The Death of Slim Shady

Imagine lying at the edge of a cliff, with arms outstretched over the precipice and holding some terrible weight.

That’s what it’s like to hold onto anger, perceived slights or the accumulated bitterness that accrues through the everyday natural process of living. It happens to everyone. It’s happened to Eminem.

Eminem has made a career out of laying his life — no matter how dirty and disturbing — out for everyone to see. Whether it was his broken-home upbringing, issues with drugs, tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife or, especially, his issues with his mother, Eminem drew inspiration from the huge chip that had grown cyst-like and cancerous on his shoulder.

But eventually, like everyone, that weight just becomes too much to hold and one is faced with the choice of either being dragged over the edge into the abyss, or simply letting go. It seems as if Eminem has chosen the latter. As noted, with the leaked release of his upcoming album The Marshall Mathers LP 2, a specific song titled “Headlights” proved to be both the final casting aside of a weight Eminem had carried most of his adult life, and the nail in the coffin for our favorite maladjusted and emotional malcontent, Slim Shady.

The most shocking song of Eminem’s career is actually a tribute to his mother.

On “Headlights,” from Eminem’s “MMLP2” album, the rapper offers a mature, sincere apology to his mom, Debbie Mathers, from whom he remains estranged.

The title “Headlights” refers to their last meeting. As she drove away, he became fixated on the headlights of her car as he coped with feelings of “overwhelming sadness,” he raps.

As the lyrics continues, the Detroit rapper apologizes for dissing his mother in songs like 2002’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” in which he called her a “selfish b-tch” he hoped would “burn in hell.”

Of course this is a smart move for his sanity, but sad news for the Slim Shady nation.

Still, for most hip hop heads, this should come as no surprise. It seems that some time around the Eminem Show, the anger that had been so much a trademark of Eminem’s appeal, had begun to fade. It made sense: he was a happy father and millionaire. He had removed his mother and ex-wife from his life and there was nothing really left to be pissed about.

Eventually it seemed like he was becoming a cartoon version of himself. On Encore, the song “Just Lose It” sounded like a watered-down version of “The Real Slim Shady.” Worse yet, lyrically Eminem was beginning to sound generic, focusing more on flow and cadence as opposed to his traditionally syllable-heavy style. Nor was he as provocative or bold.

There was no longer a need for Slim Shady, so Eminem tried to force it. But what else could he do? There was just too much money on the table and people wanted Slim Shady.

It’s around this time that Eminem’s problems with pain killers and drugs began to really take control of his life. It was as if he were purposefully trying to find something to sabotage his life, just so he’d have something new to rail against. Instead, the addiction almost killed him.

It took two mediocre-to-awful albums (Encore and Relapse) before he regained any semblance of his former self with Recovery. Even then, it wasn’t the same Eminem. Pushing 40, recovering from drugs and with grown children (Hailie is in high school now!) a much older and wiser Eminem had no place in his mind for the zany and psychotic Slim Shady anymore.

We’ve seen it happen with rappers before. LL Cool J and Ice Cube all suffered creatively and financially when their initial young-black-male anger faded into a placid, if not stale, maturity. Hey, it happens. One can’t be angry forever.

So when Eminem announced he’d be releasing a Marshall Mathers LP 2 and getting back to his roots, anyone who knew anything about hip hop rolled their eyes.

“No you’re not Eminem. You’re grown now.”

Apparently, even Eminem knows this. The aforementioned “Headlights” isn’t the type of song that would ever see the light of day on the first Marshall Mathers LP. Sure it’s honest, brutally open and intriguing, but it’s also forgiving, it’s remorseful and it’s sympathetic.

Eminem has been lying by that cliff for most of his adult life, holding that weight. What do you want? Time moves on. People age and they grow. Eminem may never make the same type of jaw dropping, provocative and breath taking art he did when he was a teary-eyed angry boy. But he’s a man now.

He’s finally free to stand up and walk away from that cliff, turning his back on the released weight behind him, now speeding toward the ground below, wrapped up in itself and screaming the lyrics to “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” all the way down.

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