Way back at the turn of the century, it was a refrain that young Marshall Mathers would hear often. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” went the familiar chorus from critics and parent watchdog groups intent on silencing the raunchy, provocative, and at times, outright offensive rapper.
Now, twenty years removed from his entry to the much-lauded and oft-debated rap game, it’s finally true — in a way.
In 1997, the burgeoning all-star talent that was Eminem was pernicious, obstinate, irreverent, and outright mean. 1997 Eminem meeting 2017 Eminem would be absolutely disgusted with himself.
The viciously sardonic battle rhymer who lyrically eviscerated foes like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Moby, The Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey, Will Smith, Carmen Elektra, and basically anyone who rubbed him the wrong way or who he thought would get him a laugh has grown up. In the course of doing so, while he’s added hip-hop luminaries like Nas, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, and even his idol Tupac (through digital trickery) to his list of accomplished collaborators, he’s also included some names that would garner his elder self a ruthless tongue-lashing from the mean-spirited trickster he once was.
Whereas the old Eminem would have sneered at the possibility of an association with Rihanna, cringed at a collaboration with Hayley Williams of Paramore, and suffered an absolute conniption at the thought of featuring Beyonce on a record, the Old Eminem has softened, working with the aforementioned names and more while presenting a kinder, gentler, more sober version of himself to the world.
Back in the day, Em’s Slim Shady alter ego was the ultimate expression of the burgeoning rap star’s uncontrolled id. Remember, this was the artist who made “I Just Don’t Give A F*ck” not just a song title but a lifestyle ethos. On tracks like “Guilty Conscience,” this was played out by proxy, as Eminem became the metaphorical devil on his subjects’ shoulders, goading them into more and more depraved actions over the protestations of Dr. Dre’s “conscience” character, eventually turning Dre to Shady’s cause by the end of the song.
In “My Name Is…,” the insanely rambling introductory single that brought Eminem to America’s mainstream consciousness, Eminem threatens to rip Pamela Anderson Lee’s breasts off, contemplated impregnating one of the Spice Girls, and even berated his own mother. The trend continued onto The Marshall Mathers LP’s nettling first single, “The Real Slim Shady,” where Eminem doubles down on his obnoxious needling of well-known stars.