Monthly Archives: July 2010

Eminem Grows Up?

A music review: Recovery by Eminem

Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Eminem, is flatly one the most talented rappers there is in terms of his ability to puts words together and spit them out in unbroken streams of rapid rhyme. But as anyone who has followed his career can tell you, Eminen is also negative and vulgar. There can often be perverse elements of violence or violent sexuality as a regular part of his recipe. His hit single “Stan” is a prime example, though such elements pervade his Relapse album. Even the title of the CD, Relapse, reveals that, although he had entered rehabilitation for his alcohol and drug problems, that project was to be a collection of songs about defeat rather than victory. And so it is, with his perversity in full swing. But could he have been reaching out or hiding behind an image? The song “Beautiful” may offer a clue, where he says he’s been hard to reach, and even contemplates hanging up the microphone for good. There he admits that he “hides behind the tears of a clown.” It is often the most insecure children at school who act out.

More clues show up on his 2010 album, Recovery. But before we get to them, some general comments. Recovery is less shocking. The perversity, the violence, the graphic content—it’s much sparser on Slim Shady’s latest offering. Yes, there is some sexual content. One only need look to tracks “W.T.P.,” “Seduction,” or “So Bad,” but it is not as perverse or violent content. It’s regular party life stuff you would expect from non-christian people. Still wrong, but normal. Graphic elements are still present on a number of tracks, but those elements do not define this album; they are not by any means the main focus of the album. Mostly, it is about recovery, and the whole selection is permeated with a change in attitude and the determination to follow a new direction in life. This change in course is perhaps dramatized in the opening song, “Cold Wind Blows” as Eminem starts out with some of his usual fare, until he is suddenly struck by lightening. Eminem says, “Lord, forgive me for what my pen do”—that is, for what I write—to which God responds, “This is for your sins I cleanse you. You can repent, but I warn you, if you continue, to hell I send you.” This is an implicit recognition that Eminem knows he deserves divine retribution and needs forgiveness. Of course, I’m not going to read too much into the exchange (it is not as though Eminem gets squeaky clean after this), but it is unexpected and interesting to note.

Now, the clues I mentioned. They begin right away on the second track, “Talkin’ 2 Myself,” where Eminem says, “I just want to thank everybody for being so patient and baring with me over the last couple of years.” He says he was “goin’ through growing pains, hatred flowing through my veins, on the verge of going insane,” and, speaking to himself, “you’re lying to yourself, you’re dying, you’re denying, you’re health is declining with your self esteem, you’re crying out for help.” Further, he admits he had “become a hater” and had “put up a false bravado,” that he has a problem and he should do something about it instead of feeling sorry for himself. To sum it up, he says his last two albums didn’t count. He says,

I’ve come to make it up to you now no more f—-n’ around.
I got something to prove to fans ’cause I feel like I let ’em down.
So please accept my apology. I finally feel like I’m back to normal, I feel like me again. Let me formally reintroduce myself to you. For those of you who don’t know, the new me’s back to the old me and, homie, I don’t show no signs of slowin’ up.

Clearly, he is setting the stage for the rest of the album.

Tracks six and seven are the most significant songs on the album. As if it weren’t obvious, track six is plainly called “Going Through Changes.” In it, Slim talks about his struggle with pills and the temptation they present. He talks about contemplating suicide, but again reaches out. He says,

Why do I act like I’m all high and mighty,
When inside, I’m dying? I am finally realizing I need help.
Can’t do it myself, too weak. Two weeks I’ve been having ups and downs, going through peaks and valleys.

But in the end, he remembers the things that matter most to him, his relationships, his baby girls—especially Hailie—and it motivates him to change, even though “heaven knows I’ve never been a saint.” “My friends can’t understand this new me,” he says, but he nonetheless exhorts himself to “be a man.”

Track seven, “Not Afraid,” is what I consider the centerpiece of Recovery. The chorus, or hook, goes like this:

I’m not afraid to take a stand. Everybody, come take my hand. We’ll walk this road together, through the storm, whatever weather, cold or warm. Just letting you know that you’re not alone. Holler if you feel like you’ve been down the same road.

The bridge adds,

And I just can’t keep living this way, so starting today I’m breaking out of this cage. I’m standing up, gonna face my demons. I’m manning up, Imma [I’m going to] hold my ground. I’ve had enough, now I’m so fed up. Time to put my life back together right now.

Worth quoting is a large portion of verses two and three:

And to the fans, I’ll never let you down again. I’m back. I promise never to go back on that promise; in fact, let’s be honest, that last Relapse CD was “ehh.” Perhaps I ran them accents into the ground. Relax, I ain’t going back to that now […] I’m way too up to back down, but I think I’m still tryna [trying to] figure this crap out. Thought I had it mapped out, but I guess I didn’t. This f—–g black cloud still follows me around but it’s time to exorcise these demons. These m———–s are doing jumping jacks now!

And

It was my decision to get clean, I did it for me. Admittedly, I probably did it subliminally for you, so I could come back a brand new me. You helped see me through, and don’t even realize what you did, believe me you! […] No more drama from now on, I promise to focus solely on handling my responsibilities as a father. So I solemnly swear to always treat this roof like my daughters and raise it. You couldn’t lift a single shingle on it, ‘cause the way I feel, I’m strong enough to go to the club or the corner pub and lift the whole liquor counter up, ‘cause I’m raising the bar. I shoot the moon, but I’m too busy gazing at stars, I feel amazing.

In “Cinderella Man,” Eminem realizes that not everyone gets a second chance, and says he’s not going to blow the one he got. “Love the Way You Lie” and “You’re Never Over” even get emotional. They’re very open songs about some of Eminem’s issues. In “Love the Way You Lie” Eminem is lamenting destructive patterns of behavior in his relationship. It’s almost heartbreaking how he feels sorry for what he continues to do. What he’s really doing is coming to terms with his own depravity, and he admits that when it comes to love he is “blinded.” He also says, “But you promised her, next time you’ll show restraint. You don’t get another chance; life is no Nintendo game. But you lied again. Now you get to watch her leave out the window. Guess that’s why they call it window pane.”

“You’re Never Over” is almost a virtuoso piece for Eminem’s polished rap craft. But in it, he talks about the loss of a loved one. He says,

So, God, just help me out while I fight through this grieving process. Tryna process this loss makes me nauseous, but this depression ain’t taking me hostage […] I know I’m never gonna be the same without you. I never woulda came in this game, I’m going insane without you. Matter of fact, it was just the other night I had a dream about you. You told me to get up, I got up, I spread my wings and I flew. You gave me a reason to fight. I was on my way to see you [that is, I was going to die, probably speaking of suicide]. You told me nah, Dudey, you’re not layin’ on that table. I knew I was gonna make it. Soon as you said “Think of Halie” I knew there wasn’t no way that I was gonna ever leave them babies, and Proof. Not many are lucky to have a guardian angel like you. Lord, I’m so thankful, please don’t think that I don’t feel grateful. I do. Just grant me the strength that I need for one more day to get through.

Eminem, as he put it, is going through changes. Obviously, the last couple of years have been a difficult time, and his emergence from a dark valley is apparent in Recovery, even as the name of the album itself is hopeful. Eminem has been described as being authentic. A lot of people seem to call negativity authenticity automatically. I don’t. I think Recovery is possibly Eminem at his most authentic. When you’ve made a living being hard, being arrogant (in an older song he claims he’s better than 90% of rappers out there, which is likely), and being tough, it’s takes a measure of humility to admit you’ve been wrong and you need help. Maybe that’s why Recovery sold over 740,000 copies in its first week.

Celebrate America at the Backyard Barbeque this Afternoon. But in these walls, Celebrate Jesus

The fourth of July is a time to celebrate. Americans on this day celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which marked the official break of the American colonies from increasingly heavy-handed and unreasonable British rule; and that fissure of political bonds is surely a good excuse for Americans to throw a party. But as the fourth falls on a Sunday this year, I am especially reminded that it is not a good reason to throw a party in church. For that, there are better reasons.

The church I used to attend celebrated Independence Day in church every year. God and Country, they called it, and in fact, the banner on their website now flatly says, “Celebrate America: July 3 and 4”. I do not like church-bashing and that’s not really my intent. My formative spiritual years were spent at SMCC and the roots I acquired there were good. But may I suggest that their God and Country worship service is completely inappropriate. The spectacle SMCC puts on during the July 4 Sunday worship includes awarding active and retired military personnel, playing the military branch theme songs, the unfurling of one of the largest American flags I’ve ever seen, and actual fireworks in the sanctuary (!). It’s a pretty impressive pageant, but as I have learned more and more about my own faith over the past five or six years, it actually begins to break my heart that faithful men would treat the service this way.

Sunday worship, you see, cannot be hijacked to “celebrate America.” How can it be? It is already a celebration! It is indeed a celebration of a kingdom, a nation, a commonwealth—but a kingdom, nation, and commonwealth that transcends any and all geopolitical borders. God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself. He is forming for his own possession a holy nation, a royal priesthood, from people of every language and tribe and country (1 Peter 2:9, see also Eph. 2:12-13). When I step into the the house of the Lord on Sunday morning, there is no American; there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). When I step into the house of the Lord, I am Christian, and am spiritually joining with fellow citizens around the world—citizens not of the U.S. (or China or Bolivia), but of heaven (Phil. 3:20)! I am an assimilated member of the one holy catholic church, the church universal, the church global, which God purchased with his own blood.

God calls us to celebrate every week the fact that we have been grafted into this worldwide nation, adopted into this family and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. He calls us to confess sin and receive forgiveness, to sing songs, to pray, to hear the public reading of Scripture, to hear the Word preached and taught, and to receive the ordinances of baptism and communion. With all that going on, what room is left to celebrate a temporal geopolitical entity? Such is not just inadvisable, I believe it’s wrong. I thank God for the confidence I have that when I attend my church today, the fourth of July will not be more than mentioned in passing. I go celebrate the same things I celebrated last week, the same things I will celebrate next week. After all, this is church.

Let’s be perfectly clear. I love the Fourth of July. I have a sensible quantity of nationalism in me. If I weren’t working today, I’d join my family for hamburgers, potato salad, and fellowship in a house dripping with red, white and blue. I’d watch the celebratory fireworks give brilliant bursts of color to the night sky, and begin to get sentimental when I hear “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free!” It’s appropriate to thank God for shedding his grace on this land. But you cannot bring that into the worship service. It would be completely out of place; a misuse, in fact, of that time that is given to us to worship, and to worship in the manner God has laid out for us in the Bible. Here, we celebrate not only a holy nation, but her King. Here, we celebrate Jesus.

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