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Heading into 1999, it appeared that the getting couldn’t get any more good in hip hop, as the culture was fresh off experiencing one of the most exciting years in the genre’s history. Record sales were at their zenith. Artists from all coasts flourished. An influx of young talent helped mark the beginning of a new era with names like JAY-Z, DMX, Juvenile and others enjoying multi-platinum success. And the music videos, man, were as groundbreaking and futuristic as ever.
But, 1999 would offer up something so new and fresh that had not been seen before: a Caucasian rapper with the lyrical chops to rap circles around your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. That Caucasian guy was Eminem, who elevated himself from being an underground MC and runner-up at the 1997 rap olympics to being the biggest new rap artist on the planet with his ’99 release, The Slim Shady LP.
Scooped up by legendary producer Dr. Dre, Eminem had the backing of one of the most respected figures in hip hop. Proving himself to be worthy of the cosign with his major label debut, Em won over rap fans of all colors and creeds with his rhyme skills, dark humor, zany personality, and hit-making ability. He has gone on to release bodies of work that have surpassed The Slim Shady LP critically and commercially. But, the project ranks as one of the essential collections in his catalog.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of this landmark album hitting shelves, REVOLT inspected all of The Slim Shady LP‘s moving parts and highlighted seven reasons why it’s an undisputed classic.
1. The Lead Single
When Eminem crash landed on the rap scene with his single “My Name Is” in 1999, he ensured that the rap world would never forget the name of his alter-ego Slim Shady. Produced by Dr. Dre, the song, which is built around a sample of Labi Siffre’s “I Got The…,” begins with an opening line that immediately captures listeners’ attention for its sheer outlandishness. Namedropping pop culture staples like the Spice Girls and Pamela Lee Anderson in unflattering fashion — and disparaging his own mother — Eminem’s playful, yet biting, brand of banter helped propel “My Name Is” to No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100. This gave the rapper his first hit single, while making a lasting impression among rap fans.
2. The Music Videos
During the latter half of the ’90s, being willing to push the envelope with your visuals was a key component in an artist securing airtime for their music video on TV. Eminem emerged as one of the more inventive rap stars of his generation when it came to creating entertaining music videos, which began with the accompanying clips to the various singles to his major label debut. In the video for “My Name Is,” Eminem stars as the central character in seven fictional TV shows, while a trailer park couple laughs along. For “Guilty Conscience,” Eminem is cast alongside Dr. Dre, who serves as the more thoughtful and even-keeled part of ones conscience, while Em plays its maniacal, compulsive counterpart. “Role Model,” which is directed by Phillip Atwell and Dr. Dre, captures the Aftermath signee escaping a near-death experience before assuming the role of a Catholic priest, police officer, a Norman Bates look-alike and a cartoon character. All three of these visuals were pivotal in getting the public acclimated to Slim Shady as a character.
3. It Continued Dr. Dre’s Track Record of Discovering Talent
Dr. Dre has gone down as one of the greatest figures in rap history with a reputation for cultivating star talent that precedes him. However, after his departures from Ruthless Records and Death Row — where he jump-started the careers of legends like The D.O.C., Snoop Dogg and others — Dre was slow to catch his stride after launching Aftermath in 1996. His first release on the label, Dr. Dre Presents…the Aftermath, failed to meet expectations both creatively and commercially. Couple that with the lackluster reception of The Firm album and it’s clear Dr. Dre was on the clock to deliver. And the Compton native did just that by making Eminem the flagship artist of Aftermath and introducing him to the masses with The Slim Shady LP, a move that helped breathe new life into The Chronic creator’s own illustrious career.
4. Its Shock Value
Rap has long been a proponent for creative license and freedom of speech. But, when Eminem unveiled The Slim Shady LP, it was unlike anything the mainstream had ever heard before. Artists like 2 Live Crew and N.W.A. had made waves for their profanity laced lyrics, misogynistic tropes and violent overtones. But, Eminem took the nihilistic approach a step further with his debut. Fantasizing about his daughter helping him dispose of her mother’s corpse, airing out grievances against his mother, and homophobic slurs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to content that had all types of special-interests groups denouncing Eminem’s music.
5. Memorable Deep Cuts
In addition to the multiple songs that hit big on radio and on music video countdowns, The Slim Shady LP won over listeners with its plethora of quality material in between those popular cuts. One of the album’s sobering moments comes in the form of “If I Had,” which addresses fair-weather friends, and the pressures of life and fame. “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” is a macabre duet featuring his daughter Hailie, while “Rock Bottom” catches him at his wits end with a desperation that’s palpable in every bar. However, the album’s crescendo arrives with “Bad Meets Evil,” a collaboration with fellow Detroit-bred rhyme animal Royce da 5’9″ that is simply a lyrical tour de force for the ages.
6. Its Commercial Success
When The Slim Shady LP hit shelves on February 23, 1999; the anticipation surrounding the release was at a fever pitch. And when the first week figures came in, the numbers backed up the fanfare surrounding the relative newcomer, as the album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 283,000 units sold. Certified platinum within two months of its release, The Slim Shady LP has since sold upwards of 6 million units domestically. This makes it one of the most successful rap debuts of the decade.
7. Its Cultural Impact
While hip hop as a culture has benefited from the contributions of figures of all ethnic backgrounds and races, rap has often been looked at as a genre that’s predominantly comprised of artists of African or Latin descent. While artists like Vanilla Ice skyrocketed into the mainstream, and groups like 3rd Bass and Young Black Teenagers gained respectability at the ground level; Eminem became the first white rapper to garner both. The release of The Slim Shady LP helped break the stigma that a white rapper would never be successful without relying on a gimmick, let alone be able to rival the greatest MCs in the game in terms of skill. Eminem accomplished all of this with his debut, opening the floodgates for every white rapper after him to have a shot at being taken seriously and judged beyond face value.
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