When Eminem emerged on the national scene, he seemed like such a market-driven creation -- a pasty MC working overtime to shock clueless middlebrows -- that I couldn't believe his shtick would have much staying power. In April 1999, I committed this theory to print, predicting that he would "be disappearing soon."

Obviously, long-distance forecasting isn't one of my strong suits.

Mr. Mathers remains one of the most wildly overpraised artists of his generation; he's frequently rated a genius by mainstream critics who probably don't like hip-hop much, but know they have to salute some of it or else seem totally out of touch. Yet he's a more interesting songwriter than I initially perceived, especially when he's not simply goofing on his persona and/or pushing the buttons of the easily outraged. On D12 World, he is.

Em makes only sporadic appearances on his second disc with Detroit cronies Bizarre, Swift, Kon Artis, Kuniva and Proof, and while he takes a passing swing at depth on "How Come," he doesn't break a sweat elsewhere. As a result, the supporting cast is thrust into the spotlight. But only Bizarre has a distinctive flow, and the lyrics the others invent aren't nearly as scandalous as they seem to believe. The production, meanwhile, makes repeated use of cliched gun blasts, gut-shooting freshness in the process.

"My Band," a catchy tune that wisely transforms the group's dynamic into situation comedy, is the standout here. The good will it engenders should keep Eminem in the public eye until his next solo CD, which seems to be the real purpose of D12 World. At this point, even I realize he's not going anywhere.


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