Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Eminem -- Encore
Aftermath; 2004

Marshall Mathers appears to be a very conflicted man. Not like over whether to get Skittles or gummi worms (gummi worms, all the way), more like whether or not he wants to keep his day job as a rapper. After entertaining and offending the American public for five years, putting out four critically acclaimed records, and starring in a blockbuster movie about himself, it's almost like Mathers has accomplished everything he wanted in hip-hop. Now his priorities have shifted to taking care of his kids, and the consequences of the rap game are looking less and less appealing. Encore, his fifth major label LP, is a strange documentation of this inner struggle.

When considering Eminem's massive success, it could be a little hard for people to believe that he truly wants out of rap; but all it takes is a few cursory listens through Encore to hear him try and sabotage a number of his own songs. With farts and other bodily functions punctuating the chorus and pointlessly offensive lyrics throughout, it's no surprise that the chorus of "My First Single" is "And this was supposed to be my first single / I just fucked that up." The album's actual first single, "Just Lose It" is as disappointing: a hardly scathing social commentary that doesn't hold a candle to "The Real Slim Shady" or "Without Me." Mathers further wastes his talents on "Ass Like That," choosing to take on Triumph the Comic Insult Dog in a ridiculously lopsided battle.

On other songs, Mathers takes a more blunt approach to voicing his distaste for his role in today's hip-hop. On the album's proper opener, "Evil Deeds," he sounds sick of being popular, with lyrics like "But the curtain just don't close for me / This ain't how fame is supposed to be / Where's the switch I can just turn off and on? / This ain't what I chose to be." During the chorus of "Rain Main" he spits "My name was not to become what I became with this level of fame." The Martika-sampling "Like Toy Soldiers" chronicles his beef with Benzino, the lines "This ain't what I'm in hip-hop for / it's not why I got in it" and "Cause frankly I'm sick of talking" sticking out like sore thumbs. The fast track of fame that took Eminem from nobody to point of reference for modern hip-hop has left him feeling burnt out and ready to head for the exit sign.

But throughout the course of Encore there are a number of tracks that find Mathers still at the top of his game and with something worthwhile to say. Eminem takes a cautionary approach to familiar subjects like family and childhood on the ominous Dr. Dre composition "Evil Deeds," using lines like "Woe is me / There goes poor Marshall again / whining about his millions and his fortune and /his sorrow he's always drowning in," to bite back at critics that tire of his topics. "Puke" and "Crazy in Love" address the oft-talked about ex, swinging from disgust to wary love (respectively) in a way that only makes sense coming from Em. When collaborating with 50 Cent, Obie Trice, and Stat Quo, Eminem shines lyrically, putting his "funny" tracks to shame. He even gets political on the controversial "Mosh," presenting a side of him that was previously unseen, even if the effort had little effect on the outcome.

Encore closes out with a skit in which Eminem screams "You're coming with me!" then opens fire on the audience. As the screams flood the speakers it's easy to think this is just another of his shock tactics used to keep him notorious; but then the gun cocks once more and he turns the gun on himself. Say what you want about the man, but that's a pretty brilliant metaphor. Mathers knows that hip-hop has changed his life for the better, and even though he's tired of all the stupid shit that comes with it, he's not yet ready to give up his listeners. That's what kept him from making Encore 20 tracks of pure potty humor and instead giving us at least a few tracks that properly utilize his talents. This is probably the end of Eminem as we know him, and if he can bring himself to make a final album, we'd all be damn lucky.

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