Five or six years ago, during the height of Death Row's stranglehold on the hip-hop charts, the release of an album by a Dr. Dre protégé was both a major event and a commercial sure thing. Dre's star has dimmed a bit since then, no doubt due in part to the critically acclaimed producer's non-existent work ethic. But Dre's embrace of underground rapper Eminem—Dre produced three tracks on his album and released it through his Aftermath imprint—nevertheless lends the melanin-impaired Detroit rapper a certain level of instant hardcore credibility. And while the existence of a white rapper isn't really that much of a novelty any more, what with the Beastie Boys ruling the alternative nation and Everlast's bland bar-rock inexplicably enjoying critical and commercial success, Eminem nevertheless represents something genuinely different in the increasingly predictable rap world. Mixing the rhyme skills of Dre's old Death Row compatriots with the moral values of the protagonist of Kids, The Slim Shady LP bears roughly the same satiric relationship to gangsta rap that Licensed To Ill did to old-school hip-hop: In both cases, the satirists don't so much exploit macho, hedonistic rap cliches as propel them beyond recognition into a state of almost surreal self-parody. The main difference between the two albums, of course, is that The Slim Shady LP—not to be confused with the Slim Shady epic poem—-lacks the sort of ironic distance that made License To Ill such a guilty pleasure for two generations of hip-hop-phobic college freshmen. Like Marilyn Manson and Insane Clown Posse, Eminem represents a new musical subgenre of ostracized Midwestern geeks re-inventing themselves as subcultural icons. Slim Shady is at times sophomoric and uninspired, but whether you love Eminem or despise him, his surreal, ultraviolent, trailer-trash/post-gangsta-rap extremism is at least a breath of fresh air in a rap world that's despairingly low on new ideas.

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