14
Sep 17

EMINEM – “Without Me”

Popular39 comments • 2,461 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. 1
    Edward Still on 14 Sep 2017 #

    I haven’t posted here for a couple of years but I always knew I would de-lurk for this one as soon as it popped up on my twitter feed

    May 2002 and my best friend and I were in the midst of a clichéd gap year Interrail trip around Europe, and as per cliché it was the highlight of our starry-eyed lives to that point.

    That we had left the country on the day of Queen Mother’s funeral seemed somewhat prophetic, for despite being just across a small channel it seemed like we had left the Anglosphere, and particularly Britain, a million miles behind. What was going on in news, sports and the strangely high level of celebrity deaths, were completely unknown to us until we got home. For some bizarre reason 2 Western pop songs did seem to follow us round however – Mary J Blige’s Family Affair (which we absolutely loved) and Pink’s I’m coming Up (which we really really really hated). Apart from those no contemporary music made any mark on us from Copenhagen to Budapest or dozens of points in between.

    2 months in we got to Prague. Just outside the station on a muted tv, through a shop window we saw: Eminem dressed as Robin, Dre dressed as Batmam, Eminem doing an operation on Dick Cheney, bold primary colours and a whole lot of mugging to the camera. And we stopped, and we watched it from start to finish, and we loved it. And we hadn’t even heard it.

    About a month later we got to the Greek party islands to end our tour and finally we heard the song, and it felt like we already knew it off by heart. And maybe it is because it is a dumbed-down essence of everything he had done to that point but to us, happy and drunk on that Greek Island, aged 19 it was perfect. We were the point. 10

  2. 2
    Edward Still on 14 Sep 2017 #

    The previous year I had watched Eminem at my first ever Reading Festival. He dueted with Marilyn Manson, brought out D12 in their bath towels and held an impropmtu moment of silence for Aaliyah. It really was absolutely electric.
    This year I skipped his set entirely to play the older guy bopping along at the back of Flume.

  3. 3
    EPG on 14 Sep 2017 #

    A very fine track, unambiguously better than the meaningless and almost forgotten “Freak Like Me” or Eminem’s earlier solo output, apart perhaps from “Stan”. Another brief invasion of the British pop pinnacle by young poetry fans . The Elvis comparison is more like trolling his black audience than a sincere view of his place in white culture – he’s not the first rapper to mention Elvis, put it that way. Further trolling of this audience in a future appearance. The technically best rap to make it to #1 that I’m aware of, miles above feeble and not far below his best pieces on “2001”, but anyone with expertise who acknowledges Eminem’s abilities has to expect the political criticism that will follow. The avatar of desperate white American men in the era of Trump is a hard sell. This burden is easiest to bear when you are either a multi-millionaire producer like Dr Dre or a Nobel laureate like Heaney.

  4. 4
    weej on 14 Sep 2017 #

    RT if you do actually listen to techno

  5. 5
    Tyron W on 15 Sep 2017 #

    Hello! Long, long time reader. Given of all the number ones of the early 2000s this (along with a condiment-related bunny due up later in the year) comes closest to marking my musical awakening, now seems as good a time as any to start commenting.

    As a 10 year old white boy living in inner South London I was on the cusp of the demographic that embraced Eminem most enthusiastically. Despite my burgeoning awareness of being gay and the casual bigotry Eminem gave voice to, I was a big fan of the music without paying much mind to the darker side. I knew it was there – my mum was laissez-faire on the pop culture I consumed, happily letting me watch the likes of Interview With The Vampire from age 5, but was taken aback to see me nonchalantly listen to the likes of Drug Ballad. “What do you think when you hear those lyrics?” “I don’t really take them seriously. I just like the song”. The unlistenable Kim aside, most of Eminem’s pre-breakdown material verged on cartoonish – an impression the videos (particularly here) did just as much to establish. Little wonder he appealed just as much to preteens as to teens.

    Without Me represents the peak of my Eminem fandom, buying the album on the first day and all. Tom rightly singles out the production as the star here and at age 10, my cultural awareness wasn’t at the level where I could’ve recognised the targets as hackneyed – but I doubt my enjoyment would’ve been hindered at the time had it been. I loved it enough that it was my first pick for the karaoke at my housing estate’s Golden Jubilee fete (which was probably as eyebrow-raising a spectacle for the adults present as my other choice of George Michael’s ‘Shoot The Dog’, though mercifully neither performance was documented on video).

    @3 touches on the very white elephant in the room: this makes a grim listen post-Trump. Most of my male contemporaries – the straight ones, at least – were Eminem fans. It was compulsory. But while most of them have long grown out of the outlook that Eminem gleefully hawked to, there’s no mistaking its cadences and echoes in the kind of white male under 40 that proudly supports the carnival barker-in-chief. Without Me sells controversy for the sake of controversy. There’s a straight line from here to a culture that could elect a president with that calling card, no less a subculture that can take provocative glee in defending YouTubers who casually use the n-word and find a willing defence in papers of record that decried Eminem at the time. It would be making the point too much to say Eminem birthed the monster, but along with the creators of South Park he has as good a claim as any to have been its midwife.

    An ominous [5].

  6. 6
    Tyron W on 15 Sep 2017 #

    And on the memory that this was the number one for that Golden Jubilee week, what better illustration of the cultural shift in the interim than the relative nonchalance towards this compared with God Save The Queen!

  7. 7
    Riffit on 15 Sep 2017 #

    I subscribe to the belief, as I imagine most here would, that Eminem was far better in his “serious” mode rather than his “piss-taking” mode, with an exemplary example of the former coming later this year.

    It seems obvious that Eminem would borderline replicate the formula of The Real Slim Shady (which is one of my least favourite songs ever incidentally) for the lead single off The Eminem Show, but given that, it’s not unlistenable. The production is more enjoyable and some of the lyrics flow well together, but I cannot look beyond what has already been touched upon, which is its lack of creative development and the unpleasant implications of the lyrics that is invoked.

    3 – next time we come across this template, it gets worse.

  8. 8
    Harrison Cage on 15 Sep 2017 #

    You have done a splendid job! Well done

  9. 9
    cryptopian on 15 Sep 2017 #

    Does anybody remember what Moby’s popular image was in 2002? Being 11 at the time didn’t give me much to remember. At this point I was concentrating on the burning embers of S-Club 7. I’m guessing dad-music (which, for a teenager, is the worst thing imaginable)

    There are many reasons why I should hate Eminem in his mocking mode, but I’ve never let any of it get through, which is probably why the Moby verse is my biggest annoyance with this song. I’m still a fan of his flow and wordplay, but I think we’re all waiting for the next bunny where that comes into its own. For me, light 7.

  10. 10
    EPG on 15 Sep 2017 #

    Moby didn’t have much of a popular image. He just had the misfortune of dissing Eminem, lying about his age while doing so, and above all having a name that fits a multi-layered rhyming scheme very well. Observe how well you could fit the Moby lines into the first stanza of Eminem’s “Forgot About Dre”. Nobody listens to these for the disses, it’s about how well they flow and the quality of the beats. E.g. how many people knew he insults his mother on this track, unless the media told them? How many Brits knew Chris Kirkpatrick? It doesn’t really matter, because like a pop song, it’s easy to over-emphasise the importance of the lexical content if you’re writing about it using words.

  11. 11
    Steve Mannion on 15 Sep 2017 #

    “Nobody listens to techno!” was particularly galling given Mathers own Detroit background. This line was inevitably, quickly sampled and slapped over a pounding 4/4 kickdrum regardless (by Deep Dish I think, if not also several others).

  12. 12
    Neil C on 15 Sep 2017 #

    A 6, boosted by the terrific, overloaded video which was on MTV2 incessantly in Summer 2002, but never got boring for me.

    I don’t find the Moby dig particularly jarring – as I remember, he’d called out Eminem on his less wholesome qualities shortly before this came out, so it’s a similar situation to his Will Smith jibe on The Real Slim Shady. Kind of wish he’d used “baldheaded Stan” in the full version, as it’s a lot more interesting than the wearisome homophobia we get instead. And the use of “36-year-old” as a derogatory term cuts this listener in a way it didn’t 15 years ago!

    Possibly due to the stripped back, four-square beat mentioned by Tom, this track was a popular source for bootlegs and mashups, of which Marshall’s Been Snookered (sans video) was always my favourite:
    https://youtu.be/pL7S-pZYbM8

  13. 13
    James BC on 15 Sep 2017 #

    No mention of the sax line? I could sing along to it all day, and it’s one of the things that makes this, for me, the best of Eminem’s four first-singles-from-the-album.

    Maybe my impression of the lyrics is improved because I’ve only heard it on radio and TV where the homophobia, dig at his mum and most of the general nastiness are bleeped out, toned down or skipped over. Take them out and you’re left with Party Eminem at his best – gleeful, scattershot, dextrous and endlessly quotable.

    A couple of things I don’t like:
    – the start where Em attempts to get Obie Trice to catch on with the public, the start of a mania for trying to give a leg up to his less talented mates
    – the restatement of the claim from Real Slim Shady that loads of other white rappers are trying to copy him. Oh yeah? Who?

    8 or 9 for me. Let’s say 9. 4 is miserly!

  14. 14
    Steve Mannion on 15 Sep 2017 #

    re #12 the ‘Without Me’ acapella was subject to a marathon challenge on the Boom Selection website with dozens of submissions flooding in to varying degrees of quality. My personal contribution to which set it to The Orb’s ‘Toxygene’, pleasingly making it into a few DJ sets by Alex Paterson himself.

  15. 15
    Steve Mannion on 15 Sep 2017 #

    Re #13 although not troubling the charts in quite the same persistent way Eminem’s reference to white rappers likely stemmed from the inevitable increase in profile of a number of them at this time. A ‘white yet – technically – good (or at least better than 90s)’ bandwagon. Well, Bubba Sparxx at least, perhaps Princess Superstar also – not sure if the Def Juxy likes of El-P, Aesop Rock, Atmosphear are quite as comparable but they undoubtedly all got a boost because of the ‘phenomeniem’. All of which had their moments I would say.

  16. 16
    Andrew Farrell on 15 Sep 2017 #

    I don’t know, I think Moby may be a little _too_ on the nose timewise – his album 18 was released (according to Wikipedia) May 14th 2002 – the same day as Without Me. It’d been three years since Play, but that had been followed by a greatest hits and a b-sides, not to mention 9 singles and of course licensing to nearly any ad company who could pay. Moby had just released “We are all made of stars” in late April ahead of the album, and I’d say he was possibly at his peak famewise – certainly he hurtled downwards shortly thereafter when it turned out he hadn’t captured lightning twice (and also because of this song, I suspect).

  17. 17
    Andrew Farrell on 15 Sep 2017 #

    Sorry that’s 10 singles, 9 from Play, and 1 from the third album of songs from and inspired by Hackers, because lolmoby.

  18. 18
    Cumbrian on 15 Sep 2017 #

    #14: I’ve still got the 3 CDR set somewhere at home that Boom Selection produced with hundreds and hundreds of bootlegs, DJ sets, etc, on it – so must have some of those Without Me versions on that. I should dig it out and see if your Toxygene one is on there. The one I do remember is the mash up of this with The Wanton Song by Led Zep – which I quite enjoyed; the fatness of the Led Zep rhythm section being a reasonable replacement for the production on the original – found its way onto my iPod eventually.

    As for the original. Clearly, he’s technically adept – but so is Yngwie Malmsteen, and I wouldn’t choose to listen to him or this particular track. Eminem did better than this and its worst aspects, as mentioned elsewhere, prefigure the worst impulses of current day discourse (the needless attempts at running other people down, trolling for a response, the desire to shock as an end unto itself). When you’ve got leaders of the world seemingly deciding policy on the basis of doing whatever will piss off the most of those they oppose, it’s not difficult to think “this attitude appears to be winning” along with “fuck this”, regardless of whether it’s got a “good beat” or is dexterously rapped.

  19. 19
    Phil on 15 Sep 2017 #

    I’ve never got Eminem and probably never will. It’s fair to say I don’t listen to a lot of rap or spoken word, but I appreciate the artistry and attitude in bits of it when I hear them – thinking Wu Tang, cLOUDDEAD, Roots Manuva; come to that, I thought the one Bubba Sparxx track I’ve heard was pretty good.

    But this? I’m discovering new reserves of hatred for this song the more I think of it (and I haven’t even listened to it again.) As rap it’s just not very good – the rhymes are feeble and the rhythm’s barely there at all. Eminem is to flow as the Duracell bunny is to rhythm – he keeps going, and that’s it. And the attitude’s just obnoxious, with assorted layers of meta-obnoxious on top of it (“look at me being obnoxious”, “yes, I know I’m being obnoxious”, “I can go on being obnoxious even longer than you think”…). If the Fugees were punk*, Eminem was the mid-80s mohican’d toerags who insisted punk wasn’t dead**.

    *The Fugees were punk.
    **It was. Both times.

  20. 20
    EPG on 15 Sep 2017 #

    Drawing up the influence family tree of Gary Numan around this time. Numan -> that one Sugababes track. Simple.
    Numan -> Bambaataa … but it’s surprisingly hard to get to Dre -> Mathers.
    Fortunately, Numan -> Reznor -> Manson -> Mathers!

  21. 21
    Lee Saunders on 15 Sep 2017 #

    I really have nothing to add except this was made a very random appearance on Now 53, tucked away in the last quarter. This was random because Eminem had never appeared on a Now album before – never before on a Virgin/EMI compilation even, if I’m not mistaken – and besides, it was a hit way in time for Now 52.

    Oh, uh, a 5 for me. Not as good as the Real Slim Shady, but better than the third in the Slim Shady lead single trilogy (a 2004 bunny).

  22. 22
    AMZ1981 on 15 Sep 2017 #

    I think Without Me sits best in the context of the top ten it headed, particularly with Liberty X, Atomic Kitten, Ronan Keating and Westlife rounding up the top five. While Eminem was hardly in direct competition with them (they were all UK only stars and I doubt he knew who they were) the contrast is phenomenal – this is the guy with something to say standing amid a sea of pre programmed dross. One of Eminem’s complaints of the time was how his MTV friendly looks got him lumped in with the pop superstars of the time rather than the gangsta/ nu metal vanguard he felt he belonged with. He had a point but Without Me is Eminem the pop star, the radio friendly, playing it safe first single from a new album. And as a pop song Without Me does sound fantastic although the lyrics really don’t stand up to scrutiny and have inevitably dated now.

    The Eminem Show itself felt like an event record at the time. I bought it because it was a big thing; having a copy mattered, or seemed to at the time. I still remember many of the tracks well. And yet I have no desire to listen to it (or any of the other albums from the 1999-2004 quartet) in 2017.

    As The Eminem Show has no further bunnies this might be the time to point out a curious conservatism with the singles and their order (the brattish opening punt, the despairing rant and the sample heavy slowie) although a bunnied soundtrack single splits them. And also to wonder why White America, Eminem’s finest five minutes for me, never escaped the album.

  23. 23
    Riffit on 16 Sep 2017 #

    If Eminem had a Twitter account in 2002…

    “So I just found out about this overrated 36 year old boy called Moby! I know a lot of people and they don’t even listen to techno! Sad!”

  24. 24
    Andrew Farrell on 16 Sep 2017 #

    This will be far more relevant the time after next that we see Eminem, but my memory is terrible:

    https://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/article/znmzxw/remember-when-donald-trump-endorsed-eminem-for-president

  25. 25
    ThePensmith on 16 Sep 2017 #

    #22 – said Atomic Kitten track, “It’s OK”, being the official start of their ‘doing dull midtempos and covers whilst looking feignly erotic and beige in the videos’ bit that they relied on for all the remaining years of their career. Kerry Katona > Jenny Frost. Who’d thunk it?

    As for Eminem, I really enjoyed hearing this one again. Listening to both this and ‘The Real Slim Shady’ you’re reminded of how brilliantly he could do something with a bit of humour to it, however risque it got. Trouble was by the time we get to his 2004 bunny, and his all but forgotten 2009 comeback single ‘We Made You’ which we don’t meet here, he’s essentially repeating the gimmick to less greater effect.

    Little wonder he took a break when he did in 2005, or indeed for as long as he did. This was also perhaps bizarrely the first (and only) single of his to appear on a Now compilation – on disc 2 of the 53rd edition in November that year to be precise. Seems a shame really he only made it to the one volume. Between his two chart toppers from 2000 and this and his next bunny, he was at his peak, and them not being captured on the corresponding volumes of the time feels curiously excluding.

    A 7 for me.

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