Eminem has creative genius. Even his most ardent critics will admit this. I've been researching his work for almost 7 years now. I have encountered lots of articles that deride Eminem for the hate his music portrays against women and homosexuals -- but, even in those articles, there was a willingness to concede his brilliance.
For my part, I am dazzled when I listen to his lyrics and beats. I find myself awestruck by the sheer talent that is coming through the speakers. MTV has described his music as “irresistible irreverence,” and Rolling Stone added, “sometimes (he dazzles) with sick brilliance (Rolling Stone, Dec, 2002).” We see in these statements a reticent acceptance of music which, while artistically brilliant ("irresistible," "dazzles," "brilliance"), is substantively offensive ("irreverence"), even twisted ("sick").
So, what is Eminem’s musical genius? This genius manifests itself in 3 ways specifically. These are the 3 marks of Eminem’s music: honesty, intimacy, and humor. When at his best, these powers are being used most. At times, he only draws on one of the skills, and that is still enough to impress.
He tells you what he really wants to do when his wife takes out a restraining order. We may not like it, but his honest emotion leads him to thoughts of murder. Such honesty is compelling. He is even honest about his success “I am not the first King of controversy/ I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley/ to do black music so selfishly/ and use it to get myself wealthy (Without Me).” He is not afraid to “tell it like it is.”
2. Intimate/ Personal.
“Because he is so... interesting to himself, he becomes interesting to us (Paul Slansky, NY Observer).”
Eminem talks openly about the personal aspects of his life: his troubled relationship with his mother, his love for his daughter, his problems with his wife, his use of drugs. His music is intimate. He is transparent. His music borders on confession now and then -- he is the confessor, and his listener the priest.
He was once asked, “You've revealed a lot of your personal life in your songs. Do you regret anything you've said?”
He replied, "No, I don't regret any of it. I really believe in that shit, man. I don't believe in talking behind nobody's back or being fake. It's fun for me to do that. When I write something I don't hold back, there's no holds barred. And whatever the consequences may be, if I offend anyone or whatever, I'm saying it so I'm willing to deal with it. I don't know if anybody does it like me, saying whatever they want to say. If I'm feeling it, then I'm gonna say it. Flat out. I'm not mad. I leave my anger in the studio. I get all my shit out on the mic, I say what the fuck I gotta say, and then I'm done. I can go home and sleep I got it all off my chest. I put it out. Music is a form of expression (From Music 365 Interview)."
A series of quotes to summarize the genius of his humor:
“I have been able to maintain the borderline between cheesy and having fun, then come back with a more serious song (Eminem, BBC Interview).”
“He isn’t afraid to say anything; his lyrics are so clever that he makes murder sound as if it’s a funny act he may indulge in simply to pass the time (L.A. Times).”
“For anyone expecting more of the naughty pop-culture-obsessed blonde kid in the clean version of "My Name Is", proffered on MTV, The Slim Shady LP is some bad-trip nether world. But that world is exactly why the hip-hop underground loves Em. His off-the-beat flow, way off-the-beat lyrics and loony-tunes presentation place him in a class by himself. Em isn't trying to be Jay-Z, DMX, or Tupac; he's trying to be the Roadrunner, turning his enemies' anvils back on themselves with split-second trickery. He's also probably the only MC in 1999 who boasts low self-esteem. His rhymes are jaw-droppingly perverse, bespeaking a minimum-wage life devoid of hope, flushed with rage and weaned on sci-fi slasher flicks. (Rolling Stone, Apr. 1999).”
“Far from being about realness, they argue, Marshall Mathers is parody, a horror show of self-loathing and other-loathing theater, a sick joke that Eminem's fans are in on. They point to how he peppers his rants with hyperbole, denials and reversals, calling into question not only the sincerity of his words but also their efficacy (Richard Kim, The Nation, v. 272, no. 9)."