Several years later “Stan,” Marshall “Eminem” Mathers’ song about a fictional fan-cum-stalker whose obsession with the white rapper he identifies with, and whose fan mail he does not return, then turning the fan onto the idea of killing his girlfriend, proves an interesting lens with which to review Mathers himself, as well as Asher Roth, a similarly pale-faced newcomer, and somewhat of an obsession of rap bloggers.
For Roth, though, the public interest seems to end there, unlike Mathers who had the novelty of being the first actually-pretty-talented-white-rapper on his side. Few others than the aforementioned rap bloggers seem concerned with Roth, as proven by his debut record, Asleep In The Bread Aisle’s, opening week sales. We got to see saw rap’s Dane Cook/Katy Perry being smashed by Rick “Street Cred is so 90’s” Ross, as well as tween sensation Hannah Montana, and, the third item in The Amazing Kreskin’s envelope of Weirdest Trio of Records To Have Something In Common, Depeche Mode.
Weeks after Roth released his record, we see the reemergence of Eminem, via numerous appearances on the somehow-relevant Jimmy Kimmel Live! show promoting his comeback record Relapse, which built relatively little positive buzz after three lackluster singles having been dropped, a term fitting of this trio of shite music. From the brainless “Crack a Bottle,” the outdated-before-he-wrote-it celeb basher, “We Made You,” and most recently the slasher-pr0n-rap track “3AM,” which I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as being a shameless money-play for some Saw 9 soundtrack money, the only message audiences could really piece together is that there’s been something seriously wrong with rap’s Howard Stern, a man who would rhyme anything so that people would listen. These are the two remaining active major label white rappers, one at the start of a career that may not live to see the 2010 midterm elections, and another, if his own hype is to be believed, whose mortality has been tested repeatedly thanks to his own bad habits, so let’s look at their releases, not for any State of The White People address, but just because the records have similarly little to say, while posturing as if they’re seminal, and I mean that in the way that neither of them would use the word, masterpieces.
There is no direct corollary between Roth and the fictitious Stan, despite the jokes I’ve made in private, as Stan is someone with actual troubles, and Roth seems to be a man of few problems. His primary bone to pick with society is simply that he’s neither respected nor taken seriously enough and that he’s tired of comparisons to Eminem, which he claims are solely based around their shared complexions and inflections, words he rhymes with little effect. Why do people make these comparisons so often? Well, it’s for a reason that Roth won’t admit, simply that he’s the most boring personality on the planet. Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen recently compared Roth’s sense of humor to Family Guy, in that both are reference heavy, fact, and that Cohen thinks that they both have a sense of humor that are not what he’d deem funny, merely funny-ish.
To briefly tangent, I’d say this claim is off, as Family Guy actually has at least a few decent-to-great punchlines in every episode, and that Roth’s style is more of an American Dad thing, in that the formula is written on the table and easy to read, but the author has nothing original to put into it. I can’t recall an actual punchline on the Roth record. Does anyone, anyone, even know why it’s called Asleep In The Bread Aisle?
Whereas Stan, written to be someone with problems similar to what Mathers was rapping about at the time, had girlfriend troubles and piss poor parenting, Roth slogs through a horrible life that nobody would ever want to live of … bad days where he forgets his iPod (I’m serious, it’s the least creatively named song ever: “Bad Day,” mostly a paycheck for singer Jazzy Pha, whose bank account seems to be suffering in the interim between Ludacris records). Also on the quite short list of what we’ve also learned from Asleep, maybe it named as such for it’s somnabulatory effects?, is that Roth has a mother who literally handed him The Slim Shady LP while he was doing the laundry, in a moment that just smacks of something that would happen in some bizarro High School Musical spinoff where Zac Efron raps.
While many were smart enough to never listen to the album itself (obviously, I can’t include myself in this grouping) and simply hate on Roth’s obviously brainless single, “I Love College,” it’s the album’s second track “Blunt Cruisin’,” that may be the single biggest blight upon the able-eared since “Hollaback Girl.” It’s an ode to white kids smoking out their parents SUV’s and driving around town with timeouts for freaking out when the cops show up. Nobody ever gets arrested or in trouble, though. In Asher Roth’s Amurrrica, getting busted for possession isn’t even an afterthought, it’s a neverthought. Once he’s mentioned cops enough, the song cycles back to the chorus, a braincell obliteratingly unimaginative list of pot smoking tropes. And in the sole moment I chose to rewind a song on the album, the chorus is accompanied by a weird repeated aside, wherein one of his friends in the background keeps referring to Roth as Rabbit, an easter-egg-ish reference to Eminem’s character in 8 Mile, which only reinforces the comparisons to Mathers that Roth bemoans on “As I Em,” which is where the millionth sword in the coffin is plunged as Asher uses his I’m Not Eminem track to copy Mathers’ cadence. This is what Roth takes as “clever,” and it’s the moment where you delete the album from iTunes. Way back when, Eminem warned of “a million others just like [him] who cuss like [him] who just don’t give a fuck like [him]” and it seems Roth doesn’t fall into this category, if only he did, he wouldn’t be so damn boring. Rehashed rated-R will always be better than brand new PG. The obsession with Mathers rings true in Roth’s work as well as it was supposed to be a part of Stan’s life, but odds are, we won’t be fortunate enough for Roth to provide himself the same ending, a long fall off a tall bridge, that Stan was given.
These barely there blips of a We’re-Both-White-Aren’t-We-Postracial-Yet message are the only thing Roth has to hold onto, and that’s as tenuous a base to build a mentality on. At least with Eminem, the career was built on a house of fucked up trailer park hickery. But now, said child abuse stories and parental drug abuse have let Marshall Bruce Mathers the 3rd to their only logical conclusion, living long enough to becoming your own worst enemy. A sentiment I copy-paste from Harvey Dent’s motto in The Dark Knight, and the explanation for Eminem’s undoing. His recent drug abuse has turned him into what he built a career antagonizing: a completely humorless celebrity. Eminem used to find his punchlines in beating up on the world around him, and then people would laugh. Now, he’s just giving himself an incredibly detailed beatdown, and nobody’s laughing. The minimal presence from affiliates Dr. Dre and 50 Cent seem to be proof that Shady’s lost the support of his former allies, like Rumsfeld and Cheney getting it from all angles these days.
Even the now-token weed track, “Must Be The Ganja,” isn’t as close to being as funny as it should even be, as it’s as boring as Roth’s listing of pot smoking terms, made even more grating thanks to the track being one of the many examples of Mathers putting on his “Exotic Foreigner” voice. You may remember the Nameless-Middle Eastern-Territory-Accent from when you first heard the delivery of the words “you make my pee-pee go, da-doing-doing-doing” on Encore’s “Ass Like That.” The accent hasn’t gotten any more interesting since, and neither has it even been explained why Eminem wants to spend a solid portion of the album in this voice. Admittedly, Relapse is a much better record than Encore is, and that’s simply because it’s without a song whose chorus is based around a grating Pee-Wee Herman laugh, but that song, the first single from Encore, “Just Lose It,” at least had enough of The Funny to mock the trite rap moment where half of the beat drops out and the rapper speeds up. Now what’s supposed to be funny about Eminem? There’s not a single laugh in the Mariah Carey & Nick Cannon bashing track “Bagpipes From Baghdad,” which is as inexplicably titled as Roth’s album is.
But the bloody core of Relapse is the idea that the years that have passed since Encore, or possibly earlier, have been a long downward spiral for our anti-hero. In interviews, Mathers blames a lot of his descent on the death of Proof, the D-12 founder who was portrayed under the name Future by Mekhi Phifer in 8 Mile, who was shot in the head by a club bouncer in Detroit. Meanwhile, Eminem’s home town of Detroit has sunken into Fallujah-like-state, something that’s worth bringing up because it – and the same can be said about Proof (né Deshaun Dupree Holton) – doesn’t get a single mention on the record. More of focus is Mathers’ issues with those responsible for his upbringing.
If there has been anything close to a constant presence in Eminem’s lyrics, it’s been his mother, who he seems to have forgiven in some small way, but still needs to disparage. The twisted tales of Mathers parenting range from mom drugging his childhood meals on, “My Mom,” to Marshall accusing the man she brought home to become his father-in-law of molesting the fuck out of him in his pre-tween years, on “Insane.” A track that will rattle even the most jaded of listeners, as it’s quite the topic for the rapper with some roots in homophobia to wait until now to bring up. It’s much more shock than awe when it comes to actually sitting through the songs. It’s obvious Eminem’s purpose is to make the listener uncomfortable, but it’s for no reward or any purpose, other than maybe trying to earn sympathy if the audience somehow believes him, as there’s a lot of The Unreliable Narrator going on, in a He’s Lazy Way, rather than anything better.
For both of these albums, the beats feel like an afterthought, which isn’t a big deal for the unknowns who put the Asleep in Asleep In The Bread Aisle together, while it is somewhat the Dr. Dre produced Relapse to be this sonically uninspiring. The big pop songs on the album have at least some urgency to them, both “We Made You” and “Crack a Bottle,” which, while suffering from being pop-ishly hollow, are still better than the album’s darker beats, like “3AM,” which doesn’t do much, barely conjuring a mental image of the scratched film of this Less Than Average Detroit Chainsaw Massacre.
Eminem’s rise was right before the celeb-blogging epidemic, and one wonders if it could have lasted in the modern day news cycle. The second single for the album, “We Made You,” builds itself on the most obvious of jokes. Jessica Simpson’s put on weight, Kim Kardashian has most of her’s in her posterior. Lindsey Lohan’s dating a woman who looks like Steve Perry with a buzz cut. Eminem’s lost his zeal for cracking jokes so much so that when it’s time to cast his Palin lookalike, whose lyrical joke is based purely on saying he wants to nail her, he pulls Lisa Ann, the pornstar that Hustler already cast for their porno Who’s Naylin Paylin? His copying and pasting of a porno’s box cover is beyond weak, and quite disappointing. The song reinforces the old trope that rehab turns people into the kind of boring mouthbreathers spending their weekends watching Grey’s Anatomy and laughing along to Jeff Foxworthy. Eminem isn’t there yet, but for what he started out as, he’s fallen very very far.
The only place where it seems Eminem can really offend anymore is in his homophobia, mostly used here to attack lesbians because they’re not all over him, and the previously mentioned stepdad nonsense, which is the last I’ll mention of it. He’s done this before, but now there’s nothing close to humor involved, nothing close to the half chuckles he gave with the line “strike a still pose and hit you with some ill flows that don’t even make sense like dykes using dildos,” from “Any Man” off the Rawkus Soundbombing II record, which shows how far you have to go back to actually get impressed again. The song where this comes into play, “Same Song & Dance,” is just “HEY LINDS! UR STILL CUTES, SAM’S A MAN, BABY!” on a text message from Detroit to LA. From where we stand now, Eminem’s next stop is US Weekly Exclusives. If I can write the epilogue to Stan, I’d assume the kid is down there, burning in hell, and he can’t believe he killed himself over such a chump.