By Christopher R. Weingarten, Elias Leight, Brittany Spanos, Charles Aaron, Mosi Reeves, Al Shipley, Jason Newman, Christina Lee, David Drake, Maura Johnston, Dan Hyman
Though he’s turned into a multiplatinum, Grammy-winning celebrity for nearly 20 decades, Eminem isn’t an unequivocally successful figure, either within pop music or within his own mind. Just listen to this vulnerability and self-doubt in his current single “Walk to Water.” At age 45, the Detroit rapper proceeds to make art about how individuals are driven crazy by weakness and lack. It is only he’s finding it harder to joke about the darkness that has always fueled his best work.
Some enthusiasts celebrate only the funny “Slim Shady,” if the musical comedy is quality controlled by executive producer Dr. Dre. They eschew the more brutally somber character studies helmed his Detroit collaborators Jeff and by Em and Mark Bass. But spend time with the whole catalog of Eminem and you realize the 2 sides of the music are inextricable informing another.
After Eminem raps about savage death, he’s furthering a grand murder-ballad heritage in blues and folk music. He’s also, sometimes, regurgitating sexist, homophobic stereotypes. However, for a poor mentally shaky MC to shine in hip-hop and not be regarded as a villainous buffoon, he should have prodigious abilities and a true commitment to transparency. On these 50 songs that are essential, Eminem demonstrates why he’s been one of music’s most intricate characters and shows that devotion to action.