I'll start on a defensive note about why I'm just now getting around to listening to Eminem's "Recovery" album. I wish I had a great excuse for not listening before now, but I'm old and assumed it would be noisy and I wouldn't like it. The fact that I haven't listened to the album nagged at me every time I saw it occupying two spots in the iTunes Top 10 (once for the regular album and once for the deluxe version). Now that the Grammy nominations have been announced and "Recovery" is up for 10, I have run out of reasons not to listen to it, so here I am.
I read a pretty extensive article with Eminem in "Rolling Stone" a couple months ago and he described in some detail the major event that impacted him and inspired this album. His drug use got worse and worse with him gaining a lot of weight and spending days on end in bed, culminating in several near-death overdoses. His close calls finally woke him up to the fact that he would be leaving his daughter behind if he didn't get his act together; hence, the album's title (the predecessor to this album was "Relapse"). In addition to his own daughter, he also has custody of one of his ex-wife's daughter from another relationship as well as his ex-wife's niece. I'm a little concerned that Eminem was the best choice as a parent for these extra kids, but on the plus side he seems committed to his recovery.
I have been an Eminem fan for a long time. I think the "8 Mile" soundtrack might even have been my foray to rap music. One thing that I think makes rap a little challenging to pull off (aside from all that rhyming- exhausting) is that it's not actually singing per se, so the music has to work extra hard to distinguish one song from the next. Kanye has done that effectively on his current album, partly by assembling an entire army of contributors (with great success, I might add). Eminem has a few others helping him out on "Recovery", but he essentially flies solo on many of the songs with only minimal background assistance. That made all the songs sound kind of the same to me the first few times through, especially since I am not a 17-year old boy and rap does not always naturally agree with me.
Once I became acclimated to the individual songs, however, I started to glean why this album has received so many accolades. Each song has a defined focus, whether it's reflective or inspirational or just a rant, and the lyrics, rhymes and double entendres are very impressive. Sometimes I wonder if I might be better off listening to one song repeatedly to gain a good appreciation of it before moving on to the next rather than listening to the entire 17 songs right off the bat (note to self: give that methodology a try in the future).
Aside from the language and subject matter on "Recovery", the other big thing that takes some getting used to is that Eminem's rapping voice makes me feel like I'm getting yelled at, although that might be his natural intonation (I'll resolve that during my next conversation with him). Couple that loudness with some good old fashioned rants and he strikes me as quite an angry young man. He takes aim at music critics in "On Fire", which left me relieved to just be an innocuous little blogger. On the other hand, "W.T.P." stands for White Trash Party, an area in which Eminem might have some expertise, and is pretty funny. With most rappers out there being black, isn't it great to see Em embracing his whiteness?
I could go on talking about each song individually, but that would get (continue to be?) boring. Each of the 17 songs is unique and entertaining in its own way, and the guest appearance by Pink, Kobe and Lil Wayne help things stay interesting.
Back to the original question: does Eminem really deserve all those Grammy nominations? Several are for Record and Song of the year (for "Love the Way You Lie" with Rihanna - not my favorite, to be honest) and he is also up for Album of the year and Rap Album of the year. What's the criteria to be nominated? Critical favorite? Record sales? General popularity? I'm not sure. He is a really talented artist, both in terms of his writing and his performances, and maybe it's not fair for me to think that a rap album wouldn't be as justified in being nominated as any other album. "Recovery" is definitely more creative than an album like Katy Perry's, for instance (one of his competitors for Album of the Year). For $8.99, it's worth buying the album just so you can broaden your horizons and not feel left out on Grammy night.
Here is the video for "No Love", the song with Lil Wayne (not in prison). The song wasn't one of my standout favorites, but at least it's possible you haven't heard it yet. Enjoy!