Book Club: May listening

So it should be abundantly clear by now that The Dunce Cap isn’t particularly well-versed in hip hop or rap. Every now and again, though, this girl will come across something so incredible in another genre that it deserves a dedication post. And so is the case with Eminem’s newest track.

Pretty melody:

Here’s the thing: I’ve always had an appreciation for Eminem, however peripheral. It started with my father, I would bet, who would belt out rather obnoxiously, “TWO TRAILER PARK GIRLS GO ‘ROUND THE OUTSIDE, ROUND THE OUTSIDE, ROUND THE OUTSIDE,” before gazing rather proudly upon us. Or he’d butcher the inspirational words of “Lose Yourself” as he piloted the car on family outings, and we had no choice but to listen and sigh. Plus, there were Em’s pretty hilarious videos for “The Real Slim Shady,” “Without Me” and “My Name Is.” That was my first real introduction to Eminem – a few misrepresented stanzas, a couple of funny but highly censored videos and a movie about poor Detroit starring that girl from Clueless (R.I.P. Brittany Murphy*). But there was so much more about Eminem that I was just missing.

Marshall Mathers is clearly a very talented lyricist, and he can spit rhymes so damn well, but he’s never put his talent to use, with the exception of hurling insults at his radio peers. And his last album, 2009’s Relapse, and the singles it spawned, the overwrought and (sorry!) melodramatic “Crack a Bottle” and the carnivalesque, trying-too-hard-to-be-tongue-in-cheek “We Made You” – the one where Slim Shady continues to cheese on Jessica Simpson and her pop culture ilk -, were a wash.

So now Eminem is back with Recovery, and the best thing about it all is that he agrees with me. Relapse sucked. On the album’s first track, “Not Afraid,” he angrily vows,

And to the fans, I’ll never let you down again, I’m back
I promise to never go back on that promise, in fact
Let’s be honest, that last Relapse CD was “ehhhh”

Pardon the language, but damn, Slim, you’ve got it right. And “Not Afraid” is a rowdy, raucous, emotional anthem set over a melody and beat which K’Naan would be proud of. It’s not Eminem at his best musically, sure, but lyrically, Slim has rarely been better. His rhymes are intense and sincere and here’s the kicker – they’re inspiring.

“Not Afraid,” Eminem

It’s an uplifting song of personal atonement, wherein Eminem unleashes all of his aggravation with addiction and struggles, praising his accomplishments and promising to come back bigger and better than ever before. He’s done with the skits and clever ploys, and he’s grown from his peers and even his contemporaries. Even Blink-182 had to grow up eventually.

It’s certainly a turn for the good ol’ browbeating Slim Shady MTV audiences grew familiar with, but it’s a refreshing reintroduction to a man with true talent. And, it seems, Eminem is approaching a real era of responsibility, as a father, as an MC, as a role model and as a true artist.

Shady’s back. Tell a friend.

For a glimpse at pop culture heckling Eminem, check out the hilarious 2004 D12/Eminem video for “My Band.”

[*editor’s note: Just minutes after publishing this post, it was discovered that Murphy’s widower, Simon Monjack, was pronounced dead in his Los Angeles home, just five months after the death of his wife. The immediate ruling as to cause of death is natural causes. Our condolences go out to the family.]


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