Over the weekend, Eminem celebrated the 20th anniversary of his proper studio debut, The Slim Shady LP.
The album not only established the soon-to-be Hip Hop legend’s dedication to shock rap but ignited the career path that led to him to becoming the second highest-selling male artist of all time.
But how does the rest of his catalog stack up?
The HipHopDX staff was reminiscing as the album hit streaming services and got to debating as to which Eminem albums are better than the next.
Here’s what we came up with. Enjoy!
Trent Clark (HipHopDX Editor-in-Chief): So let’s start from the bottom. Everyone in here hates Recovery the most, right?
Kyle Eustice (HipHopDX Senior Writer): I am not a huge Eminem Stan like that, but I think Recovery and Revival should be at the end.
Now that I’m saying it out loud, I actually think Revival was the worst. Good lord I hated it.
Daniel Spielberger: (first-year HipHopDX contributor) Recovery is super corny and interchangeable with Revival as the worst.
Trent: Thank you! WTF is this???
Daniel: Well … I still think Revival probably deserves the honor. There’s that horrible Ed Sheeran song and that god awful “I Love Rock N’ Roll” sample on “Remind Me” … it sounds super cheap for a Chart-topping artist.
Aaron McKrell (three-year HipHopDX contributor): I liked Recovery. It was flawed but it showed considerable personal growth. “Not Afraid” was a fearless song to make. This was AA-rap at its finest. Yes that’s a thing, because I said so (Laughs). But no, Em was on his pen with that album. “No Love, On Fire, the hidden track at the end. It’s campy, sure. But it feels hella good.
Relapse, however, can go to all seven hells from Game of Thrones. That album is recycled shit full of bullshit accents, superficial production and tired themes. I hope that album gets hit by one of Tony Soprano’s waste management trucks.
Dana Scott (seven-year HipHopDX contributor): Relapse was actually slept-on because “Crack A Bottle” was a bad lead single, even though it won a Grammy, but it was a comeback thing. But “3 AM” was a good song and the other stuff was great. Will Ketchum did a good job breaking that down a couple years ago in his piece on the DX site.
Trent: Relapse is better than SSLP.
I’m probably the only one in here who never loved SSLP. I actually never even bought it. It always felt like a gag album to me. I’m sure they sold it at Spencer’s too.
Dana: Spencer’s … (Laughs)
Aaron: Yeah but … consensus (Laughs). That album was lyrically amazing and I’ve always felt the production was underrated. “Guilty Conscience” is amazing social commentary. “If I Had” and “Rock Bottom” are blues rap done right. “Bad Meets Evil” with Royce is some of the best shit Em has ever done. It does get a little cartoonish but I think that’s part of its charm.
Trent: Yeah, charm! That’s it! I always wondered why Redman and Ludacris never got any Diamond plaques.
Aaron: (Laughs!!!) I know I know he benefited from the ghostliness of his skin. I still think it’s a great album based on artistic merit.
Dana: I never liked SSLP much either, but it made him a household name and grabbed everyone by the throat, and made Busta Rhymes smash his head through his tour bus windshield.
Trent: Speaking of consensus, Revival is easily his worst received album but there are songs on Recovery I just can’t believe made it out of the studio.
Justin Ivey (HipHopDX Staff Writer/Editor): SSLP is way better than Relapse and needs to be Top 3. For me, Recovery is the worst.
Overall, he probably just has a mid-tier a discography. It doesn’t contain the consistency of others but has it’s high points. Like many others, there’s trail of diminishing returns. If you discount Infinite as a glorified demo, the first three make for an impressive run.
Kyle: I still revisit “Stan” actually. Haven’t listened to “Drug Ballad” in a minute though!
Trent: Where does this catalog rank in the all-time MCs discographies?
Kyle: Well, MMLP has aged for me — it’s harder to stomach some of that misogynistic, homicidal stuff these days.
It’s pure fiction and as a diehard Mortal Kombat fan, I can’t even begin to pretend to picket. I’ve always found it remarkable he stays on beat screaming like that (Laughs).
Daniel: All of his albums after 2009 have been subpar. He’s a shadow of what he used to be. Even though his first few albums were generally great, there’s just too much mediocrity for him to have an iconic catalog. He has occasionally shown off his technical prowess but the production is either lackluster or what he is actually rapping is super cheesy. Rapping super fast is cool and all, but seems like he has run out of things to say.
For example, “Rap God” was technically impressive but the actual content was a rehash of his homophobia. Shocking just to be shocking…yawn. He hasn’t delivered a proper comeback album artistically speaking (yet). He’s missing his proper “4:44″/ reminder that he takes time and care into the craft and has matured… maybe nobody is telling him “no”? Subsequently, I think his catalog should be ranked fairly low.
Aaron: Yeeeeeesshhh! I believe Trent once compared Rakim to Oscar Robertson, as in “great for his time.”
Trent: (Laughs!!!) The Oscar Robertson comparison still stands but we’ll save that for another day.
Aaron: I wouldn’t rank his catalog that high, either. MMLP is a 4.8 or .9, solely because “Kim” is unlistenable. If I was going to give one a 5.0 (And this changes my No. 1) it’d be The Eminem Show. The production is top-notch, start to finish. There are some sophomoric moments but there isn’t one weak cut from start to finish. Even “Square Dance” is enjoyable for the way he pokes fun at Canibus. And the best songs on The Eminem Show (“Sing For The Moment,” “Till I Collapse,” “Hailie’s Song,”) stand up to “Criminal,” “Stan,” and “The Way I Am” from MMLP.
Dana: It feels like this is where we’re currently at:
2. The Eminem Show
Encore and everything after that was blah. I’d rather listen to Martika’s “Toy Soldiers” than Em rapping over it. The only thing really poignant about that track was its video that depicts Proof getting shot and killed, which actually happened two years later.
Trent: This is going to sound slightly crazy but Encore is the Em album that’s most endeared to me. A favorite if you will.
I bought MMLP the first day it came out during my junior year of high school (putting me smack dab in the music’s target demo) and wore out the CD. But I listened to Encore heavily while I was in Iraq (2005) and didn’t have a lot of the media and other side stories in my face. It was just me and the music and I think it has some of his most earnest content to date like “Love Me More,” “Like Toy Soldiers,” “We As Americans” and “Evil Deeds.” I think the silly songs really eclipsed everything for a lot of listeners though.
Kyle: That makes sense why you’d have such a strong connection to it.
Aaron: That album is very much slept-on. The tracks he made that were corny and childish (“Big Weenie,” “Ass Like That,” “Rain Man”) were made while he was in the throes of addiction. Without those and a few others, we have a great album on our hands. “Like Toy Soldiers” is Eminem at his finest. “Mockingbird” is Marshall Mathers at his finest. The problem – besides the pills – was that he kept trying to make room for Slim Shady on that album, and it was clear he’d progressed beyond that.
Justin: It’s a weird album and a clear step down from his work prior to that point. There’s no reason to revisit it. It exists.
Its reputation has only gotten better because he released worse stuff in subsequent years.
Dana: I get y’all connections to Encore. I guess I had a different point of reference about Eminem seeing his artistic evolution, or devolution, at that point in 2005 when he hit his peak after The Eminem Show and made that horrible song with D12 “My Band” which got too kitschy for my taste. I understand it was hard to top MMLP and The Eminem Show. I was in my mid-20s at that point and was still rocking my backpack a lot, so I condemned what he was doing and his platform on MTV became an afterthought to many of us Gen Y-ers in the early iTunes era.
Daniel: I like “Like Toy Soldiers” a lot. I agree that Encore is slept on. Even the silly songs weren’t that bad either compared to his other silly music. “Ass Like That” is irreverent/ goofy but definitely catchy.
Kyle: I think Kamikaze should be up a little higher. Not only was he able to completely drop it out of thin air, he was also seemingly reinvigorated and came out swinging. I loved that element of it.
Aaron: I feel like that album was overrated. He spent much of his time emulating Trump’s blanket hatred of all things media and a bunch of time decrying mumble rap. Plus a few random relationship ballads. Shit was mediocre.
Trent: (Laughs) Isn’t Revival the Trump album? Kamikaze is komeback lite and I co-sign with Daniel he’s never had a true 4:44 moment. But it’s better than Infinite for sure.
Kyle: Well, I can’t stand mumble rap so [Kamikaze] spoke to me. I loved how much it stirred up. I love that Machine Gun Kelly thought he could out rap Eminem. I love Hopsin lost his shit when he realized Em actually mentioned him in a positive light. I love how Lil Pump wouldn’t dare try to come back with a rebuttal or how it got Joe Budden’s attention.
Trent: So switching gears to the top, what makes MMLP better than The Eminem Show? If we’re splitting hairs here, can we all agree The Eminem Show has better music? And if it’s impact and shock value, how can we praise MMLP for that in one breath and tear it down for going overboard with the next?
Dana: I think The Eminem Show is more sonically and lyrically cohesive and less chaotic than MMLP. I always looked at MMLP as a parallel to Nirvana’s Nevermind and The Eminem Show as In Utero, or Redman’s Dare Iz A Darkside and Muddy Waters in that same order.
Aaron: I’m in full support of putting The Eminem Show at No. 1. It was the peak balance between angry Em and vulnerable Marshall, with wild Shady sprinkled on top for fun. In prior years he was cartoonish to a fault, in later years he’d be sentimental to the point of cheesiness.
Justin: MMLP is No. 1 because it’s a fascinating work of character building, storytelling and blurring the lines of reality. Beats are dope. Lots of memorable lines and quotables. Had an undeniable influence and impact. It’s a classic. I think there’s arguments for SSLP and The Eminem Show too, but MMLP is clear cut and one that can only be knocked for being offensive. With much of it being over the top horrorcore, it’s just par for the course to me.
Dana: Insofar, MMLP was all about his rage, anger, not knowing how to deal with fame, but Dre was really the star at the height of his powers and played like Butch Vig at the boards controlling everything on Nevermind. On The Eminem Show, Em showed his range as a producer and songwriter, and knowing his power, like Cobain knew and traced that to make better songs that didn’t all focus on grit and rage on In Utero.
Em was sober during the making of The Eminem Show because he was on probation, so that played a significant factor in the enhanced songwriting that was political, funny, and vulnerable like we never heard him before (i.e. “Cleaning Out My Closet”). And “Till I Collapse” was all about his duty for Hip Hop culture, not just himself.
Daniel: I agree with Kyle. Some of the songs are very cringeworthy and I can’t imagine him surviving today with that album. However, “Drug Ballad” and “Stan” have aged well for me.
I am fine with either The Eminem Show or MMLP being No 1. I interpreted the question of it aging well as how it would fit in our contemporary context. A lot of problematic music is still good.
Aaron: That said, I just finished MMLP while we were having this convo and am halfway through The Eminem Show. I have to say that at least so far, the former is technically superior and production-wise, just a step behind The Eminem Show. The tiebreaker for me is my own maturity. MMLP is that album I listen to once or twice a year and I’m like, “Wowwwww that was dope.”
The Eminem Show is that album I’ll listen to more often because I’m older, calmer, and even at its heaviest is more digestible. The Eminem Show for the win. MMLP is a close second, SSLP undisputed third.
My loudest vote, though, is for MMLP2 at No. 4. The album is not without its faults – Marshall over-rapping, ignoring the beat in that angry flow of his – but it was truly a brilliant way to visit the chaos and topics of MMLP from a more mature, clear-eyed perspective. Plus, I may be in the minority of those who love those classic rock samples on “Rhyme or Reason” and “So Far…” courtesy of Rick Rubin.
Aaron: Beyond that, “Without Me” was the first time we ever truly heard that breakneck pace of rhyming Em does now. He’d speed rapped before, frantically on his first two albums, but not with such control and precision on “Without Me.” He’s beaten it into the ground now, but the album’s lead single remains remarkably technical.
Justin: MMLP was/is always the best to me. I argued my point for it already, but I don’t think The Eminem Show matches it front to back. Even comparing comedic lead singles, “The Real Slim Shady” is a much more important and memorable cut in the Hip Hop history books than “Without Me.” One was silly with a message. The other was just silly.
Daniel: MMLP is a more cohesive project and I feel like it has the best versions of each genre of Eminem songs. He definitely has a formula for making albums but this one is the best iteration of that formula. “The Real Slim Shady” = his best ‘silly/goofy’ track. “Stan” = the crown jewel of his catalog and his best narrative/ self-reflective work. “Kill You” and “Kim” are his best pushing the envelope/horrorcore tracks. When I judge whether an album is the best in an artist’s catalog, I base it off whether or not it exemplifies what makes the artist distinct and memorable.
For example, I consider My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye’s best for that reason although — it’s not necessarily the one I return to frequently. It’s the artist perfecting what makes them distinct and like Aaron said, a perfect storm of sorts.
2. The Eminem Show
Justin: I think it’s aged as well as it possibly could. There’s no way it ever would “age well” when half of the lyrics aim to offend. Obviously, it’s a different world now. Just like if I’m watching a classic like Blazing Saddles, I’m not gonna apply today’s standards of what goes in comedy to it. MMLP was offensive back then, so it’s only gonna look worse years later (Laughs). But I can still enjoy it.
Sonically, it’s also aged well for me. In my mind, that’s where music is really judged when it comes to aging well. There’s stuff that is unlistenable to me because it was literally created to only be relevant for the year it was made. Just think of how awful some of that ringtone rap is. MMLP is still something that sounds good. Someone could drop a freestyle on one of the beats today and it wouldn’t be jarring to me.
Trent: We made a helluva case for The Eminem Show, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of hard not to consider MMLP No. 1 overall, right?
Aaron: Yeah. It’s still an incredible album. Tracks like “Marshall Mathers” and “Drug Ballad” still leave my jaw on the floor. He’s much more introspective on that album than he’s sometimes given credit for. I think the only two cuts that I don’t like are “Under the Influence,” which felt like an excuse to give D12 some shine, and “Kim,” which was horrific from a decency and artistic standpoint. I know there’s supposed to be no or few lines in rap, but I mean, damn. Overall, still a classic, still worthy of at least a 4.8.
And it should be noted how much he still impacts people on the margins of society. He’s so often lambasted for being mainstream and for being big in part because he’s white (both of which are true), but it should be said how much, for better and for worse, Marshall speaks to people with mental health issues.
Y’all have read my editorials, you know my history, so I can say this: you walk into a behavioral health unit and there’s usually gonna be a few young dudes rapping Eminem songs. His willingness to be painfully vulnerable, as well as his ability to articulate a rage that the common person may not feel (or may not want to admit they feel) has made him a spokesperson for people with mental illnesses. Not to mention, he’s been open about his own depression and OCD. But it’s not just his angry songs. “Not Afraid” and “Headlights” are introspective, allowing the man who once killed his wife on wax to do a 180° and rap about sobriety, compassion, strength and forgiveness. His opening spiel on “Not Afraid” belies a mature man who is willing to be an outlet of hope for the people for which he was once an outlet of rage.
I was the classic Eminem-loving white kid with “Brain Damage” pounding my ear drums, but as I’ve grown, albums like The Eminem Show, Encore, and even Recovery and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 have become more enjoyable to me than his first two major label joints.