Eminem Is Trapped in an Artistic No Man’s Land

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 2 weeks ago '06        #1
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Eminem Is Trapped in an Artistic No Man’s Land
 

 
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Eminem seems incapable of crafting artistically satisfying music anymore. Is it him? Is it us?

The DJBooth Slack chat has always been one of the most spirited places for music debate, none more so than when Eminem is the topic of conversation.

Last Friday, I found myself in a strange—if not frustrating—position, halfway defending Eminem’s new single with Beyoncé, “Walk On Water,” while most of the rest of our staff didn’t feel as, let's say, emotionally neutral.

After just 15 minutes, our various reactions to the song—from Yoh’s claim that Em has become a more personable Macklemore to Andy wishing upon a hip-hop star that Em would make music with El-P or DJ Premier—felt like an encapsulation of Eminem's biggest problem: he's no longer crafting artistically satisfying music.

Personally, my reaction to “Walk on Water” went from “I kind of like this song” to “I don’t actively hate this song,” yet, ultimately, my feelings never reached either end of the emotional spectrum.

Accompanied by a Beyoncé chorus that touches on the concept of being God-like but only in the eye of the beholder, Eminem's lyrics (“Always in search of the verse I haven’t spit yet / Will this step just be another misstep?”) are often noble in their sincerity and purpose. In some instances, he appears lost and frustrated (“Every album song I was spazzin' the fu*k out on / And now I’m getting clowned and frowned on”) with his current position in hip-hop.

Compared to the lyrical word vomit and Ann Coulter violation rhyme schemes of years past, this level of self-reflection is quite pleasant, but when coupled with the bass-less piano keys, strained violin chords that plead with you to understand their anguish, and an excruciating self-seriousness, it's impossible to listen to “Walk On Water” without acknowledging the emptiness of its entire being.

Enmeshed within every conceptually progressive and emotionally vulnerable verse of “Walk On Water” is the very real sense that Eminem, a rapper who spawned one of the most culturally provocative and commercially successful acts in the history of music, has become woefully uninteresting.

For years, Eminem has searched for what he believes fans want to hear from him, only to perpetually find himself chasing a hallucination of recovered artistic glory and nuance. His biggest hits of the last decade all attempt different things, yet they all have reached the same endpoint. “Not Afraid,” Eminem’s first “comeback” single on Recovery, was a more mature Slim Shady but felt like nothing more than gym workout fodder. “Love The Way You Lie,” an absolutely abysmal return to Em’s storytelling side, used a Rihanna feature to sell records while hiding its conceptual gimmicks. “The Monster,” featuring yet another Rihanna guest feature, found Em channeling the once dark side of his persona that spawned so many hits, only to come up dreadfully short.

Make no mistake, these songs were all commercial successes and remain some of the highest-charting songs in Eminem's catalog. Artistically, though, songs like “Not Afraid,” “Love The Way You Lie,” and now “Walk on Water,” highlight the disconnect between who we knew Eminem to be and who he has become. No matter what kind of material he concocts, we are constantly asking Marshall for something different.

This is neither a critique nor a defense of Eminem, but rather a statement of facts. On “Walk On Water,” Eminem himself laments his verses on Tech N9ne's “Speedom” and Big Sean’s “No Favors,” aware of the fan dissatisfaction that surrounds them. In his prime, Eminem became one of the most popular artists on the planet not just for his ability to craft singles that catered to the masses, but because he knew how to exploit the hypocrisy of the very pop culture cycle he seems intent on pleasing now. Records like “Just Don’t Give a fu*k” and “The Way I Am” aren't just noteworthy selections in his catalog, but blueprints outlining the inner workings of the entire Slim Shady persona.

On “Walk On Water,” for as sincere as Eminem wants you to believe he is, one can’t help but notice his formulaic approach to self-reflection, in which every ounce of introspection feels heavy-handed and duplicitous. If Em is as self-conscious of our jokes and as self-aware of his own mistakes as he indicates on the record, why does “Walk On Water” only feel like a slight turn left on a very wide road headed nowhere?

Like recent songs from Macklemore and Logic that entice audiences with this same copy-paste emotional approach, “Walk On Water” is not tasteless enough to be bad, but not original enough to be considered objectively good, either. The song feels trapped in an artistic no man’s land, a place where fans have no idea how to process or converse about Eminem and his music without feeling dissatisfied.

What struck me the most about our staff Slack chat was the overwhelming desire to hear Eminem try something else, something new. It wasn’t just that a song like “Walk On Water” wasn’t good enough, but that it was too safe an artistic choice for Em to make. Frustratingly, when Eminem has ventured away from safe in the past, he still can't seem to find any peace.

After the release of Encore, arguably the worst album of Eminem’s career and a directionless mess of past iterations of Shady trying to coexist, many fans desired for Eminem to expand his material past the immaturity and rage he had channeled effortlessly for so many years. After Relapse, the desire was for him to not lose himself in his own dark thoughts and concepts, yet, after Recovery, we only wished for something more conceptually and sonically fulfilling. When Em pivoted toward rapping as technically proficient and lyrically volumizing as humanly possible, such as on Marshall Mathers LP 2 tracks like “Rap God” and “Groundhog Day,” and even as he attempted to regain the prowess of his cultural critiques, his impact remained trapped within the image of a rapper that wasn’t there anymore.

On “Walk on Water,” Em laments, “Why are expectations so high? Is it the bar I set?” which seems to only recognize half the problem; it isn’t that the bar is too high to reach, but that Eminem is no longer competing in the same event.

Even when Eminem has pivoted toward politics, an arena that spawned lyrically potent and conceptually important songs like “Square Dance” and “Mosh,” the response has remained polarizing. Last month, after he used his BET freestyle to attack President Trump, Eminem, despite being highly-praised by several late-night hosts, faced criticism instead of basking in the glow of a culturally uniting moment. Though his lyrics hit hard in the moment, they paled in comparison to the finest political commentary of his career, and the offbeat nature of his rhyme schemes only highlighted its awkwardness instead of its impact.

As other grown-man rappers, like JAY-Z, find their groove reflecting on their deepest flaws, Marshall Mathers appears incapable of pulling off that same feat without facing criticism.

Is it him?

Is it us?

Or is it simply a case of one emperor whose clothes could only fit him for so long before his nekkidness became an inevitability?

visit this link http://djbooth.net/news/e .. m-no-mans-land
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156 comments for "Eminem Is Trapped in an Artistic No Man’s Land"

 2 weeks ago '17        #2
Lonny Breaux 118 heat pts118
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it's me. not him.
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 2 weeks ago '04        #3
Kliq 105 heat pts105
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good article

I feel that many Em fans, including myself, are just holding our breath for the album to come out before commenting too much. It's obvious the first single was nowhere near what people expected, and that he played it safe. With that being said, historically Em's first single on his albums have also turned out to be one of the more skippable tracks

i just hope the rest of the album doesn't have that weird robotic stop-and-go fu*king flow man
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 2 weeks ago '17        #4
Lonny Breaux 118 heat pts118
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tekashi 69>>>>>>>>>






















































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 2 weeks ago '12        #5
Cloud 420 83 heat pts83
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All you fu*kin geeks will be calling the album a classic the day its dropped. EM GON SHUT ALL YALL THE fu*k UP!!
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 2 weeks ago '15        #6
Kno 
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Good read.

And it's him, not us.
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 2 weeks ago '16        #7
North Face 26 heat pts26
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I remember when Em dropped Not Afraid. That was a nice fu*king comeback. Then he had a single with Wayne too.

Yeah, people calling Em trash since 02 or 03, but...That doesn’t really make sense to me seeing how he was nice back in 09-10 too.

Didn’t like MMLP2. He had a song with Kendrick, and I bet none of you n*ggas even remember it at all. sh*t was wack.
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 2 weeks ago '04        #8
Kliq 105 heat pts105
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 North Face said:
I remember when Em dropped Not Afraid. That was a nice fu*king comeback. Then he had a single with Wayne too.

Yeah, people calling Em trash since 02 or 03, but...That doesn’t really make sense to me seeing how he was nice back in 09-10 too.

Didn’t like MMLP2. He had a song with Kendrick, and I bet none of you n*ggas even remember it at all. sh*t was wack.
it's cus i feel like Em rarely does a true collab with artists - he either hands them a song that's done and asks them to fill in their verse or is sent a song and plugs his verse into it - he's not organically collabing on these tracks except with Royce on Bad Meets Evil and the results speak for themselves

gift and curse of being a recluse
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 2 weeks ago '12        #9
Phuck Yiu 34 heat pts34
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Em been
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 2 weeks ago '06        #10
jester2trife 1 heat pts
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Em about to even more emotional and trapped in his mansion for life after reading BXs constant whining about his every move.
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 2 weeks ago '09        #11
ShadyVsEminem 243 heat pts243
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 North Face said:
I remember when Em dropped Not Afraid. That was a nice fu*king comeback. Then he had a single with Wayne too.

Yeah, people calling Em trash since 02 or 03, but...That doesn’t really make sense to me seeing how he was nice back in 09-10 too.

Didn’t like MMLP2. He had a song with Kendrick, and I bet none of you n*ggas even remember it at all. sh*t was wack.
People hated not afraid like they hate this
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 2 weeks ago '17        #12
R Shackleford 
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He's fine. His fans will buy anything he puts out.

I know guys that don't even like rap music, but when an Eminem album comes out they suddenly "have" to buy his. It'll play for 2 weeks and never be brought up again. And he will go platinum

It's not about the music. Infer from that what you will

And this happens every Eminem album cycle. It blows my mind how you all repeat this exact process every time. The guy makes music for 13 year olds


Last edited by R Shackleford; 11-13-2017 at 02:19 PM..
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 2 weeks ago '04        #13
Kliq 105 heat pts105
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 R Shackleford said:
He's fine. His fans will buy anything he puts out.

I know guys that don't even like rap music, but when an Eminem album comes out they suddenly "have" to buy his. It'll play for 2 weeks and never be brought up again. And he will go platinum

It's not about the music. Infer from that what you will

And this happens every Eminem album cycle. It blows my mind how you all repeat this exact process every time. The guy makes music for 13 year olds
i agreed up until teh last paragraph - jus not true

cant imagine a 13 year old bumping MMLP2 front to back and appreciating it, its def the type of rap where you gotta be hip-hop tested to listen to or else you'll miss a lot of what he's saying. in other words, it's not fast food music that a lot of these 13 year olds are accustomed too
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 2 weeks ago '17        #14
R Shackleford 
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 Kliq said:
i agreed up until teh last paragraph - jus not true

cant imagine a 13 year old bumping MMLP2 front to back and appreciating it, its def the type of rap where you gotta be hip-hop tested to listen to or else you'll miss a lot of what he's saying. in other words, it's not fast food music that a lot of these 13 year olds are accustomed too
Idk about fast food music or a lot of these 13 year olds but his content is and has been definitely geared toward angsty children.

All that not afraid anti bullying soundtrack sh*t. That's his thing.


Last edited by R Shackleford; 11-13-2017 at 03:02 PM..
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 2 weeks ago '04        #15
Kliq 105 heat pts105
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 R Shackleford said:
Idk about fast food music or a lot of these 13 year olds but his content is and has been definitely geared toward angsty children.
maybe in the beginning, starting with Recovery onwards his subject matter has been more about growth - doubt a 13 year old could relate
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 2 weeks ago '07        #16
bluehefner96 94 heat pts94
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 Kliq said:
good article

I feel that many Em fans, including myself, are just holding our breath for the album to come out before commenting too much. It's obvious the first single was nowhere near what people expected, and that he played it safe. With that being said, historically Em's first single on his albums have also turned out to be one of the more skippable tracks

i just hope the rest of the album doesn't have that weird robotic stop-and-go fu*king flow man
We always "hope" this, and we're always wrong. No way he's gonna drop this single in that style, only to have the rest of the album sound "old Eminem."

Best you can hope for is that he does it "well," lol.
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 2 weeks ago '16        #17
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It's really a stupid article, but it's well written.

There's nothing that deep about it.

I've followed Eminem since before he signed his deal & released an album. He was never some great songwriter; he was a very entertaining & skilled "freestyler."

He did end up making a bunch of great songs, but the fact remains that songwriting never was his forte.

Now he's run out of stuff to rap about (assuming this is even the same guy)... and I'm over hearing him rap, at this point, anyway.

Life goes on.

He should call it a day, rather than continuing to be the victim of his own hype.



imo, "Not Afraid" should have never been released.

Now he's beyond his due date, and thinking about starting a fake Black Power movement.
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 2 weeks ago '16        #18
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If he was going to keep rapping, then yeah... of course, he should be going an "El-P, DJ Premier" type of route.

The problem is that they're now using his "music," strictly as propaganda to reach mass audiences.

That's why it's so soulless imo.
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 2 weeks ago '11        #19
cjd1994 72 heat pts72
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Em and Royce should have made Bad Meets Evil back when songs like 'Scary Movie' and 'Nuttin to Do' were out. They were a few years too late.

Just my opinion, Stans. Don't take it to heart.
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 2 weeks ago '10        #20
SecretAgentMan 
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its amazing how scrutinized this guy gets for his music.
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