Why Eminem Doesn’t Need to Be Great to Keep Winning

There's a good reason why "Curtain Call" is Eminem’s fastest selling album right now.

As you may have heard, Eminem made a surprise return last week with the release of “Campaign Speech.” The record is an impressive and, at times, hilarious lyrical marathon in which Shady imagines giving a bunch of Trump supporters a spray tan and serving George Zimmerman true justice.

But as an actual piece of music that can be enjoyed not only for its lyrics, but its melody, creativity and all that other important stuff, “Campaign Speech” is the latest in a recent series of disappointing Eminem songs (“Kings Never Die,” “Phenomenal,” “Guts Over Fear”—the list goes on). You might as well be nodding your head to a King of the Dot rap battle.

I get it, “Campaign Speech” isn’t supposed to be a single. The track isn’t aimed at the radio or the charts—or anyone who enjoys a good beat, for that matter—and it might not even appear on Eminem’s upcoming album. Marshall was just clearing the cobwebs before putting out his proper single, which will achieve everything “Campaign Speech” didn’t with a single Rihanna or Skylar Grey hook (just you watch).

However, as “Campaign Speech"—and much of his recent output—shows, no matter how far Eminem falls from grace, the wins keep on piling up.

Earlier this week, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) announced that Eminem’s 2005 compilation album, Curtain Call: The Hits, has been certified 7x Platinum. For those that don’t speak metal, the album has sold over seven million copies in the United States alone. That’s not too surprising for an artist who already has two diamond (10 million sales) albums, The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show, to his name, along with a whole trophy cabinet filled with multi-Platinum plaques.

What is most interesting about this achievement, however, is that in November 2013, sales for Curtain Call: The Hits stood at 3,782,000, according to Nielsen Soundscan, which is just over half its total today. A greatest hits album that came out a decade ago selling an average of more than a million copies each year for three years (without the artist dying) is nothing short of astonishing, even by Eminem’s standards.

There are a couple of possible explanations. For starters, Eminem is a commercial monster. No matter what year it is, the man is selling records. But he sells an even greater number of records, both new and old, every time he comes out with fresh material. When The Marshall Mathers LP 2 went berzerk on the Billboard 200 in November 2013, selling a whopping 792,000 copies in its first week, so too did The Marshall Mathers LP, which climbed from No. 106 to No. 30. When Recovery topped the chart back in 2010, Curtain Calljumped 45 spots.

This trend isn’t unique to Eminem. You see sales spikes everywhere: Prince albums jumped 40,000% in sales after his death; Monica’s 2003 single “So Gone” saw a 200% increase in streams after the #SoGoneChallenge swept social media; and Beyoncé’s Lemonade album boosted sales of actual lemonade. So it’s not crazy to think “Campaign Speech” helped Curtain Call inch past the seven-million mark this last week.

But maybe Curtain Call: The Hits being the fastest selling album in his catalog says more about Eminem than just, “he‘s really popular.” The fact that so many people are buying and streaming his greatest hits album might be because his current music just isn’t that good. Together, Relapse, Recovery and MMLP2 earned Eminem millions in sales and a few extra GRAMMYs, yet only one album (MMPL2) scores higher than 70 on Metacritic.

That’s not to say you should take professional reviews as gospel, but any self-respecting Eminem fan who was around for his late ‘90s/early ‘00s prime would be kidding themselves to say otherwise (ask Earl Sweatshirt). When an artist puts out corny pop songs like “The Monster” one minute and an eight-minute battle rap verse like “Campaign Speech” the next, it makes sense why people go revisit—or for younger fans, discover—the point in their career that made everyone love them so much. And what better place to start than a greatest hits album?

Who knows what Eminem’s next album holds in store. It could be another mediocre collection of shouty pop songs with way more Skylar Grey hooks than anyone asked for. Or it could be the raw, uncompromising album we’ve all been wanting Slim to make, featuring nothing but El-P and DJ Premier production. I mean, it’s not like Eminem needs a radio hit to sell records.

Regardless of how good his new music is (or isn’t), one thing’s for sure: legacy is all Eminem needs to survive.


By Andy James, who will happily accept all slander from Eminem stans on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Tumblr



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