Sunday, January 30, 2005

Critical Essay 4: Critical Commentary, Slick Rick, “Children’s Story”, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

Critical Essay 4: Critical Commentary, Slick Rick, “Children’s Story”, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

It is often difficult to pinpoint the emergence of a tradition. Literary theorists argue endlessly over which was the first modern novel; when did the tradition of writing at length about someone take hold? Indeed classical scholars, whilst venerating Homer’s Oddesy as the first narrative poem of Greek writing, freely admit that it only the first recorded example of this form; countless other similar poems probably inspired this one surviving example, but have themselves disappeared. Many were probably never recorded, remaining oral stories passed down the generations. With Slick Rick’s "Children’s Story", we have a similar dilemma. It is the first real recorded example of a completely narrative rap, what hip-hop helpfully terms “storytelling”. Many others may have perished unrecorded, but Slick Rick may be credited with delivering the first true “story-rap”, and setting in motion a hip-hop tradition that has attracted all of its most capable emcees. “Children’s Story”[i], whether Slick’s original idea or not, is such a consummately expressed and artistically sound narrative as to have grounded in its minimal running time almost every convention of the form.

The conventions of a recorded story-rap that "Children’s Story" sets up are not particularly different from the simple story-telling mechanics taught to children in schools. Firstly, the story must be announced as such; “Once upon a time…” is both ubiquitous and relevant here. Next, a setting and context must be established; here, Rick describes the relationship of the narrated time to the present and sketches the general context. This done, the story must then be split into a beginning, middle, and end; the production of the song achieves this here. Additional conventions that surround the specifically hip-hop story are concentrated on the recording of the rap. The emcee must indicate before the narrative begins that he will deliver a story rap; this is important, as it allows the rapper to remove himself momentarily from the content, since most hip-hop songs are highly self-referential. It is also important to ‘frame’ the narrative, so this announcement will precede the story, and will frequently be notionally ad-libbed or in other ways played down. It will also be complemented by similar content at the end of the track, such as a voice tailing off.

In a genre as highly self-referential as hip-hop, where entire raps can be based on the emcees’ own rapping skill and styles alone, these markers help the listener to appreciate that what he hears is a story. This framework also allows the rapper to offer an implied point or moral to the story, which he has divorced from his own status. In the video to "Children’s Story", for example, Slick Rick repeats during the opening frame to his narrative “This needs to be heard”, indicating the importance he attaches to the moral aspect of his tale.

At the very least, story-raps must have a statement of purpose. For example, OutKast’s 1998 album Aquemini, undertaken shortly after Big Boi’s duo with Slick Rick himself, draws much inspiration from The Adventures of Slick Rick, especially in the concentration of the album on ‘the story-rap’. Tracks 8, 9 and 10 are all narrative songs, the latter two being explicitly titled “Tha Art of Storytelling”. As with all questions of form and genre, there is never a one hundred percent agreement between any stated generic rules and actual examples of the genre; here, OutKast step away from the formulaic ‘story-rap’ in some respects, but respect it in others. The prologue and epilogue ‘frame’ to the story all but disappear, and at first listen, the stories slip seamlessly into the CD without these markers. Yet the chorus of track 9 steps outside of the narrative: “We jus’ shootin’ game in the form of story raps now”. Others influenced directly by Rick are less shy about hoisting their colours to his techniques: in "G Bedtime Stories"[1], Snoop Dogg adapts the ‘request’ format for his narrative, affectionately parodying Slick Rick’s “Uncle Ricky…” recording. Rick’s groundbreaking story-telling techniques ensure that anyone wanting to do a ‘story-rap’ needs to mark it out in some way.

Not only is the flag-poling of the narrative-aspect of the tale needed, but the beginning, middle and end structure is important in focusing the action. As this is shortened epic poetry and not a novel, structure and economy are the signs of a consummate story rapper. At first glance, the lyrics of "Children’s Story" contain no obvious breaks. Rick does not split his narrative at all and the story flows seamlessly by, yet does have a discernible structure. In typical song format rappers have an easy method of structuring, basing the raps around refrains. Here, Slick Rick’s music adumbrates the tripartite structure: three times during the text, a production trick underlines a certain phrase, marking the beginning of a ‘section’[2]. Subsequent story-raps frequently mark themselves out from other rap-forms in abandoning the refrain for more subtle structuring techniques.

Aside from its formal aspect, the setting of the tale is important for the moral agenda of any story rap. Here, Slick Rick clearly wants to alert us to the pernicious dangers of criminality in the black community, and describe how easily it takes hold. To describe the institution of criminal habits, he must first show a pre-lapsarian view where they are absent: “When laws were stern and justice stood/ And people were behavin’ like they ought to – good”. The end of the song confirms the setting as important, because it confirms Rick’s perspective on criminality: it is not innate, but acquired: “Just another case about the wrong path”. Also, the boy is persuaded, “mislead”, by a friend into the criminal life. The function of the setting is to show the degradation into criminality and to warn against it; Rick then accordingly explicitly states the serious purpose of his rap (“This ain’t funny…”). Other story-raps with moral purpose will often adopt this strong emphasis on original setting, such as Xzibit’s recent "Cold World"[3]. Here, he is aiming to show through vignette narratives the fall of young people for a variety of reasons: thus, each verse begins with a clear ‘scene setting’, and ends in tragedy. X is clear, like Slick, to lend moral seriousness, here using a heartfelt “That’s cold…”.

It is true to say that if form acts as a genre marker for the story-rap, with rappers consciously referencing the conventions discussed, then content is the other linking thread. Specifically, we find that most story-raps have a ‘moral’. They are not parabolic, as they are much too detailed (frequently giving names and places, and developing character to too realistic a degree, but the content is almost always the story of a young, misguided protagonist who has to confront a difficult situation. Almost always, they story ends in tragedy; this is where it differs greatly from story-telling in others genres. The story-rap is most frequently an act of ghetto-reportage, and object lesson in the problems of black America; this goes some way to explaining the importance of formal referencing in the genre: the rapper appeals to the convention of the story rap to prepare his listeners for a moral tale.

The rapper, despite having abdicated himself from the story, finds a way to play off this preparation for a moral lesson by making his feelings on the protagonist quite clear. Slick Rick does it here by using a mildly ‘biased’ narrative perspective throughout the song in an almost indefinable way. For example, he begins the song with the seemingly innocent “Once upon a time not long ago / When people wore pyjamas and lived life slow”; yet these lines show quite a heavy level of opinionated intrusion. Rick is using the widely accepted image of pyjama-wearing as outdated and unfashionable to comically, but sincerely, link old-fashioned values to better morals. By creating a milieu of pyjama-wearing, and therefore unfashionable people, Rick is conjuring up images of a more peaceable society. This therefore gives him a method of putting the crimes of his protagonist into relief, of showing degradation of moral values; and by nostalgising this past (“Once upon a time…” has a wistful ring), he is siding his moral perspective with the ‘old-fashioned’ values. Thus from very early on is Slick the Narrator’s view of his main character made very clear, so that even as he gets more and more involved in simply relating the incident, we view it with the narrator’s point of view in mind. When Rick then reaches the end of the story, referring the protagonist for the third time as “lil’ boy”, we have his morally superior stance recalled to us by association: “Before long the lil’ boy got surrounded / He dropped the gun, so went the glory / And this is the way I have to end this story”. The perfunctory nature of the words “so went the glory” once again betrays a subtle narrative bias: “glory” is ironic, and by extension ironises the growing conviction in the 1980’s black criminal community that gun-crime was glamorous and easy. The use of the modal verb in “I have to end this story” also shows us Rick’s disapproval of the actions in the story, implying economically his wish to be able to terminate the narrative on a more positive note, and thereby his opinion on the seeming glitz of gun-crime. By these simple framing techiniques, Rick has avoided glorifying gun-crime, and turned what could be interpreted as a gangsta-glory narrative into a moral object lesson.

Rick’s great achievement has been to make this the purpose of the story rap. Whilst rap’s great first-person narratives and stream of consciousness stories have remained morally ambiguous celebrations of individualism and often lawlessness, actual ‘story-raps’ have remained a method of exposing social evils. When rappers can step out of their raps, they can step out of the complex web of street values that require them to project largely criminal personas. “I” in hip-hop most often means rejection of moral standards, whilst “he” almost always implies acceptance of them.

[1] Snoop Dogg, No Limit Top Dogg, 1999
[2] The three production emphases (a slight up in volume and an additional mid-range sound) are marked on the text with “^”.
[3] Xzibit, Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2004
[i]
“Uncle Ricky… will you read us a bedtime story… please…?”
“Alright, you kids get to bed, I’ll get the story book. Y’all tucked in?”
“Yeah.”“Here we go…”
^Once upon a time not long ago,
When people wore pyjamas and lived life slow,
When laws were stern and justice stood,
And people were behavin' like they ought to - good,
There lived a lil' boy who was misled,
By another lil' boy and this is what he said:
"Me an’ you Ty, we gonna make some cash,
Robbin' old folks and makin' tha dash",
They did the job, money came with ease,
But one couldn't stop, it's like he had a disease,
He robbed another and another and a sister and a brother,
Tried to rob a man who was a D.T. undercover,
The cop grabbed his arm, he started acting erratic,
He said: "Keep still, boy, no need for static",
Punched him in his belly and he gave him a slap,
But little did he know the lil' boy was strapped,
The kid pulled out a gun, he said "Why d’ya hit me ?",
The barrel was set straight for the cop's kidney,
The cop got scared, the kid, he starts to figure,
"I'll do years if I pull this trigger",
^So he cold dashed and ran around the block,
The cop radios it to another lady cop,
He ran by a tree, there he saw this sister,
A shot for the head, he shot back but he missed her,
Looked around good and from expectations,
So he decided he'd head for the subway stations,
But she was coming and he made a left,
He was runnin' top speed till he was out’o breath,
Knocked an old man down and swore he killed him,
Then he made his move to an abandoned building,
Ran up the stairs up to the top floor,
Opened up the door there, guess who he saw?
^Dave the dope fiend shootin' dope,
Who don't know the meaning of water nor soap,
He said "I need bullets, hurry up, run!"
The dope fiend brought back a spanking shotgun,
He went outside but there was cops all over,
Then he dipped into a car, a stolen Nova,
Raced up the block doing 83,
Crashed into a tree near university,
Escaped alive though the car was battered,
Rat-a-tat-tatted and all the cops scattered,
Ran out of bullets and still had static,
Grabbed a pregnant lady and pulled out the automatic,
Pointed at her head and he said the gun was full o' lead,
He told the cops: "Back off, or honey here's dead",
Deep in his heart he knew he was wrong,
So he let the lady go and he starts to run on,
Sirens sounded, he seemed astounded,
Before long the lil' boy got surrounded,
He dropped the gun, so went the glory,
And this is the way I must end this story,
He was only seventeen, in a madman's dream,
The cops shot the kid, I still hear him scream,
This ain't funny so don't you dare laugh,
Just another case 'bout the wrong path,
Straight 'n narrow or your soul gets cast.
Good Night.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Critical Essay 3: Eminem, "The Marshall Mathers LP"

Critical Essay 3: Eminem, “The Marshall Mathers LP”

Comparative examination of Stan[i] and Who Knew[ii]

Released as a single from “The Marshall Mathers LP” in 2000, Stan can be pinpointed as the beginning of Eminem’s acceptance by the Establishment. Despite the fact that, in many ways, the album from which it is drawn represents the don’t-give-a-fuck pinnacle of Mathers’ controversial musical expression, Stan was a song that managed not only the usual crossover success from hip-hop to pop, but also from hip-hop to intelligentsia. To those who claimed that Eminem had more to offer than two rudely positioned fingers, it was a godsend, providing evidence that could be politely trotted out a dinner parties. The fact is, in Stan, Em’ is saying exactly what he always says; but if the subject matter is, as we shall see, just as unpalatable, the form of the song made the pill easier to swallow.

Mathers writes always about his relationship to society, or at least with it born heavily in mind. Even as an unknown on the preceding “Slim Shady LP”, the skit Bitch shows his preoccupation with how his wilfully polemical views are received. He has been hailed as a messenger, a labelling that he pre-empted on his first hit My Name Is: “I don’t give a fuck, God sent me to piss the world off.” In Eminem’s view, the world has gone crazy: both his immediate circle and the wider society he views and then begins to impact are helplessly misguided. It is a world in which hypocrisy and political correctness have clouded and falsified public discourse to the point where the President can escape impeachment for receiving oral sex in his office, whilst Eminem himself suffers attempts at censorship simply for making jokes about it (“You want me to fix up lyrics while our President gets his dick sucked?” Who Knew, MM). It is a world in which the messenger gets shot whilst the criminal sneaks away unpunished. Mathers’ distaste for hypocrisy also helps to explain the adult nature of his work: “So if I said I never did drugs / That would mean I lie AND get fucked more than the President does.” (Role Model, SS) Whilst many would agree with Mathers’ view of American society, especially liberal-minded, politically conscious people, most are put off by the directness and polemicisation of his method of expressing it. Eminem’s most frequent swipes are at lazy parents who blame their children’s failures on society and the media whilst neglecting to examine their own neglect of their offspring. On Role Model on 1999’s “The Slim Shady LP”, Eminem ironically discusses his unsuitedness to being one. He begins the song:

OK, I'm going to attempt to drown myself,
You can try this at home
You can be just like me!

If children listen to this unsupervised, they may fail to see the irony. Mathers’ point is obvious, especially when considered in the context of both his oeuvre and his own reality as a caring and careful parent:

I get a clean shave, bathe, go to a rave
Die from an overdose and dig myself up out of my grave
My middle finger won't go down, how do I wave?
And this is how I'm supposed to teach kids how to behave?

Now follow me and do exactly what you see
Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I slap women and eat shrooms then O.D.
Now don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!

He is facetiously taking on the role of a demagogic pied-piper, apparently leading the youth astray. During the song, however, he takes apart the glamour of celebrity existence, making it clear that his life is not to be imitated. The irony was lost on many however, meaning that by the time he came to record “The Marshall Mathers LP”, illiterate, irate Mid-Western parents’ groups were thundering against him because of these very lyrics. He took the opportunity to explain the irony and to call to people’s attention their own responsibility for their children as opposed to his. Both Stan and Who Knew answer the charges that Eminem is responsible for others’ children’s behaviour, but the difference between them is the difference between Mathers’ successfully communicating this truth and having his logically unbeatable arguments fall on willingly deafened ears. Stan, with its melodic pop-hook, shifts the argument onto a realistic story heartbreakingly told; a parable, explaining just how Eminem the artist can be misinterpreted whilst Marshall the parent looks on in disgust. Who Knew, with an unmistakeably hip-hop funk, takes this message and de-narrativises it; it directly addresses the lazy parents and sinking society that shift their failings onto so-called ‘obscene art’. So whilst Stan illustrates the point in a palatable way, Who Knew berates the target. What these two songs illustrate is how Mathers views his interaction with society, and also how he interacts with it. The ironic or direct modes he employs on songs such as Role Model and Who Knew are where he encounters difficulty, with people misinterpreting the irony or being terrified by the directness; the narrativising, illustrative method of Stan allows him explain himself, and to help shift the focus. If Mathers’ aim is to show how others are responsible for their actions and not his music, then by introducing other voices into his music, his form can successfully mirror his content. The two songs are intended for comparison. Eminem makes clear his intention to use this section of the album to discuss and explain the effect of his music and his role as an artist. The two songs are juxtaposed around Paul, a skit that focuses attention on the status of the album as music: a call from his exasperated manager. This is a motif that recurs in all Eminem albums, and serves to remind the listener that what they are listening to his an artistic product which has been endlessly worked, changed and discussed by those involved; it is an artifice and not the truth, however blurred the distinction may be. In fact, by including such supposedly real-life references to the creation of the album, which are themselves probably created, Mathers makes such a paradoxical statement about fact and fiction as to force his listener to take everything he hears with a pinch of salt. Both Stan and Who Knew are songs about the dangers of misinterpreting fiction as fact: this kind of uncritical listening leads to the horrors that people then blame on Eminem, who, like every artist of any genre, looses control of his art and its interpretation the second it is released. In Who Knew, Eminem laments this loss of control from his point of view: in Stan, he offers a view from the other side. I never knew I… knew I would get this bigI never knew I… knew I'd affect this kidI never knew I'd… get him to slit his wristI never knew I'd… get him to hit this bitch This, the chorus to Who Knew, functions as a simple statement about the role of the artist. Its message is direct and clear, and it is this kind of text that has Eminem’s opponents up in arms. His unsparing and uncomfortable frankness (“slit his wrist”) and gleeful potty-mouth (“bitch”) do nothing to dispel the myth that he is wilfully rude without reason. He goes on to make things worse for himself:

Fuck that, take drugs, rape sluts
Make fun of gay clubs, men who wear make-up.
Get it aware, wake up, get a sense of humour
Quit tryin’ to censor music, this is for your kids’ amusement(The kids!)
But don't blame me when lil' Eric jumps off of the terrace
You should’a been watchin’ him - apparently you ain't parents.

Directly addressing those who would criticise him and use him as a scapegoat for the ills of nation, Eminem’s message flounders. Hip-hop heads and anyone Enlightened enough to examine it long enough will see the point, but most educated liberals, not to mention the sloppy parents he addresses, will be put off by the opening lines. Despite following the exhortation “rape sluts” with “get a sense of humour”, making clear the tongue-in-cheek nature of his suggestion, the addressees of this message will already be reaching for their megaphones in righteous indignation. In then questioning the parenting skills of those he addresses, Eminem is on top form, but his addressees are no longer listening. “For your kids’ amusement” implies the kind of neglectful parenting that uses the media, especially television, as a substitute for quality time, whilst “you should’a been watchin’ him” acts as a transferral of blame for children’s actions to their parents. Mathers is saying that parental supervision and involvement are the way to surmount societies problems, not banning the deliverer of this message. What Eminem records in the booth may be misinterpreted and acted upon by children whose parents are too neglectful to educate them enough, just as a child watching a violent film may try to repeat that violence unless it is made clear to him that to do so is wrong, and that the film is a depiction of real-life, but not a didactic manual on how to live it. By giving the example of guardians happy to let their children watch Schwarzenegger films and be chauffeured by foul-mouthed psychopaths who use Eminem as a scapegoat for their children’s problems, Mathers brings out the hypocrisy of condemning him.

How many retards'll listen to me
And run up in the school shootin when they're pissed at a
Teach-er, her, him, is it you, is it them?
"Wasn't me, Slim Shady said to do it again!"
Damn! How much damage can you do with a pen?

In the third verse, Eminem once again directly addresses those who would blame him. In a mocking tone he gives the accusation levelled at him: “Wasn’t me…”, whilst making it very clear that his work is fiction, and that what he says cannot be taken without a pinch of salt, and that he certainly is no “Role Model”. His method of doing this is utterly ingenious but too subtle for his critics: “When they’re pissed at a / Teach-er, her, him, is it you, is it them?” Form mirrors content to illustrate the point. Content: his work is an artistic creation, and thus does not claim to be either the truth or a reliable moral guide. Form: he reminds the listener of the artistic nature of what he is experiencing. Thus, the normal iambic pentameter of everyday speech is suspended, the sentence being conspicuously distorted to fit the flow of the music. By delaying the stress of the sentence to the first syllable of second line (“Teach”), Eminem renders the phrase in time with the music, but almost incomprehensible: he sacrifices clarity to demonstrate the artifice of the work. By then echoing the rhyming of “er, her”, he draws attention to this artistic device too. When he then asks the question “is it you, is it them?”, illustrating his point about the difficulty of attributing blame for others’ actions, Eminem has purposefully demonstrated the artistic nature of the text. The stress of the syllable “Teach” provides a subliminal key-word in which to frame the discussion: Eminem is not a ‘teacher’, and parents should be ‘teaching’ their children to interpret his work, and society and the media at large, correctly. “Damn! How much damage can you do with a pen?” subconsciously recalls the old adage “The pen is mightier than the sword”: Eminem is not denying the power of words, but certainly is not denying the primacy of the individual’s moral choice, and the importance of sensible, critical interaction with art.

In Stan, Eminem de-theorises this same idea, and makes clear in story-telling form this importance. Rather than lambasting the neglectful parents who would blame his work for the immoral actions of their offspring, Eminem sets out to show just how he ‘never knew he’d get him to hit this bitch’, and how faulty interaction with art by someone not educated enough to understand its status is actually the issue. So the same point is made, but in more acceptable a format. With Stan, Eminem recreates the kind of desperate fan he describes in Who Knew. Stan is one of the ‘retards who’ll listen’ to Eminem and take the lyrics at their word: “See everything you say is real”. Stan addresses the letters to “Slim”, Mathers’ stage persona, who is nothing but an artistic construct used by the rapper to show precisely the kind of fact/fiction dichotomy of which Stan is so tragically unaware. Already, at the beginning of the song, Mathers is pointing out where an intelligent fan would not make the kind of mistakes that Stan does; how somebody would be reminded of the fictional nature of an Eminem album. Why is Stan so mistaken, though? But could Mathers not hypothetically be responsible for leading Stan on? What Mathers goes on to show, through his expression of Stan’s conjectural psychology, is a precise portrait of misunderstandings of his own work. Mathers goes back to his previous songs and shows how and where they can be misinterpreted, and also the kind of psychology that would misinterpret them and why. Stan is a lower-class white male, under-educated and deprived in childhood. Eminem economically depicts this by having Stan relate his own upbringing to Mathers’ (and he makes sure elsewhere that we never run short of the relevant biographical information!): “I never knew my father neither… She don’t know what it was like for people like us growin’ up…” He consummately confirms this portrait in Stan’s own spoken and written style: he speaks a mixture of ‘white-trash’ drawl and hip-hop slang that betrays his origins immediately. The above-quoted sentences contain the kind of grammatical errors to expected of this speech (double negatives, misapplication of the third-person form of the verb) and serve to confirm Stan’s status. Despite a lack of education, a person can be highly intelligent. Stan’s lack of intelligence, however, is carefully demonstrated in his epistolary style, which sounds childish and unsophisticated (almost all his sentences begin with “I”, especially in the first letter), and through his thought process. Stan jumps too easily to conclusions, as the second verse shows. “If you didn’t wanna talk to me outside your concert / You didn’t have to…” and “Remember when we met in Denver you said if I write you, you would write back” show incidences where Mathers’ busy show-business lifestyle has made him unable to interact with his fans. “I meant to write you sooner but I just been busy” may sound like an empty excuse, but most intelligent people are aware of the several facts concerning mail to celebrities: they receive lots of it, have little time to read it, and even less to respond to it; in addition, there are concerns of privacy and etiquette that do not require them to write back. Stan is unaware of these facts, and takes Eminem’s lack of personal attention as an affront in a childish manner[1].

All this makes the listener aware of just how Mathers is unable to control his interaction with his fans, and so Stan’s misinterpretation of his music is shown to be entirely, tragically, down to him. Stan’s proven incapability to distinguish between fact and fiction is at fault here: “Sometimes I even cut myself… See everything you say is real…” Eminem cleverly shows how moments from his “The Slim Shady LP” meant ironically can be misread by uncritical fans, shifting the weight of blame from his own artistic expression ("I just said it, I ain't know if you do it or not" Who Knew).

As we have seen in Who Knew, Mathers uses his form flags up the status of his CD as art at precisely the apt moment: when his content is a discussion of the status of his CD as art. So in Stan, where a fan has mistaken art for real life, Eminem is more careful than ever to remind his audience of this distinction. Because he is using the narrative method rather than direct address, and because he is delivering the narrative in conjectural but possibly real form, Mathers must pay extra attention this distinction. He frames the text with sampled music, a conspicuous piece of ‘art’, reinforcing thus the musicality of it. The strength of the epistolary format is its theoretically real existence, and so rather than, like the authors of much epistolary fiction, deliberately force the reader to question whether or not the text is real, Eminem pushes it to a possible but improbable height: in having Stan recording his final moments on cassette and then throw them out of the plunging vehicle, the listener is being offered a possible but almost unbelievable end. The sound of the tape being ejected is added to the track, as well as the splash of the vehicle, just to confirm to the audience that Eminem remains in control of an artistic illusion, and is not playing any real-life tape. This highlighting of the status of Stan as text could not be more apt, as it proves in itself that when dealing with Eminem we are dealing with art, not demagoguery. By encasing these ideas in this parable form, rather than lambasting a notional listener, Mathers is able to offer something far more understandable and less offensive to get across his point.

In an album where the listener is then taken through a horrifying set of songs, the importance of this affirmation of the fact-fiction distinction cannot be taken too seriously. On the track Kim, Mathers will be heard apparently loading his own wife into the trunk and then killing her à la Stan, and only an audience aware that this is just a song would not immediately call the police on hearing it. It is a strange irony that many who listened to and enjoyed Stan can still not bear Kim, finding it too horrifying realistic; Stan was the first Eminem track that could escape the over-simplifying trend in appraisal of his work, and it is notable that Eminem’s narrative products in all genres have continued to be the ones that enjoy commercial success and escape damaging and under-informed criticism: 8 Mile, Loose Yourself. It is as if Eminem himself is so distasteful, that telling a story and taking himself apparently out of the equation is his only way forward in society at large.



[1] The video to Stan allows Mathers to demonstrate visually why he ignores Stan on these two occasions: during the concert incident, we see Eminem, desperate to appear to the frozen fans, being bundled away by his own security men; during the Denver meeting, we see Stan’s social unawareness understandably scare Eminem off.
[i] Stan
Chorus: Dido
My tea's gone cold I'm wondering why I..
Got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window..
And I can't see at all
And even if I could it'll all be gray,
But your picture on my wall
It reminds me, that it's not so bad,
It's not so bad…

[Eminem as 'Stan']
Dear Slim, I wrote but you still ain't callin’,
I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom.
I sent two letters back in Autumn, you must not-a got 'em,
There probably was a problem at the post office or somethin’
Sometimes I scribble addresses too sloppy when I jot 'em,
But anyways; fuck it, what's been up? Man how's your daughter?
My girlfriend's pregnant too, I'm ‘bout to be a father.
If I have a daughter, guess what I'ma call her?
I'ma name her Bonnie.
I read about your Uncle Ronnie too I'm sorry,
I had a friend kill himself over some bitch who didn't want him
I know you probably hear this everyday, but I'm your biggest fan
I even got the underground shit that you did with Skam
I got a room full of your posters and your pictures man
I like the shit you did with Rawkus too, that shit was fat
Anyways, I hope you get this man, hit me back,
Just to chat, truly yours, your biggest fan
This is Stan.

{Chorus: Dido}

[Eminem as 'Stan']
Dear Slim, you still ain't called or wrote, I hope you have a chance
I ain't mad - I just think it's FUCKED UP you don't answer fans
If you didn't wanna talk to me outside your concert
You didn't have to, but you could’a signed an autograph for Matthew
That's my little brother, man, he's only six years old
We waited in the blistering cold for you,
For four hours and you just said, "No."
That's pretty shitty man - you're like his fuckin idol,
He wants to be just like you man, he likes you more than I do.
I ain't that mad though, I just don't like bein’ lied to,
Remember when we met in Denver - you said if I'd write you
You would write back - see I'm just like you in a way:
I never knew my father neither;
He used to always cheat on my mom and beat her.
I can relate to what you're saying in your songs
So when I have a shitty day, I drift away and put 'em on,
‘Cause I don't really got shit else so that shit helps when I'm depressed
I even got a tattoo of your name across the chest.
Sometimes I even cut myself to see how much it bleeds,
It's like adrenaline; the pain is such a sudden rush for me,
See everything you say is real, and I respect you cause you tell it,
My girlfriend's jealous cause I talk about you 24/7.
But she don't know you like I know you Slim, no one does
She don't know what it was like for people like us growin’ up
You gotta call me man, I'll be the biggest fan you'll ever lose
Sincerely yours, Stan P.S. We should be together too

{Chorus: Dido}

[Eminem as 'Stan']
Dear Mister-I'm-Too-Good-To-Call-Or-Write-My-Fans,
This'll be the last package I ever send your ass
It's been six months and still no word - I don't deserve it?
I know you got my last two letters;
I wrote the addresses on 'em perfect.
So this is my cassette I'm sending you, I hope you hear it,
I'm in the car right now, I'm doing 90 on the freeway,
Hey Slim, I drank a fifth of vodka, you dare me to drive?
You know the song by Phil Collins, "In the Air of the Night"
About that guy who could’a saved that other guy from drowning
But didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a a show he found him?
That's kinda how this is, you could’a rescued me from drowning
Now it's too late - I'm on a 1000 downers now, I'm drowsy,
And all I wanted was a lousy letter or a call,
I hope you know I ripped ALL of your pictures off the wall.
I love you Slim, we could’a been together, think about it;
You ruined it now, I hope you can't sleep and you dream about it
And when you dream I hope you can't sleep and you SCREAM about it
I hope your conscience EATS AT YOU and you can't BREATHE without me
See Slim; {*screaming*} Shut up bitch! I'm tryin’ to talk!
Hey Slim, that's my girlfriend screamin’ in the trunk
But I didn't slit her throat, I just tied her up, see I ain't like you
‘Cause if she suffocates she'll suffer more, and then she'll die too
Well, gotta go, I'm almost at the bridge now -
Oh shit, I forgot, how'm I supposed to send this shit out?
{*car tires squeal*} {*CRASH*}.. {*brief silence*} .. {*LOUD splash*}

{Chorus: Dido}

[Eminem]
Dear Stan, I meant to write you sooner but I just been busy.
You said your girlfriend's pregnant now, how far along is she?
Look, I'm really flattered you would call your daughter that
And here's an autograph for your brother, I wrote it on the Starter cap.
I'm sorry I didn't see you at the show, I must’a missed you;
Don't think I did that shit intentionally just to diss you.
But what's this shit you said about you like to cut your wrists too?
I say that shit just clownin’ dogg,
C'mon - how fucked up is you?
You got some issues Stan, I think you need some counselling
To help your ass from bouncing off the walls when you get down some
And what's this shit about us meant to be together?
That type of shit'll make me not want us to meet each other.
I really think you and your girlfriend need each other,
Or maybe you just need to treat her better.
I hope you get to read this letter, I just hope it reaches you in time
Before you hurt yourself, I think that you'll be doin’ just fine
If you relax a little, I'm glad I inspire you but Stan
Why are you so mad? Try to understand, that I do want you as a fan,
I just don't want you to do some crazy shit,
I seen this one shit on the news a couple weeks ago that made me sick:
Some dude was drunk and drove his car over a bridge
And had his girlfriend in the trunk, and she was pregnant with his kid
And in the car they found a tape, but they didn't say who it was to
Come to think about, his name was… it was you
Damn!

[ii]Who Knew

I never knew I…
I never knew I…Mic check one-two
I never knew I…Who woulda knew?
I never knew I…Who'da known?
I never knew I…Fuck would've thought
I never knew I…Motherfucker comes out
I never knew I…and sells a couple of million records
I never knew I…And these motherfuckers hit the ceiling
I never knew I…

[Eminem]
I don't do black music, I don't do white music
I make fight music, for high school kids
I put lives at risk when I drive like this {*tires screech*}
I put wives at risk with a knife like this (AHHH!!).
Shit, you probably think I'm in your tape deck now,
I'm in the back seat of your truck, with duct tape stretched out
Ducked the fuck way down, waitin’ to straight jump out
Put it over your mouth, and grab you by the face, what now?
Oh - you want me to watch my mouth, how?
Take my fuckin’ eyeballs out, and turn ‘em around?
Look - I'll burn your fuckin’ house down, circle around
And hit the hydrant, so you can't put your burning furniture out(Oh my God! Oh my God!)
I'm sorry, there must be a mix-up
You want me to fix up lyrics while the President gets his dick sucked?{*ewwww*}
Fuck that, take drugs, rape sluts
Make fun of gay clubs, men who wear make-up
Get it aware, wake up, get a sense of humour
Quit tryin’ to censor music, this is for your kid's amusement(The kids!)
But don't blame me when lil' Eric jumps off of the terrace
You should’a been watchin’ him - apparently you ain't parents

Chorus: Eminem
Cause I never knew I… knew I would get this big
I never knew I… knew I'd effect this kid
I never knew I'd… get him to slit his wrist
I never knew I'd… get him to hit this bitch
I never knew I… knew I would get this big
I never knew I… knew I'd affect this kid
I never knew I'd… get him to slit his wrist
I never knew I'd… get him to hit this bitch

[Eminem]
So who's bringin’ the guns in this country? (Hmm?)
I couldn't sneak a plastic pellet gun through customs over in London.
And last week, I seen a Schwarzenegger movie
Where he's shootin’ all sorts of these motherfuckers with a uzi.
I sees three little kids, up in the front row,
Screamin’ "Go," with their 17-year-old Uncle
I'm like, "Guidance - ain't they got the same moms and dads
Who got mad when I asked if they liked violence?"
And told me that my tape taught 'em to swear
What about the make-up you allow your 12-year-old daughter to wear?(Hmm?)
So tell me that your son doesn't know any cuss words
When his bus driver's screamin’ at him, fuckin’ muck-words("Go sit the fuck down, you little fuckin prick!")
And fuck was the first word I ever learned
Up in the third grade, flippin’ the gym teacher the bird (Look!)
So read up, about how I used to get beat up
Peed on, be on free lunch, and change school every 3 months
My life's like kinda what my wife's like (what?)
Fucked up after I beat her fuckin ass every night, Ike
So how much easier would life be
If 19 million motherfuckers grew to be ‘just like me’?

Chorus

[Eminem]
I never knew I.. knew I'd..
Have a new house or a new car
A couple years ago I was more poorer than you are
I don't got that bad of a mouth, do I?
Fuck, shit, ass, bitch, cunt, shooby-de-doo-wop (what?)
Skibbedy-be-bop, a-Christopher Reeves
Sonny Bono, skis horses and hittin some trees (HEY!)
How many retards'll listen to meAnd run up in the school shootin when they're pissed at a
Teach-er, her, him, is it you is it them?
"Wasn't me, Slim Shady said to do it again!"
Damn! How much damage can you do with a pen?
Man I'm just as fucked up as you would’a been
If you would’a been, in my shoes, who woulda thought
Slim Shady would be somethin’ that you would’a bought
That would’a made you get a gun and shoot at a cop
I just said it - I ain't know if you'd do it or not Chorus

[Eminem]
How the fuck was I supposed to know?