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The Eminem Show (Aftermath)

Despite Eminem's extraordinary intelligence and self-knowledge, the controversial rapper has always made his biggest splashes by instinctively thrashing against expectations with the desperation of a fish caught on a line. As his defenders and detractors both know, he'll be reeled in eventually, hooked through the mouth and gills on pop's suffocating fame, rap's amoral "reality" syndrome, and perhaps also his own self-destructive psychosis. Here, on his third major-label CD, he delays the inevitable by doing what any smart, experienced fish would do -- he kills the tension in the line by running in the same direction that he's being pulled.

Throughout the 20-cut CD, he embraces "reality" by savoring all the dramatic details of his personal life ("Cleaning Out My Closet"), accepts fame by taking on the pop star's responsibility for Big Statements ("White America" and the Aerosmith cameo "Sing for the Moment"), and plays up his pathologies with patently "outrageous" jokes (the single "Without Me" and "My Dad's Gone Crazy"). Those who've defended his offenses on artistic principle might be disappointed, but most of his fans will delight in how masterfully this "White-Pac" can play the game, from mock square dancing to bad singing to more varied rap styles than he's ever displayed before. And any good angler should know that this temporary feint won't be Eminem's final move.

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