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Sep 17

EMINEM – “Without Me”

Popular41 comments • 3,124 views

#928, 1st June 2002

without me Eminem produced “Without Me” himself, and the sound of this song is the best thing about it, a thick, soupy, snaky bassline and a brutally four-square beat. Ironic that this is the record where he calls out Moby – “nobody listens to techno!” – as the goonish thunk of “Without Me” is the most robotic version of Marshall Mathers yet. And the least funky, not coincidentally. It’s a production stripped back to make more space for Eminem’s tongue-twisting insults, and to be as legible as possible to the army of new, white hip-hop fans he’s presuming are out there, waiting out a turgid pop landscape until their rascal prince returns.

That’s the one innovation on “Without Me” – it’s the song where he addresses race, however gingerly. Elvis is on his mind – listened to by square parents while Marshall’s staking a claim to be his avatar. The old Elvis, by legend, shocked and galvanised white teenage America because he brought them rock’n’roll and kept the sex in. What’s the new Elvis doing? On the surface, yes, something similar – saying to his audience, you matter, your desires are real. But the desires have changed. With Elvis, shock is a by-product, what happens when teenage lust speaks its name. With Eminem, shock is a good in itself. We need a little controver-see.

Why do we need it? “Without Me” doesn’t answer that, and doesn’t care. Because controversy is a job description, a mission statement, the role Eminem is playing, homophobic slurs and predictable call-outs of his mum included. Underneath that cynicism is – or once was – the sincerity of the damaged child, a need to troll and prod and shift the hurt onto anyone in range. That’s what made Eminem compelling at the beginning. By “Without Me” it’s become the commodity he’s selling, a way in which being an asshole becomes the most valid response to the world. Business is brisk: at the end of “Without Me” Eminem imagines “twenty million other white rappers”, a tide of Ems like the army of Slim Shadys in “The Real Slim Shady”. (The supposed difference between the personae has largely broken down by this point.) You don’t need damage to buy what he was selling, there are no background checks. Entitlement and spite will do just as well.

But what sinks “Without Me” isn’t just its hatefulness. It’s how cosy it all is. The targets on “The Real Slim Shady” were weak enough, but Moby? In 2002? Catchy it may be, but this is a song that goes endlessly on about how Eminem is Mr. Controversy, how he’s about to say something outrageous, and he can’t produce. Bits of it are dextrous, but other bits are excruciating – like the feeble discuss-disgusting pun, unveiled with an awful flourish. If “Without Me” deserves Elvis comparisons, it’s the smarmy Elvis of the post-army movies, a man who knows exactly where he fits and what’s expected of him, a sometime threat become a performing seal.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    lonepilgrim on 16 Sep 2017 #

    I’m not a huge fan of Eminem but I like the bouncing bass line and nervy flow of lyrics on this. It sounds like a skit and I usually struggle to enjoy those when they crop up on albums so its to his (and the producers’) credit that he somehow makes this palatable – even if I can’t imagine choosing to listen to it. Wiki gives a writing credit to Anne Dudley of Art of Noise, etc which must add to her tally of involvement with number 1s (including FGTH).

  2. 27
    Duro on 18 Sep 2017 #

    All the ‘South Park/Eminem Republicans’ comments are on the money. There are some grim portents here.
    But:
    “I know that you got a job, Ms. Cheney
    But your husband’s heart problem’s complicating”
    lolled then, still lol now

  3. 28
    weej on 18 Sep 2017 #

    A few odd thoughts

    *The start is the best bit. I tried to make a flash game where you had to guess celebrity backs to the backing of “guess who’s back…” but too lazy to learn how to make it happen.

    * Then it just goes on and on

    * I mean it’s nice enough, but the lack of a change of some sort gets old after a couple of minutes, and there’s a lot to go after that

    * Which calls too much attention to the lyrics

    * And Eminem can do well in that area, sometimes, but behind the stream of disses and crude jokes is he really saying that the world of music feels empty without him? Because the obvious reaction was that it didn’t feel that way, it felt much the same, it just sounds desperate and deluded, however successful he is.

    * I was also at Reading that year, sorry to say that I was hugely disappointed by Eminem, I had enjoyed the Marshall Mathers LP but he just did so much D12 stuff which nobody cared about, and showed a ten minute South Park clip at the start, which completely killed the mood. Marylin Manson, on just before, put on such a great show, so maybe expectations were too high. I just felt like he didn’t get the kind of show he was supposed to do. And was that also the year that they put The Strokes top of the bill above Pulp, even though they only had 30 minutes of material at that point?

  4. 29
    Edward Still on 19 Sep 2017 #

    #28 – I must say I loved both Marilyn Manson and Eminen and their duet on “The Way I Am” pretty much topped off a perfect weekend for me, but as outlined above I think I was primed to.

    The Strokes were shoved from the Radio 1 stage to the main stage due to “unprecedented anticipation” for such an unknown band if I recall correctly. They had to wait a whole nother year to earn a headline spot.

  5. 30
    Garry on 20 Sep 2017 #

    Moby’s We Are All Made of Stars sounds as tired now as it did then. But I remember it was played heaps in Australia. Compare it to, say, X-Press2 feat David Byrne from the same year, and Moby is positively catatonic. The 2-3 year well of house/electronica pop was starting to run dry, while the Strokes-led “return of rock” was in full upswing.

  6. 31
    AMZ1981 on 20 Sep 2017 #

    To be fair to Moby, the Play album had been something of a surprise sleeper hit and was always going to be very hard to follow. Fifteen years on he appears to be back on the margins where he was for many years and seems happy enough with that.

  7. 32
    Shiny Dave on 20 Sep 2017 #

    To say the best Eminem bunny is yet to come would be an understatement, IMO. More on that when we get there of course.

    This has a killer hook and a handful of impressive lines, but the more we see of goofball Eminem the easier it gets to dislike him, and that’s magnified many, many times over from the vantage point of 2017. 5 for the intermittent splattering of top popcraft, but I can make a case to go as low as 3 or even 2.

    Weirdly, this got used for a trailer for Despicable Me 2. (Then again, the soundtrack to that did feature a smash hit future bunny from an artist who appeared on a prior bunny with Eminem-esque levels of controversy around it…!)

    #15 Bubba Sparxxx track Back In The Mud appeared on the soundtrack to Madden NFL 2004, if memory serves. It’s bordering on a novelty record with its uptempo dance-rock sound and accented white Southern rap, and frankly sounds a ton better for it. I have no intention to listen to anything else he’s done because Back In The Mud sounds like it ought to be a compellingly silly one-hit wonder.

    (Yellowcard from that same soundtrack and multiple other EA soundtracks of the PS2 generation, though? Maybe my favourite artist of that era, and certainly my favourite band.)

  8. 33
    hardtogethits on 22 Sep 2017 #

    Is it just me? Well, no, I already know it isn’t…

    Strange things have happened lately as I’ve been listening to this.

    Firstly, I thought (as the ever erudite Amz1981 says) “the lyrics really don’t stand up to scrutiny and have inevitably dated now”. They key word being ‘and’ – these are independent points. Even as an Eminem fan back in 2002, I thought Without Me was ropey, but enjoyable. Specifically, the chorus doesn’t scan well: I thought the “everybody just follow me” line must have had an expletive deleted for the radio edit, it sounds so obviously incomplete (to me), and as for rhyming me, me, me and controver-see? As Amz1981 says – it does not stand up to any scrutiny, nor to comparison with his best work. Anyway, then I listened to some other Eminem tracks, which I quite liked back in the 2000s, and I thought they sounded dated, too. Whingey, as well. Even the once majestic Stan.

    But a couple of days later I listened again and thought, “they’re not so bad.” And then I realised I was only listening to them at the request of a 14 year old, who had found Eminem independently of me and (therefore) independently of this thread. I have since learned that other 14 year olds like Eminem, and, FWIW, Oasis. Not Sugababes (10 out of 10, remember), or U2, or the Spice Girls. Not Robbie, Kylie, Westlife, S Club, or anyone else from this era*. And therefore I concluded that maybe this record, and Eminem’s others, have aged well. They will certainly outlast other material from the same era.

    * ok, my 14 y-o son has a penchant for Shaggy, but a) only because of my having pointed him in the direction of his curious clutch of number 1 hits and b) when I have mentioned this to other parents they react with amusement or bewilderment, not recognition.

  9. 34
    Ed on 23 Sep 2017 #

    @32 I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Bubba Sparxxx. ‘Ugly’, his first single, is a Timbaland production from the days when he could still reliably make your jaw drop. And the video features Missy Elliott driving a tractor. What’s not to like?

    And particularly in America these days, someone who will rap about “rocking to Outkast and George Strait” is always welcome. (Although admittedly, Kid Rock did say “I like Johnny Cash and Grandmaster Flash”, and look what happened to him.)

    @33 I can confirm the enduring appeal of Oasis to a new generation of teenage boys. Proof, I guess, that while musical styles may come and go, the condition of adolescence is eternal.

  10. 35
    Mostro on 24 Sep 2017 #

    One thing about the “36 year old [whatever]… you’re too old, let go it’s over” dig that didn’t seem to get noticed…. Eminem himself was only a few months short of his 30th birthday at this point.

    Not as “old” as Moby, true, but close enough that making an issue of it ran the risk of backfiring and drawing attention to the fact that he himself was maybe pushing it for someone whose public persona, attitude and appeal to his audience were (unlike Moby) basically adolescent.

    If Twitter had been around then, I’d have loved to see Moby count down the days to Eminem’s 30th birthday with some friendly and subtly disparaging comments about his age, time to settle down, picture of a birthday cake etc.

    I also regret not looping those lines and uploading them to YouTube as a “36th birthday tribute to Eminem” in 2008. (^_^)

  11. 36
    James BC on 25 Sep 2017 #

    @33 Don’t you think that rhyming ‘me’, ‘me’ and ‘me’ in the chorus might be a deliberate nod to or send-up of his own egomania? That’s what I love about Eminem, you can profitably spend hours doing prac crit on the lyrics.

  12. 37
    Shiny Dave on 25 Sep 2017 #

    #33 I also thought the gaps in the chorus were deleted expletives! Perhaps that was a deliberate trick from Em.

    The “rhyming” scheme shouldn’t work, you’re right, but the repetition does feel like it helps the chorus along somehow to me.

    Eminem is far too interesting for someone who’s seemingly left such a toxic legacy. It’s infuriating. At least we’ve got the next bunny to remember just how good he could be, too.

  13. 38
    Phil on 25 Sep 2017 #

    For me (as it were), that triple ‘me’ is about the only part of the lyric that does work – and yes, it is very much in the grey area between egomania, conscious revelling in egomania, mocking his own image as an egomaniac, mocking his own image and then revelling in egomania anyway… and so hall-of-mirrorsly on. I don’t mind that nearly as much as the gratuitous unpleasantness, conscious revelling in gratuitous unpleasantness… etc of the rest of the song.

    (I said I hated it, I never said I don’t think it’s clever.)

  14. 39
    Andrew Farrell on 11 Oct 2017 #

    This is worth noting (though probably not his best work): https://twitter.com/BET/status/917918947017666561

  15. 40
    Lee Saunders on 25 Oct 2017 #

    Been reading a lot of articles and reviews of Eminem in the last few days (mostly focused on his messier, and all the more fascinating for it, later albums), and that, combined with me doing one of my Popular usuals, i.e. checking here for one review (for A World Without Love, as it happens) and, this being the rabbit hole of a blog that it is, ending up pages into the Rollin’ thread, has made me want to splash a few extra thoughts here.

    – As a child circa 2005/06 I had (and still have) a compilation by the name of Clubland X-Treme from 2003, that opened up with my favourite Scooter track, “Weekend!”, which barely mixed into “E” by Drunkenmunky, which had the same (sax?) melody as “Without Me”, and was in fact built around it. Wikipedia tells me “E” sat outside the UK Top 40 in 2002 at #41. Named for Eminem? The single cover uses an ‘E’ that looks not too different from Eminem’s own singular ‘E’ (used on the ‘E’ DVD and the disc of the Marshall Mathers LP in place of his own name)

    -Which reminds me that this is the year of Pet Shop Boys’ “The Night I Fell in Love,” where the fantasy scenario of a gay Eminem fan meeting him back stage and ending up sleeping with him is used as Neil’s own reply to Eminem’s defence against using homophobic slurs. Eminem’s response was not as nice as was the case with Moby, running over the Pet Shop Boys in his mixtape track “Can-I-Bitch”

    -In at #20 this week. From Suffolk’s homegrown nu metal band A, I only know “Nothing” (wonderfully imaginative band and song names there), but a follow-up by the name of “Starbucks” charted this week. I’m worried playing or looking the lyrics up are going to ruin the mental image of this song I’ve curated for myself.

    Billy Bragg at #22? Surely not even a fanbase can do that, in 2002? DJ Shadow’s pleasant (and future CD3 staple in the mid-2000s bar/club/morning after compilations) “You Can’t Go Home Again” makes it at #30, the year before he became the first soundtrack to O2’s (admittedly lovely) adverts with dusky skies and blue neon lights everywhere. O2 adverts were pretty lovely up until about mid-2008.

  16. 41
    Lee Saunders on 27 Oct 2017 #

    Another I-shouldn’t-be-awake-at-this-time comment (hope you don’t mind) but before I said that this was Eminem’s first, belated and unexplained* entry into a Now album. True but only if one excuses Purple Hills on Now 50. And that same track made an unlikely appearance on another Virgin/EMI compilation from November 2001, namely ‘The Album 2’ (or just The Album, since they were all named the same), an instalment in a series aimed at the indie/alternative market with admittedly eclectic content (volume 1 forced Blink-182, Roni Size and Coldplay to share an album), but even still, a straight up hip-hop track on The Album 2 was random and unrepeated on later editions.

    But Kerrang! liked D12 and stuck Purple Hills on their music videos DVD, and I seem to recall several D12 tracks on their “Kerrang! The Album” comps, also from 2001-02. You never got Eminem on these sort of compilations (neither the Kerrang! ones nor the laddish ‘The Album’ ones), which for this era at least suggests to me that D12 were made out to have this further reaching appeal that Eminem alone didn’t. Can’t comment what the case was here.

    * I always assumed it was cross-licensing issues, and I took D12 on Now 50 to be an example of that album’s initially one-time “special” thing of including big artists who’d never been on a Now before like Five, Westlife and Daft Punk despite having opportunities to do so before if cross-licensing wasn’t an issue (and it certainly wasn’t where DP were concerned).

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