Marcus On the Beats: The Ugliest Number One Album In History: The Marshall Mathers LP

the marshall mathers lp1

The Ugliest Number One Album in History


Who would have envisaged that the first blockbuster album (over 20million sold) of this century was riddled with tales of vicadin, rape, murdering your wife/mother, abuse, Columbine and homophobia? One which blurred reality with fiction and left listeners queasy at the thought of which tale was which. Eminem, it should be reminded, was a genuine pop star that hard the albatross of the Elvis syndrome of being white doing ‘black’ music.

The Marshall Mathers LP’ has to be the single most disturbing number 1 album in history, a victory of substance, however horrid, over style; a serious artist that sold albums by the lorry load, an artist that astounded and offended in equal measure and an artist that at some point genuinely scared Middle America. In 2000, America was fearful of such cultural devils, despite being pre 9/11, it was this fear that elected Dubya in the first place. America was tacking to the right, tacking to a hardline version of christianity and frankly a white kid with a hellish vocabulary doing music that a generation ago would have been called ‘race’ music scared the living daylights out of them. It’s worth listening to consider this; has such an album that is so hard to listen to, so repugnant in many ways, so confused as to whether it’s autobiographical, and so angry at being famous been so successful? I mean, an album that sold 1.7million copies in the first week is normally audio wallpaper. This album had a massive pop hit that tells the story of how one of Eminem’s fans keeps writing to him and the lack of response leads him to kill his pregnant girlfriend. Back to that ‘is it real?’ point; even if it isn’t, not many people’s dark fiction would tread so bleakly.

So what is the point? Well my point is that ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ should be seen as one of the greatest of the century we are currently living it. It should elevate Eminem to being a cultural deity forever, it should forever be cited of an example of how pop music doesn’t have to be sanitised, nice, moral and sugar sweet. It says as much of the audience as it does Eminem himself that we bought the album in droves – it shows audiences can be taken new places and should be seen as a sign of hope for those of us who want pop music to be challenging. We should never excuse an album as violent, misogynistic and homophobic as ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’, but as a piece of art it is peerless in it’s ability to shock and sell.

  1. Good piece even though I don’t agree…;)

    To be honest it didn’t shock me any more than say, Alice Cooper or Ozzy Osborne, because like the aforementioned artists Enema is pure theatre sans subtly or insight …its just sooooo contrived to be “badass”

    My first thoughts upon hearing young Marshall were

    1. Is that Chris Morris doing an ironic parody and then when I realised it wasn’t
    2. “now there’s a middle class dick trying to be street” He’s like a kind of woeful rapping version of Frankie Boyle “I’m going to rhyme hat with twat” THAT’S how B.A.D. I am” And shock for its own sake, which offers no insight I find dull and trite.

    I’s not all bad, for example his anger which builds incrementally during his songs, starting with sullen and ending with bogus overwrought hysteria is, if nothing else, unintentionally hilarious. And all this from a guy who even briefly made Dido look edgy !

    As for him being a great rapper , ‘fraid not, “Rap News” for example makes him sound like a prepubescent Lil Chris tribute act.

    Oh eck there I go again, off on one… , I best away to give The Horrors a damn good kicking ………..

  2. Hi Von,

    It’s subjective of course, but I am not sure the Chris Morris comment seems any other than a bit silly.

    He isn’t middle class, never was. Of course it was intended to shock, but Marshall brought it all together – I mean this an album that gained critical and mainstream success while also shocking establishment America.

    “Rap News”? I have no idea, is that on the album I am referring to?

    Eminem’s skill as a rapper is widely accepted, in fact, the hip hop community was obviously cynical enough to welcome him into the fold UNLESS he was a great MC. This is a man who Dr Dre staked everything on.

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