OK, how weird is this? The number one album in the United States of America at this very moment begins with a song called "White America" in which the protagonista white boy named Eminem, a.k.a. Slim Shady, né Marshall Mathersmuses about the role racism has played in his success ("Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself.../Look at the sales/Let's do the math, if I was black, I would've sold half"), pledges his allegiance to the 1st Amendment ("The women and men who have broke their necks for the freedom of speech the United States government has sworn to uphold/ Or so we are told") and threatens to lead an army of disaffected youth on Washington ("The ringleader of this circus of worthless pawns/ Sent to lead the march right up to the steps of Congress/ And piss on the lawns of the White House...To spit liquor in the face of this democracy of hypocrisy"). Later, he declares himself "no friend of Bush," and says he's here "with a plan to ambush this Bush administration, mush the Senate's face in and push this generation/ of kids to stand and fight for the right to say something you might not like." His advocacy for the "kids" doesn't stop with their freedom of speech. He worries about them, apparently, warning, "...All this terror, America demands action, next thing you know you've got Uncle Sam's ass askin'/ to join the Army or what you'll do for their Navy/ You just a baby, gettin' recruited at eighteen."
Of course, most of the album is taken up with what is by now standard fare for Eminem: his grievances against his mother, his ex-wife, and the media; his love for his young daughter Hailie, who appears on one track giggling, "I think my dad's gone crazy"; and his, uh, complicated attitudes toward women and gays (he still says "faggot," but he also jokes about having sex with his producer/mentor Dr. Dre and brags about his duet with Elton John at the Grammys; and in the lead-off single, "Without Me," he boasts, "I'm back, I'm on the rag and I'm ovulating"not exactly standard macho rap bluster).
All of which is to say that, three albums in, Eminem is still a very confused and confusing guy. The beats don't bounce quite as well this time (maybe because Dre only produced three tracks), and as before, there's plenty of filler. Among other things, he should leave the Aerosmith samples to Run-DMC. But the speed-talking kid with the high-decibel whine still rhymes so energetically, and spikes his rants with so much wacko comic invention, that often the only possible response is to shake your head and move your ass. And his sheer willingness to piss off anyone (he makes fun of Dick Cheney's heart condition, fer cryin' out loud) almost counts as a political act here in John Ashcroft's America.
I just read a column by 1st Amendment guru Nat Hentoff raising alarms about the expansive surveillance powers of the new, more "efficient" FBI (suggested motto: "Because so much is hiding in your wires"). Hentoff concludes with a plea: "I'd appreciate hearing from resisters who are working to restore the Bill of Rights." It may not be quite what he has in mind, but for the moment, he can check the top of the charts. The voice of a generation? I dunno. But someone's sure as hell buying it.