And that argument would be complicated by the fact that Eminem admits that Slim Shady is his alter ego, an expression of the most horrible thoughts that run through his head. Basically, we'd have the same old censorship song and dance.
But what makes the current debate more frightening is that it is not a debate over The Slim Shady LP. It is a debate over Eminem's most recent album, The Marshall Mathers LP. And as the title suggests, this album portrays the other side of the Eminem coin.
This disc resurrects the Slim Shady character, but also introduces us to Marshall Mathers, a man trying to come to grips with the effect Slim Shady's music has had on the world. Eminem drifts back and forth between Slim and Marshall on the record, writing songs from both perspectives.
The first is the anti-social psychopath we met on his first album. The other is the deeply troubled guy who created him. As a rule, the most artistic parts of the album are the Marshall songs. But Slim serves a very important purpose here. Many of his songs are aimed at giving you some perspective on how that persona emerged, and what role he serves in society.
The most widely criticized track on the album is arguably the first song, "Kill You." That's the one where Slim raps about raping and murdering any woman he comes across, including his mother. What the critics fail to point out is that the track opens with a description of the mental abuse Eminem/Slim's mother allegedly subjected him to as a child. He also explains the therapeutic purpose his music serves, asking:
Know why I say these thing? Because ladies screams keep creeping in Shady's dreams And the way things seem I shouldn't have to pay these shrinks 80 G's a week to say the same things [twice]
Eminem's feud with his real mother is well-publicized. She's filed a $10 million lawsuit against him for accusing her in his songs of having abused drugs when he was young. So while "Kill You" may not be a song you give your mom this Mother's Day, it is certainly more than a senseless attack on women. Rather, it's an explanation of the fact that Slim Shady's misogyny is a way for Eminem to work out his conflicts with his mother.
Recently, Eminem's mom has said she may drop her legal action, and that she wants to reconcile with him. So far, he hasn't shown any interest in patching things up. But should he ever work through his conflicts with mom, it would be interesting to see whether his attitude toward women would change.
Of course, most of Eminem's critics aren't concerned with where the violence originates. They're more concerned with the effect it has on listeners. But had they bothered to listen to the album's second song, or several others on the disc, they'd realize that Marshall Mathers is just as concerned with that. On "Stan," he paints a picture of an obsessed fan who murders his pregnant girlfriend in imitation of something Slim did in a song. It's an eerie self-examination that demonstrates Eminem has given more thought to the potential for fans to misinterpret his songs than he's given credit for.