even the most jaded ears.
Appropriately enough for a man closing in on thirty, The Eminem Show finds Eminem more mature and focused, if not kinder and gentler. "Without Me" -- like his "The Real Slim Shady," the leadoff single from 2000's The Marshall Mathers LP -- is a fun-loving, barb-laden romp on which he flits from one topic to the next like a bumblebee with ADD. But Em isn't saying things just to get you mad here. This time he's rapping because the world has pissed him off, not the other way around. "If y'all leave me alone, this wouldn't be my M.O.," he says on "My Dad's Gone Crazy."
On The Eminem Show, Eminem is no longer pulling the race card just for laughs. "I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley," he raps. "To do black music so selfishly/And use it to get myself wealthy." He's being a little harsh on himself: After all, the only white folks really doing white music are strumming harps and blowing bagpipes. But as always, Em's most potent weapon is his ability to counter his critics by accepting his vulnerabilities and turning them into song fodder.
Em produced or co-produced most of the album, and he's quickly becoming an expert beatmaker. Every track has some sort of melodic edge; songs such as "White America" and "Cleanin Out My Closet" feature electric-guitar rhythms fraternizing with hip-hop-sensible drum patterns. "Soldier" and " 'Till I Collapse" are all paranoid horror-movie instrumentation bottomed with arena-rock grandeur. He's learned so much so well as a producer that Dr. Dre's three contributions ("Business," "Say What You Say," "My Dad's Gone Crazy") are hard to pick out without production credits.
On the rock-fueled "White America," he confesses that "if I was black, I woulda sold half." But even as he remains acutely aware of his position as a big-time white rapper, Eminem fully enters the fray of mainstream hip-hop on The Eminem Show. He's moved on from dissing Everlast and Britney Spears and is unafraid to take on credible black MCs now, dissing Canibus on "Square Dance" and egging on Dr. Dre against Jermaine Dupri on "Say What You Say." On "Business," Em names himself the gatekeeper of hip-hop and obliquely claims to be the best rapper alive: "The flow's too wet/Nobody close to it/Nobody says it, but everybody knows the shit." His way with words and his sheer honesty can make topics that would otherwise seem so last