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Eminem: Subterania, London (Melody Maker, 10 April 1999)


SERENDIPITOUS as f***. He must've been spying on my bedroom habits, the goddamn degenerate. OK, last two weeks I've been lying on my bed stroking myself and listening to nowt but Pharcyde, Quest, KMO, Nubian, 3rd Bass, Alkaholics and Beatnuts — wondering when hip hop was gonna get run again. Worrying about what new slice of style mag-feted sludgecore everyone'd pretend to like this week. Wondering why aged, disenfranchised b-boys have to insist on music as graceless and curmudgeonly and beardy as themselves. Building up a convenient theory to dismiss the stifling politeness of the nu-skool and call for a return to rap's good, old-fashioned traits of cartoon delinquency, get the f ***ing hoolies back in running things, as they have and always should. And then this mad bleat comes from the radio: "Slim Shady, Slim Shady..." and I follow it all the way to Ladbroke Grove and — f*** me! — the DJ's playing Kool G Rap & Polo and everything gets sorted out in the punk-funk barnstormer that Eminem is live and I'm speechless. Pop works sometimes. Whodathunkit?
   Telling things: the crowd isn't the Beastie-style, shaved spod-fest you might fear. There be b-boys here, headz, metal fans, teenyboppers, wind-yr-waist dread junglettes, dance-hall fetishists, ultra-pierced hardcore skaters. It's rammed with all this fleshy mess, the DJ's forcing things overboard with Jeru and Biggie, a stubby little tattooed chappy bounds cross-stage with his rhyme-partner in tow, the decks thrum out louder than anyone could've hoped for, we're straight into 'Brain Damage' and things get even messier. Physically, Eminem is anonymous enough to be forgettable: what sticks and scintillates is his foul mouth and the beautiful shapes it makes. Absolute obscenity for most of the 20 minutes he's onstage tonight and every single bit of it's captivating: think of the grotesque glossaialia of a Chino XL or Dr Doom, multiply it by about 10 hysterics, make it viciously, vividly funny and you're getting close.

Image copyright Catherine McGann
    Luckily the DJ's smart enough just to keep up a remorseless boom-thunk bass bin slam going all night that suits this raw ruckus fine and dandy. On 'Big It Up' we're only five minutes into the set, and the crowd are like itchy testicles in E's hand: the idle cool with which he toys with them keeps up a determinedly childish, playpen atmosphere to proceedings which doesn't flag all night. You realise that this is what you crave from hip hop: he slips into a hilarious skit on Snoop's 'Ain't Nothin' But A G Thang', before plunging fists first into 'I Just Don't Give A F***': quite possibly the most adrenalising slab of brat hop since Onyx or prime-era Beasties, certainly already anthem of choice for an aggro summer involving everyone here. The closing chaos of 'My Name Is Slim Shady', a brain-bending freestyle encore, a chorus of boos and a triumphant 'Guilty' only quicken the chaotic crescendo of the night, and the background whinges you can hear about "20-minute rip-off' are the only things that vex. They couldn't be more wrong.
   Because this was a perfectly unrespectable, slam-bang kick in the head to hip hop's current outbreak of mass critical blindness, a blindness crippling writers, fans and artists alike: "It's on Rawkus — it must be good. It's got a grimy, graff cover — it must be good. It features DJ F*** Knows from the Impoverished Unemployables Crew — it must be good." Bullshit. Half of what you've been told is cutting-edge, nu-skool hip hop is a crock of tedious, uninvolving muso shit for counter-leaners and technicians. It's nothing more than pop reassembled by mitten-wearing jobsworth dunces, backing up rhymes which display such a stupendously dull lack of imagination (or "representin'" as it's now known) that it boggles the brainstem as to why you got into this shit in the first place. See Eminem as a wake-up call and a reminder of what first snagged your soul way back when. Or, failing that, just roll on this rockin' shit all summer. Keep getting it wrong, boy. It feels so right.
SHOW & TELL: Phenomenal or 'Shady' character?
Kremser (23) from Austria
One-hit wonder, or here to stay? Kremser: "With the Dre connection and the LP, he's definitely gonna be a star." Sick of the single yet? K: "In Austria, not yet. He will be here very soon!" Best track tonight? K: "'My Name Is Slim Shady'."
Juni (21) from London
One-hit wonder, or here to stay? Juni: "I think the massive variety of the audience proves he's here to stay. He's got something for everyone: from indie hip hop fans to straight-up b-boys." Sick of the single yet? J: "Not yet. It's bound to happen, though. All the best songs get irritating." Best track tonight? J: "'I Just Don't Give A F***'."
PAUL (28), from Plymouth
One-hit wonder, or here to stay? Paul: "He's got a lot more than just the single. The album is gonna surprise everyone." Sick of the single yet? P: "It's the poppiest thing on the album, but it's still great." Best track tonight? P: "'Brain Damage'."

EMINEM'S VERDICT
"The show was dope! It's the first time I've been in London, and I've been waiting for the moment to give some love back to all the people that have been showing me love in the UK. The shit was real! I came on thinking that it's gonna be an industry vibe, but true heads were in the crowd giving me love, and it made me feel good. Like when the crowd were rapping with me — they're real fans, proving hip hop lives! It was off the hook, man."

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