After a five-year absence, Eminem has returned. And as has often been the case with the Detroit rapper, his latest chart-topping effort draws upon two primary “inspirational” sources: his personal struggles and the grim fictional exploits of his bloodthirsty alter ego, Slim Shady.
Eminem’s recent stint in rehab provided fodder for Relapse‘s few lucid moments. “Dr. West” is a spoken skit in which Eminem tries to ask his doctor for advice about getting involved in a 12-step program. On “Hello,” the rapper reluctantly says of his drug-addicted past, “[I’m] closing that curtain for good.” “Déjà Vu” exhibits moments of healthy self-awareness as Eminem raps about the addiction cycle and rationalizing poor choices regarding drugs and alcohol. And on “Beautiful,” he admits, “Lately I’ve been hard to reach/I’ve been too long on my own.” The chorus (when not bogged down with f-words) counsels something resembling positive self-esteem when it exhorts, “Don’t let ’em say you ain’t beautiful.” That track concludes with an encouraging message to (presumably) his two daughters (“Stay strong/Daddy will be home soon”) and another for everyone else (“God gave you the shoes that fit you/So put ’em on and wear ’em/And be yourself, man, be proud of who you are”).
If there are a few flickers of positive content, though, they’re utterly overwhelmed by the flood of corrupt foulness Relapse unleashes elsewhere. On “Crack a Bottle,” we hear that Slim Shady has “a record of 17 rapes, 400 assaults and four murders.” Those three categories of crime provide subject matter for 12 of 20 tracks. Listeners are assaulted by repeated, sadistic and explicit references to rape (victims include pregnant women, a young boy, lesbians and conjoined “brain dead” twins), as well as incest, sodomy, oral sex, masturbation, a failed suicide attempt, dismemberment, drinking a victim’s blood, drinking urine, a forced abortion and cannibalism. Shady and Eminem (at times it’s hard to tell which narrator is which) fantasize about torturing, killing and/or having sex with Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Portia de Rossi, Kim Kardashian, Sarah Palin, Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Alba. We also hear references to famous cinematic slashers as well as approving comments about real-world serial killers.
Drugs (various prescription meds and marijuana) and alcohol play predictable roles as Eminem slides into his titular relapse. As if those problems weren’t enough, the whole foul stew is marinated in about 200 obscenities, at least 100 of which are f-words.
“You better change the station,” Eminem advises on “Medicine Ball,” “to keep from throwing up.” While I’d like to accuse Eminem of exaggeration, in this case it’s sound advice. Twice I had to stop listening to different songs because the lyrics were so vile that I literally began to get queasy.
And that, of course, is exactly the reaction Eminem is hoping for. As Eminem suggests to his critics elsewhere on that track, “I guess it’s time for you to hate me again.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.