EMINEM — ‘Without Me’

Granted, he’s not doing himself any favours with this ‘controversy’ nonsense. The c-word is best left to the tabloids and press packs; it always sounds mealy-mouthed coming from singers, though after his last album you can’t fault Eminem for truthfulness.

But ‘Without Me’ doesn’t sound controversial — ‘controversy’ for Eminem here works like ‘rock’ does for the Hives or ‘floral’ does on a perfume bottle, a handy label preserving a faint memory of meaning. Eminem compares himself to Elvis, but this is surely the film-star Elvis — knockabout fun with the odd verbal hipsway to remind us who we’re listening to. (Of course, Elvis without the films, an Elvis redeemed for rock, isn’t ELVIS, he’s just another rock star).

Meanwhile there’s the deliciously rigid robodisco beat — the Kraftwerk influence on hip-hop is terra entirely cognita, but Dre (or Em or whoever turned the knobs) becomes surely the first producer to be influenced by Kylie! Yes, there’s an obvious irony in the song’s best joke – ‘It’s over, nobody listened to techno’ – oh sure except the millions listening to this right now. But Eminem’s correct — techno didn’t have what it takes to be the sort of scavenging aggressor genre hip-hop is in America, and this track is proof-by-example.

So then — lazy rhymes, excellent rhythms? More grist to the mills of people who’d really like pop if it wasn’t for all those pesky pop stars getting in the way? Well, not quite. Let’s drop back a bit — ‘Eminem compares himself to Elvis’. But this is also a standard line-of-attack for Eminem haters — taking black music and making it safe and marketable for a white market. And Eminem’s response? It’s a fair cop, basically.

The Elvis thing is the ‘point’ of ‘Without Me’ — the kids are embarrassed their folks still listen to him, but along comes Eminem and after him 20 million other white rappers. The implication is that Eminem is a pop-history dividing line – after him there’s simply no point in white kids making or listening to music even remotely Elvis-ish any more. Meanwhile ‘Without Me’ is Eminem’s first even-glancingly direct uptake of the one thing he’s never commented on in his music: race. With titles like ‘White America’ on the new CD (I’ve not heard it yet), it’s surely premature to write the man off on the strength of one deceptively comfy single.