[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
OFTEN AS NOT, a greatest hits compilation serves as a coffin-nail for the act concerned. If this were to prove literally true for a rapper, it might be no impediment to his career - the dead ones rank among the most prolific and popular. In Eminem's case, such drastic measures will (you'd hope) be unnecessary. Instead, Curtain Call (Aftermath ****) has been presaged by cannily placed rumours of “retirement”, and another broad hint in the title. It's typical of the man to twist industry preconceptions to his advantage - one of his many singular skills.
Other musicians must look at Eminem and wonder, Salieri-like, why him? Why should this crude, puerile brat get to make the most brilliant pop? Which is missing the point: Eminem's eagerness/ability to get up respectable noses can't be separated from his other talents. But for the self-parodic white-trash zest of My Name Is and Without Me, nobody would have paid attention to the inspired and sophisticated Lose Yourself or Stan.
As an overview of Eminem's output to date, Curtain Call would be more impressive still if it didn't by definition rely on hit singles - and if it hadn't left out, for instance, the superb agitprop of Mosh in favour of commercially requisite new tracks such as Fack, a lewd and witless doodle which plays (willingly, no doubt) into the hands of his detractors.
If Eminem is the USA's foremost MC, then Britain's has to be Roots Manuva (Brighton Concorde 2 ***). You can't blame Rodney Smith for any reluctance to embrace that status. He deserves individual renown, and UK rap, ever the bridesmaid to its American counterpart, unfairly burdens its figureheads with the hopes of a whole movement.
Like Massive Attack before him, Manuva creates tracks that could only have originated in this country. And similarly, he recognises and pre empts rap's shortcomings as a live genre. The band he brings with him displays the Rare Groove leanings which have permeated black British sounds for two decades now. Unbarbered white chaps with knitted headgear and flutes are always a giveaway; but they keep things surprisingly tight.
What the music loses in sombreness onstage, it gains in crowd pleasing vibrancy. And the man himself has personality to burn. But to hear him at his most potent, the recordings remain essential.
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