Through the power of coincidence, I was gifted three reasons to write for the next three days. Three random anniversaries that aren’t at all connected, but are all woven together by my life’s narrative. Three major events in Hip-Hop history that not only provided the soundtrack to my high school years, but also shaped the person I became. Each incident helped shape the course of what Hip-Hop became as well.
The first occurrence originated on May 23rd, 2000. A whole fourteen years ago today (be prepared to feel old), The Marshall Mathers LP was released. It was on that day that a Sacramento radio station, KBMB “The Bomb,” did one of the most amazing things radio has ever done: they played the entire album front to back, commercial free.
It was the only time I’ve heard of any event like it, either before or since and it blew my mind. They advertised throughout the day that at around 2:00 AM they would be playing the new Eminem album front to back. 14-year-old me couldn’t contain myself, and I stayed up until it was time, on a school night no less, stuffed some tissue into the holes on the top of a tape I had, popped it into my boom box and when it was time pressed play and record simultaneously and sat back ready to enjoy the ride.
“This is another public service announcement, brought to you in part by Slim Shady.”
And the rest was history.
The Eminem story has long since been told, an oddity forging a niche for himself in a genre he didn’t belong in. From a city with a rich musical history that hadn’t yet created a foothold in rap. The great white hope of rap who succeeded beyond even the most optimistic expectations, and the album that would become the fastest selling solo album in American musical history.
For me, the album arrived at the tail end of my freshman year. Just like everybody else, my first year of high school had its highs and lows but I had came out of it mostly unscathed. While I was absorbed by the constant need to be “cool” Eminem spoke to the other sides of me that didn’t get out much. Whereas Jay Z was the guy I wanted to be, Eminem was the guy I was.
MMLP touched on a variety of issues I had been dealing with at the time and continue to deal with while growing older. My two closest friends and I gravitated towards the Eminem narrative because it struck a chord that nobody tapped before musically. All three of us were the oldest sons of single mothers, just like Em, and being such there was a constant mother versus son battle in our households. The album opened with four bars depicting that exact feud. Prior to, there hadn’t been much music before that that hit closer to home than the album’s first lines heard on “Kill You.”
“When I was just a little baby boy,
My momma used to tell me these crazy things
She used to tell me my daddy was an evil man,
She used to tell me he hated me
But then I got a little bit older
And I realized, she was the crazy one
But there was nothing I could do or say to try to change it
Cause that’s just the way she was”
While my relationship with my mom wasn’t nearly as combative and destructive as Em and Debbie’s, it did exist and at it’s worst it felt just as volatile. Em said things to and about his mom that I wouldn’t dare, but the conflict was similar and seeing it play out with someone else so publicly was comforting, even if it was at the expense of his personal life and privacy.
In many ways he was voicing my frustration for me, in a voice with reach much further than I could even imagine. Surely, he was this for others as well judging by the success of the album and his ascension beyond rap and into pop culture. Em had become a phenomenon because of his relatability, and despite of his normalcy in a genre that celebrates excess and being larger than life.
Then there was race. As a Mexican dealing with race in a predominantly Black neighborhood, my path through my Sacramento neighborhood mirrored the same adversity Marshall once faced in Detroit. Again, my battle was nowhere near as complex as his, but in some circles I was viewed as an outsider as well. But Em’s soundtrack to this fight helped to soothe the frustration and mental unease with no fitting in simply because of the color of your skin and nothing else. His music eased my path.
The shelf life of the album was extended later in my life as those issues progressed into bigger and more complicated versions of their initial selves. Much like Debbie Mathers, my mom had let her vices take over her life as well, which only further compounded our issues. Often, I’ve returned to the album to see that things weren’t as bad as they could be, and I have the MMLP to thank for that.