Whether Eminem realizes it or not, he is spearheading a movement. He’s the white community’s ambassador to hip-hop, an idol to millions of white adolescents and a nightmare for parents who see Marshall Mathers as an example of hip-hop corrupting their children. In this age of neo-conservatism, hip-hop has replaced rock ‘n’ roll as this generation’s “devil’s music,” and Elvis’s swinging hips have been replaced with Eminem’s erect middle finger. Throughout Em’s earlier albums, you find a conflicted emcee trying to balance hardcore hip-hop with pre-teen jams equipped to rock any sweet-sixteen party. Encore employs a similar formula, but this time we find a battle-weary Eminem releasing an album that is a lazy pander to the mainstream.
It’s been along year for Eminem, with vicious and public battles with the Murder Inc. clique and Benzino’s Source magazine. Around this time last year, Benzino held a press conference releasing a freestyle of a then-sixteen-year-old Eminem insulting black women and dropping the N-bomb. On Encore‘s most introspective track, “Yellow Brick Road,” Em addresses the controversy and circumstances leading up to the infamous verse, spitting: “People say they heard the tape and it ain’t that bad/ but it was. I singled out a whole race/ and for that I apologize, I was wrong.” As heartfelt as his apology may seem, it will do little to convince those who see Eminem as a racist who’s hijacking African-American culture.
On “Toy Soldiers” Eminem hits the boards, aptly blending an ’80s pop hit with militaristic marching drums, tackling his beefs with Ja Rule and Benzino. Eminem handles his grown-man business and waves his white flag in the name of peace, demonstrating that the lessons Big and Pac taught us may have finally sunk in. But it’s “Mosh” that demonstrates Eminem’s greatest advancements and recognizes that his voice moves a generation. After years of abusing pop-stars like Brittney Spears and Fred Durst, Eminem sets his scope and guns for a bigger hack: George W. Bush. With lines like, “Look in his eyes/ it’s all lies./ The stars and strips have been swiped/ washed out and wiped and replaced with his own face,” Em no longer has to worry about Ja and Benzino. He just made a bigger enemy.
Unfortunately, besides the aforementioned tracks and an additional scant selection of joints, Encore is mainly a showcase for Eminem’s cartoonish and immature personality. Lead single “Just Lose It” is the worst he’s ever released. On the track, Dr. Dre oddly recycles samples of “Without Me” and “Lose Yourself” on a beat that will surely have people blissfully dancing away as their brain cells melt away. It gets no better on “Puke,” another tired tale of baby-mama drama, or “Ass Like That,” where Eminem continues his fascination with puppets rapping.
As arguably one of the top five dead or alive, Eminem has yet to release a classic album. With him being involved beefs, running a label and producing beats, he’s stretched himself thin. Could the constant media scrutiny force Mathers to follow in Shawn Carter’s footsteps and plan an early retirement? Probably not. But if Encore signals a trend, Eminem may be completely burned out by the next time he raises the curtain on The Eminem Show.