Looking around today’s popular music landscape for a corollary to the kind of once-in-a-generation controversial shitstorm Eminem whipped up with his 1999 breakthrough record The Slim Shady LP is damn near impossible. Outside of maybe Miley Cyrus — who caused controversy not with the thematic material of her music but the package it was presented in — the closest we probably get is what Odd Future managed to accomplish a few years ago, which makes complete sense. Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, the group’s de facto leaders and most talented rappers, have repeatedly cited the influence of early Eminem on their own violent, personal, misogynistic brand of laughing horrorcore rap. But when Tyler won the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in 2011, it felt more like an attempt to cash in on what was essentially a transgressive internet meme than a reflection of the culture writ large, anointing significance to a sliver of truly viral hip-hop in an extremely fractured popular music industry.
And while this may just be a reflection of the generational differences in music consumption, Eminem managed to capture the unwavering attention of a significant block of the nation’s music-loving youth back in 1999 because of his music, aided by his inventive videos which corresponded with the peak popularity of MTV’s influence on the pop charts. He wasn’t making headlines or selling records because of racy performances, outlandish interviews or highly publicized legal trouble. When The Slim Shady LP dropped on February 23, 1999, it sounded absolutely nothing like anything in hip-hop, presenting a hilariously strange alternative to the weirdly glitzy, Puff Daddy-driven, post-Biggie & Pac playing ground that had existed for the previous few years.
If Eminem accomplished anything with his 4x platinum selling Slim Shady LP, beyond becoming one of the patron saints of Total Request Live-era MTV (along with Britney, Christina, *NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, Limp Bizkit, Blink 182…yeesh), it’s that he produced one of the most enduring pieces of transgressive art the mainstream music culture has ever celebrated.
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