Eminem claims he's a G.O.A.T., and offers evidence
At the dawn of the Napster age, Eminem completists used to endlessly trawl for random guest appearances, freestyles and other free-floating flotsam and jetsam. From his appearance on Sway and Tech's "The Anthem," to appearances on the Madd Rapper album, to radio show freestyles, the young Slim Shady was snarling, elastic and lawless.
During an era in which shiny-suited rappers and boy bands churned out pop with a platinum glaze, Marshall Mathers was resolutely anarchist. It felt like you were watching a young Ali, defiantly outside the system but meticulously plotted by someone who knew exactly what he was doing. Floating like a butterfly, antithetically opposed to the cornballs who made "Butterfly." Awesome.
Sometime around "Lose Yourself," he switched up his style. You can attribute it to the drugs, or the influence of G-Unit, or the massive success he acquired in the wake of his performance in "8 Mile." But suddenly, Em had become technically obssessed to the point of constipation. Whereas his earlier work had a relaxed, goofball charm, he now incorporated chainsaw noises and gunshots, and started rapping in a husky growl that suggested he spent most of his days amped up on Mountain Dew: Code Red while listening to Avenged Sevenfold (not that there's anything wrong with Avenged Sevenfold fans).
His music seemed rigid, like a basketball player bulking up but suddenly losing his speed and agility. "Relapse" marked a resurgence of sorts. By any account, the album was brilliantly rapped, but difficult to stomach. Still, there was no denying that it was a work of genius -- perhaps the songs weren't all there, but the skill was. If Hannibal Lecter could have recorded a rap album, this would've been it. Brilliant, sinister, scatological and a parent's nightmare. It's no wonder that Odd Future used it as a blueprint.
But after the record's muted reception, Eminem turned his back on that style, famously claiming on the single "Not Afraid" that "Relapse" was merely "eh." Despite the ostensible lucidity of his new-found sobriety, the claim marked a clouded judgment. Though the Grammys and his diehard fan base would surely argue, "Recovery" marked his artistic nadir. Despite its obvious well-meaning positivity, it was steeped in cliches and cynical pop bids.
The man who bragged about "human sacrifices, cannibalism and exorcisms" was gone. Instead, he wore a crucifix and imported Rihanna and Pink to honk bombastic hooks. It was 12-step platitude after platitude. Charlie Sheen's version of hell. Musically, his rhyme schemes and flows were ossified, technically razor-sharp but lacking the spontaneity and abandon that made him great. So it's a pleasant surprise to hear the gleefully sardonic "G.O.A.T," a never-released cut allegedly from 2007-08 that's finally seeing the light of day.
Taking dead aim at those who pigeonhole him as only a great "white rapper," he mocks Madonna, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, calls Paul Wall mediocre, and insinuates that Bubba Sparxxx has drug issues. It's not the Eminem of '99, but he's relaxed, funny and, with a glissando piano flow, hops from bar to bar like Tom Hanks at F.A.O. Schwarz in "Big."
Of course, Eminem's doing just fine career-wise. He's still the most popular rapper in the world. Grammy voters who listen to four rap records a year love him, and this comment section will surely have 40 people pop up to declare that it's idiotic to utter any negative words. But lightening up and loosening his hoodie wouldn't be a bad idea. Either way, no one's about to argue that he's not a G.O.A.T. Listen below, though be forewarned that the tracks contains cussing.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Eminem in 2009, around the time of the release of "Relapse." Credit: Karin Catt.