When you spark a conversation centered around Eminem’s best work, you’ll hear a lot about The Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show to go along with a jaw-shattering group of diss tracks that made a fool of Benzino, Canibus, Everlast, Mariah Carey, Limp Bizkit and others. However, there is always one classic piece of work that frequently seems to be left out of the mix.
If that discussion busts off in my presence, I’ll be that guy in the background asking “what about Infinite?”
Everyone has respect for Eminem now, but make no mistake about the fact that he earned his stripes through hard work and struggle. In 1996, Slim Shady released his debut album Infinite under Web Entertainment out of Detroit, but the record didn’t sell as well as Em and his camp had hoped. In fact, it only sold around approximately 1,000 copies as Eminem continuously struggled to blow up.
One of the biggest reasons Infinite didn’t explode as everyone had hoped was the fact that Em hadn’t yet found himself as an emcee. He had as much raw talent as anyone could ask for, but his sound was incomplete and did not possess an authentic style that set him apart from other skilled lyricists. Infinite displays a much lighter tone than any of Eminem’s other work, especially in terms of his voice. Contrary to the aggressive, nasally delivery that everyone knows and loves, he spits heavy bars with the tamest approach you’ll ever hear from Shady.
In due time, Slim would be recognized by the radar of Dr. Dre and the rest is history. Eminem developed into one of hip hop’s undisputed ambassadors.
Yet and still, Infinite deserves more attention. I’m not here to tell you that it is Eminem’s most complete album, but in terms of the technical aspect to the craft of lyricism, it is as clean as anything he has touched. The lyrical precision advertised in each and every verse will leave you shaking your head, not because you’re disgusted, it’s just not fair. At the time, many A&R’s often compared Infinite‘s poetic design to Nas and AZ, and you can see why after you lock in and listen.
Let’s not waste any time, hip hop heads. Dust off that old CD and let’s take a look back at one of Slim Shady’s most underrated records.
1 – Infinite
The self-titled opening track wastes no time introducing Eminem’s razor sharp poetic structure behind a simplistic, yet enticing, boom bap bass line. The first of three verses kicks off with:
Ayo, my pen and paper cause a chain reaction
To get your brain relaxing, the zany acting maniac in action
A brainiac in fact son, you mainly lack attraction
You look insanely whack when just a fraction of my tracks run
After the hook that illustrates his relentless attachment to the mic, Em gives us a sneak peak into his battle rap approach with lines like:
I let the beat commence so I can beat the sense in your elite defense
I got some meat to mince, a crew to stomp and then two feet to rinse
2 – W.E.G.O. (Interlude) (ft. Proof & DJ Head)
This 26-second radio snippet features the voices of Proof and DJ Head introducing Infinite‘s third track, “It’s OK.”
3 – It’s OK (ft. Eye-Kyu)
On “It’s OK,” Em highlights his struggles as as an underground emcee trying to blow, and makes it clear that he had no plans to give up despite slipping and falling in the past.
My destiny’s to rest at ease, ’til I’m impressed and pleased
With my progress, I won’t settle for less than cheese
I’m on a quest to seize all, my own label to call
Way before my baby is able to crawl
I’m too stable to fall, the pressure motivates
To know I hold the weight of boulders on my shoulder blades
Throughout the song’s second and final verse, following Eye-Kyu’s vocals on the hook, Eminem discusses how poverty often leads to poor decision making and how he productively avoids that path through his music.
I’m using smarter tactics to overcome this slum
I won’t become as dumb as some and succumb to scum
4 – 313 (ft. Eye-Kyu)
Eye-Kyu rejoins Em on “313,” southern Michigan’s area code, and this time he contributes vocals over the hook in addition to the track’s initial 16-bar verse.
On top of another underground boom bap cut from Mr. Porter, Em and Kyu’s heavy lyrical collaboration can be described as “punchlines galore.” Eminem, as expected, especially attacks the mic with a slew of clever knockout blows.
You can be Run-D, you’ll never be the MC
I’ll stop the alphabet at S and got it down to a T
You flowers got no clout with a thing
You could date a stick of dynamite and wouldn’t go out with a bang
I’m greeted with flocks, of fellow followers’ singers
You couldn’t make the fans throw up their hands if they swallowed their fingers
Cause you can be quick, jump the candlestick, burn your back
And fuck Jill on a hill, but you still ain’t Jack
Game, set, match.
5 – Tonite
“Tonite” is a radio-friendly record that showcases Em’s intricate rhyme schemes and impeccable delivery as he flaunts his superiority on the mic. The second of three verses touches on, and subsequently buries, unoriginal emcees who thrive off of other artists’ styles.
Ayo, biters are like tarantulas, vandalous
Living as scandalous as a television evangelist
But I can handle this, I’m the rhyme biter crime fighter
Caped crusader, taking care of undeserving lime lighters
I think we live in an era meant for me
Experimentally I found a way to spread the terror mentally
Em cleverly rests his case with some outstanding word bending to cap off the verse:
Talking that junk like you went black, guarded your back
Come to battle me and you get smacked as hard as you act
I rep-er-esent it and will have a referee in it
Ev-ery minute so when I win it you never resent it
6 -Maxine (ft. Mr. Porter & Three)
“Maxine” is everywhere in every section of the world. Eminem, Mr. Porter and Three paint the picture of an inner-city woman who got swallowed up by the belly of the beast. She’ll do anything for a buck to remedy her itch for next crack fix, and as a result she’s burning like an oven at 450 degrees.
Don’t stick your nuggets in that oven.
7 – Open Mic (ft. Thyme)
“Open Mic” takes emcees back to the battle rap scene, where Eminem built a reputation for himself in the first place. Em would frequently catch wreck on competition in Detroit’s highly publicized battleground known as the “hip hop shop.” If you got a chance to grace the mic and failed to bring the ruckus, the crowd would let you know about it just as Thyme does over the hook. Needless to say, Em comes correct.
Wicked wizardry, like a sorcerer and no remorse for you
When I torture you throughout the course of my orchestra
So feel the force of my spiritual images
Slicing up an enemy’s appendages till he hemorrhages
My skin itches every time a rapper recites
And when he’s through with his verse, I’m all covered in flea bites
You wanna see fights I got a match for you
You couldn’t flip shit playing in toilets with a spatula
Whoever passed Eminem the mic knew he could flow. No need to point him out, however, as Proof routinely hosted battles at the hip hop shop.
You bitches get a hysterectomy disrespecting me
You wanna feel the full effect of me, hand a tech to me
Intellectually superior, I’ll make the whack wearier
Inferior, deteriorate, like bacteria
Materially, killing serially, clearly you’ll see
How much in fear when you hear me you’ll be
8 – Never 2 Far
Similar to the subject matter of “Tonite,” Eminem uses his spectacular vernacular to describe the thought process of a hungry emcee experiencing financial struggle. However, you’re “Never 2 Far” to get where you want to be in life, as long as you maintain motivational persistence.
The message is no matter how hard it gets, don’t give up on yourself. Strive and you will survive.
9 – Searchin’ (ft. Eye-Kyu)
“Searchin'” is all about Eminem’s quest to eventually find true love, a goal many people can relate to. If you’re laughing right now, I don’t blame you. That’s quite a flashback for a guy who went on to make multiple songs about killing his wife later in his career.
If you look beyond the irony of the track’s subject matter, you’ll find an exceptionally-written ode to Slim Shady and Eye-Kyu’s inner romantic.
10 – Backstabber
A year prior to Infinite‘s release, Eminem collaborated with producer Manix to form Soul Intent, a short-lived group that would put out a self-titled EP in 1995. One of the five tracks from the EP is called “Fuckin’ Backstabber,” where Em spits flows with a style that completely reminds you of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
Infinite‘s “Backstabber” acts as a new and improved sequel, where Em spits a quadrant of four-bar verses about a snake of a man who did him wrong behind his back and made a run at his girl.
11 – Jealousy Woes II
Mr. Porter samples “Jealous” from 1989 album Walking With a Panther by LL Cool J, one of Eminem’s idols growing up, as Em profiles relationship issues and his bouts with jealous women. The story highlights a girl who traps Em with lust, kicks him to the curb because of his financial status and then comes crawling back to him, begging for forgiveness once he found success.
We all know at least one person that has been in a similar situation, perhaps excluding the part where that person grew into a hip hop legend.
I fell apart when you departed then the joking started
I was an open target, you play comedian
And I became the laughing stock. but now I’m on my feet again
And so we meet again, your acting like an ex-wife
All in my sex life, I got a message from Phife
He goes, “You didn’t want me to see you then, I don’t want you now”
Take a towel, wipe your brow, quit trying to hunt me down
You run me down and now your trying to apologize
For all the lies and every time you made me ball my eyes
Because I got a bigger wallet size, you wanna swing it
Jealousy is in the house ya’ll, Fellas sing it…
All 11 of Infinite‘s tracks were produced by D12’s Mr. Porter, while Peter Schorn and the Bass Brothers helped with the mixing and mastered the record.
As Em was trying to find himself as an emcee, Mr. Porter was finding his niche as a producer. It’s safe to say that both of them have come a long way since, but that’s not to discredit their work on this album. Infinite lacked commercial production and the infusion of originality to reach the plateau it sought after, but that doesn’t diminish its quality. While Eminem had yet to develop his style at the time of Infinite‘s release, from a technical perspective, it features some of his most impressive work. His pen game was especially sharp, as just about every syllable is connected to another and his storytelling ability shines through with lyricism that paints a picture with incredible detail.
Infinite often finds itself lost in the shuffle, but don’t let it slip your mind. Don’t let its sales turn you away, either. You would be missing out, big time.
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