Eminem - The Slim Shady LP (retro review) (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


The Slim Shady LP (retro review) (1999)


People who read my reviews are, by now, used to see me calling out bands for problematic and offensive lyrics.There are also certain artists that I’m willing to give passes to, particularly early punk artists as they come from a very different time and because shock value was a staple of early punk. Eminem is one of the most notoriously offensive artists in all of music, but for reasons that may or may not be justified, I tend to give Eminem a pass on a lot of things, especially when it comes to his early work. Part of this is because his early material is littered with warnings to not take him seriously. Furthermore, I think he’s grown from his early years and, while he still might let a homophobic slur slip out from time to time, I always get the impression that he doesn’t mean it.. But if there’s one thing that makes me most inclined to give him a pass, it’s Slim Shady.

Who is Slim Shady exactly? That’s an incredibly complicated question. Is it a fictional alter ego representing a darkly humorous, fun house mirror version of Eminem himself? Or is it simply another pseudonym for Marshall Mathers himself?I think the answer lies somewhere in between. To paraphrase a review from Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Eminem creates narratives with a very blurry line between reality and dark fantasy and he isn’t particularly interested in pointing out to you where the line between fantasy and reality is. But to discount what Eminem is saying without understanding the level of satire being employed is to miss the point entirely.But then that blurry line can be disturbing at times, especially because of the similarities between Eminem and his alter ego, Slim Shady. Both have an off-and-on again relationship with a woman named Kim, both have a daughter named Hailie, both are from Detroit and have the same tumultuous relationship with their abusive mother. In many ways, Slim Shady seems to be the outlet for Eminem to express the more extreme side of his anger.

The infamous lead single “My Name Is” introduces the depraved sicko that is Slim Shady with such outrageous claims as that he rapes lesbians in a spaceship and stapled his high school English teachers’ nuts to a stack of papers for wanting to have sex with him. There are various versions of this song with slightly different lyrics for different levels of offensiveness, but even in this iconically offensive song there are lines indicating that following his example is a bad idea. There’s also the half-joking disclaimer at the beginning of the album that expresses similar warnings, as well as the song “Role Model” that makes it clear that copying anything from this album is a bad idea. “Guilty Conscience,” which features Eminem’s mentor Dr. Dre has the two play the angel and devil on three different characters’ shoulders. Dre plays the angel in this scenario, which is laughable because Dre is a pretty terrible human being. Eminem, though, has the sheer audacity to call out Dre for his little talked about and particularly heinous assault of Dee Barnes, aka Sista D. But probably the most disturbing song on the album is “’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” a partial parody of a Will Smith song in which Eminem imagines murdering his real life wife Kim and bringing his real life daughter along to help him dump the body in a lake. In the famous song “Stan” on the following album he would encourage his fans not to take this song seriously.

It should be noted that this isn’t technically Eminem’s first album, as it was preceded by the album Infinite that Eminem sold out of the back of his car and which is estimated to have sold no more than 1,000 copies. The album is not mass distributed or available on streaming services, but it’s not hard to find in the Internet age. By contrast, Infinite was exceptionally tame in an attempt to get radio airplay and was often accused of being a knock-off of rapper AZ. Probably because of the lukewarm response to Infinite, The Slim Shady LP swung hard in the opposite direction and was wildly successful. But probably the biggest reason for the album’s success is that, whatever your other complaints are about Eminem—and most are probably legitimate—it’s hard to deny his raw talent.