version which tempered the records power somewhat…
The Slim Shady LP changed the face of hip hop forever and it is surprising how much it still stands up. My Name Is, Guilty Conscience and Just Don’t Give A Fuck have become pop culture touchstones as well as hip hop classics. No other album has had as much of an effect on popular music in my life time. This album changed everything.
2. The Eminem Show (2002)
Key Track: White America
What They Said: “The concept for The Eminem Show was inspired by The Truman Show because my life felt like it was becoming a circus around that time and I felt like I was always being watched.’ – Eminem
Not content with featuring perhaps the greatest hip hop single ever recorded in Without Me, The Eminem Show is a flurry of non stop classics. This is the sound of the best artist in the world knowing they are the best artist in the world. There is loads of stuff that shouldn’t work here but does. The dorky Square Dance, the misogynistic Superman and the sentimental Hailie’s Song would have been terrible in the hands of pretty much any other rapper. Everything Eminem touches on The Eminem Show turns to gold or I should say to diamond.
The album was certified diamond after hitting over ten million sales. And that is just in America. Massive.
1. The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Key Track: Criminal
What They Said: “A gruelling assault course of lyrical genius” – NME
I’m going to lead with this statement. The only hip hop album that is possibly better than The Marshall Mathers LP is Dr. Dre’s masterpiece Chronic 2001. The fact that Eminem is all over both albums is a testament to just how fucking good he is (or was). Not only is Em’s sophomore record one of the greatest rap records of all time, it is quite simply one of the greatest records in any genre.
The whole album is still jaw droppingly good almost 20 years on. The beats are incredible but it is the lyrics and the flow that really amaze. Kill You still sounds fresher than anything that Kendrick Lamar has even thought about recording over the last decade. And it wasn’t even a single…
The Real Slim Shady, Stan and The Way I Am are instantly recognisable classics that transcend age, genre and borders. If you have listened to music in your life, you have heard The Real Slim Shady. It is rare for such cultural behemoths to also be so damn good.
I’m running out of superlatives so I will leave with this. For better or worse, Eminem has influenced music more than any other recording artist of the last twenty years. If you don’t like The Marhsall Mathers LP you are lying. Oh and Criminal is one of the best songs ever made.