Do you remember when Eminem used to be fun?
More and more, and particularly when new freestyle ‘Despicable’ surfaced at the start of the week, we’ve been wondering when he got so bloody dull.
It’s fast and feisty enough, but despite Em’s assertions that it’s a do-or-die battle with the haters (“Better not let up, better not let them breathe/Last shot, give it all you got/Try to turn me down bitch get fucked with the volume knob”) it’s pretty tiresome.
A particular nadir is his reference to NFL player Ben Roethlisberger, recently accused (the case was later dropped due to insufficient evidence) of sexually assaulting a college student in a nightclub toilet.
Prime material for Slim Shady, who leaps in with the choice line, “You wanna menage a trois you twats?/Fuck that, I’d rather turn this club to a bar room brawl/Get as rowdy as Roethlisberger in a bathroom stall.”
Many have interpreted it as a condemnation, but in fact it comes off more as a desperately weak topical throwaway. The most offensive thing about it is how casual and automatic it is.
Nothing new; on ‘Guilty Conscience’, he rapped about date-raping a 15-year-old (not to mention, on ‘Bonnie And Clyde 97’, getting his kid to help him kill her mother). But that was an imaginary Shady, an imaginary girl . There’s nothing proven of course, but this was a real girl. A real situation.
The corner that performers like Eminem continually paint you into, of course, is that if you don’t laugh along, you’re po- faced, liberal, just not up to the darkness. Bollocks. It’s not that there’s a line that you don’t cross. It’s just that you need to have a point. What’s Eminem’s point here? None.
It’s not, either, that his shock-tactics have become old, that we’ve become inured to things that once slapped a sharp intake of breath out of us. It’s more that where he used to match his anger, his shock-tactic depth-plumbing with a tricksterish devilment, a sense of fun creativity, now he merely sounds tired and narky.
‘Despicable’ twists, it turns, it fights, but it doesn’t, as it promises, leave you any space to breathe. There’s no joy to it. When Em spits “Jackass, eat a donkey dick/The game I just about conquered it like Donkey Kong/I’m bonkers, bitch, I’m the king of this honkey shit/I reign supreme in this honkey shit”, my main feeling is like the vague irritation mingled with pity inspired by a ranting bus stop drunk at 4am.
So has he lost it? Perhaps the best answer lies in the fact that while we waited for ‘Relapse’ to be released with the excitement of over-stimulated puppies, when the imminent release of ‘Not Afraid’ was announced, we found ourselves waiting just to see if it wasn’t shit.