Ring-around-the-rosie, the show's over, you can all go home now
But the curtain just don't close for me, this ain't how fame was supposed to be
Where's the switch I could just turn off-and-on? This ain't what I chose to be
So please, God, give me the strength to have what it takes to carry on
'Til I pass 50 back the baton, the camera's on, my soul is gone!
Encore is the fifth studio album by Eminem, released on November 12, 2004. The album is a sequel to The Eminem Show, featuring similar lyrical themes about Eminem's fame and chaotic personal life, the political situation, and Horrible Hollywood, but expanding the remit to cover Eminem's new life as the mogul of Shady Records, the fallout of his beefs, his regrets over the misery he caused, and provide a swan-song for Slim Shady — who is killed off at the end of the album. With a somewhat Troubled Production plagued by leaks and Eminem's drug addiction, and getting mixed reviews, it is considered to be the album that ended Eminem's golden age, to the extent that Eminem himself apologised for the album in 2010's Recovery. Nevertheless, it has a cult following for its lunatic, freestyled rapping, nihilistic and giddy Black Comedy, and stirring ballads and chestbeaters that — most shocking of all — introduced a mature Eminem to audiences for the first time, prefiguring 2010's Recovery.
In 2003, a CD Eminem had burned for his brother Nathan, with tracks for the album that would later become Encore, was stolen and turned into a bootleg mixtape, forcing Eminem to scrap the original tracklist (which had been mostly Diss Tracks aimed at his foe Benzino). Getting it into his head that he needed to recapture the spontaneity of his The Slim Shady LP days, Eminem holed up in a studio in Orlando with Dr. Dre, and recorded a large number of songs written mostly by freestyling (rather than his typical method of working them out on paper).
While Dr. Dre and Mike Elizondo (Dre's session bassist) remember the Encore recording session as a positive experience, describing a motivated and playful Eminem flexing his songwriting genius, Eminem's memories of the recording session are darker. After coming off probation for his 2000 assault charge in 2003, Eminem — no longer subject to random drugs testing — developed an addiction to Ambien. Depressed and trying to hide the extent of it from his friends and family, he wrote most of Encore while gobbling handfuls of pills, and his flow on the album is slurred, disjointed and dissociated, with unintuitive meters and tortured Painful Rhymes.
Since 2002, hip-hop had changed. The dominant styles were hooky snap and crunk from the South, Commercial Gangsta Rap starring Eminem's own protégé 50 Cent, and the new critical darling of Kanye West, whose everyman persona and soulful production could not have been further from Eminem's psycho-brat persona and plastic-classical sound. The material on Encore is influenced by the new trends — looking to Ye when chipmunking kitchy-pop samples in "Like Toy Soldiers", looking to snap with repeating lines and swaggering hooks, telling gangland tales in "One Shot 2 Shot", and — most significantly — affecting a crunkish Southern accent. While Eminem had dabbled in accents in The Eminem Show's "Square Dance" and "Superman", by Encore Em was firmly in his "accent phase"; he would continue to explore the creative possibilities of stupid accents in the next few years, culminating in 2009's Relapse.
Just as Eminem's mainstreaming by the success of 8 Mile was leading to inevitable Hype Backlash, his beef with his self-declared archnemesis Benzino damaged his reputation. Trying to smear Eminem as a closet racist, Benzino had used his magazine The Source to spread recordings of a teenage Eminem performing two racist songs. While The Source would fire Benzino and Eminem would be credited with ending his career, the negative publicity caught Eminem in the wrong kind of controversy — Encore's lead single "Just Lose It" contained swipes at Michael Jackson for his child molestation charges, which in the context of the racist songs was interpreted by many prominent Black musicians and commentators as a racist swipe against the world's most successful Black musician. The song being a formulaic remake of "Without Me" and "The Real Slim Shady" didn't help much. The second single for the album, "Mosh", a Protest Song calling for his fans to unseat George Bush in the election, got a much more positive response from fans and critics, though was released after the voter registration deadline. (Eminem had wanted "Mosh" to be the lead single, which would have prevented this problem, but had been forced to record and release "Just Lose It" due to Executive Meddling.)
Encore is known for its Cerebus Rollercoaster content. The midsection of the album is Piss-Take Rap. Slim raps more like a cartoon ever before, repeating himself, rewinding the tape, forgetting his lyrics, clucking like a chicken, morphing into a gay homophobic pastor or escaping censure by becoming a German hand puppet, antagonising his haters with sadistic stage hypnotism, yelling in the voice of Pee-Wee Herman, getting death threats from Christopher Reeve, and vomiting at the thought of his ex-wife (who had gone on the lam from a cocaine charge). Skits have Eminem playing with an electrolarynx and literally recording the sound of him taking a shit (Eminem considered this to be the "funniest, most fucked up" thing he ever did). But on either sides of the silly bit of Encore, the 31-year-old Eminem displays growing maturity — apologising for the racist songs in "Yellow Brick Road", telling the story of his past poverty to his daughter in "Mockingbird", and delivering the showstopper power ballad "Like Toy Soldiers" about walking away from his beefs. Wilder still, the album contains love songs, arguably the most shocking thing on the album to 2004 audiences who considered him an arch-misogynist. And Eminem, who had done intensive vocal coaching with Roger Love in 2003, experiments with singing entire songs for the first time, as well as trialling slurry melodic flows that prefigure "mumble rap" by nearly a decade.
Encore had the biggest selling debut in hip-hop history, but has had a complicated legacy. Fans commonly regard it as one of Eminem's worst, and Eminem is still apologising for it. However, Danny Brown cites it as his favourite Eminem album and a major influence on his style, particularly the song "Rain Man". Other surprising fans of Encore include The Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie Watts, Rosie O'Donnell, who was influenced by "Evil Deeds" in her book Celebrity Detox, and Eminem's old nemesis Moby, who was willing to set his differences aside to praise "Mosh". Eminem's virtuosic and perfectionistic later work has also led to Encore gaining retroactive praise for its spontaneity and humour — Slim would not be heard going off-the-top on an album again until 2018's Kamikaze, and he wouldn't be this goofy again until 2020's "Key (Skit)".
- "Curtains Up" (Skit)
- "Evil Deeds"
- "Never Enough" (Ft. 50 Cent & Nate Dogg)
- "Yellow Brick Road"
- "My 1st Single"
- "Paul" (Skit)
- "Rain Man"
- "Big Weenie"
- "Em Calls Paul" (Skit)
- "Just Lose It"
- "Ass Like That"
- "Spend Some Time" (Ft. 50 Cent, Obie Trice & Stat Quo)
- "Crazy In Love"
- "One Shot 2 Shot"
- "Final Thought" (Skit)
- "Encore / Curtains Down (Ft. 50 Cent & Dr. Dre)
- "We As Americans"
- "Love You More"
- "Ricky Ticky Toc"
I Done Troped On Everythin' But Little Boys!:
- Antagonist in Mourning: In "My 1st Single", Slim pours one out for the departed Christopher Reeve, who informs him that once he dies, he'll kick his ass for the shit he said about him. "Rain Man" reveals Slim feels responsible for having killed him, thinking he hexed him by misplacing a sticker of Superman on his fridge as a child.
- Beleaguered Assistant: In "Ass Like That", Triumph-Slim calls for his lawyer to keep the cops from hauling him off, but then discovers he's too busy dealing with Michael Jackson suing him for "Just Lose It".
- Biggus Dickus: "My weenie is much bigger than yours is. Mine is like sticking a banana between two oranges."
- Big, Stupid Doodoo-Head: Slim uses a lot of playground mudslinging on the album — giggling at "poo poo ca ca", telling Benzino that's he's a "meanie", and singing to Kim that "I hope you go to Hell and Satan sticks a needle in your eye".
- Boastful Rap: "Never Enough", "Encore".
- Bottom of the Barrel Joke: Slim finishes off serious songs with sudden vulgarities twice:
- Bullying the Disabled: Slim's railing against Christopher Reeve, his references to Rain Man, and his mockery of disabled people with his electrolarynx, all of which adds up not to downpunching shock comedy but to the vibe that Slim himself is severely disabled and sick.
- Celebrity Is Overrated: "Evil Deeds" is dedicated to the fact that Eminem can't stop being famous and can't even take his daughter to the theme park.
- Concept Album: The album is themed around Slim having a mental breakdown and committing a mass shooting of his audience, before turning the gun on himself.
- Depraved Dentist: Slim briefly slips into character as one to antagonise Benzino about his dental health in a particularly bizarre passage in "Big Weenie".
- Demonic Possession: Eminem is possessed by the Devil and his new name is... "Rain Man".
- Denser and Wackier: Differing from the disturbing violence of previous albums, Encore is filled with free-associating, goofy Surreal Humor that seeks to confuse and annoy the audience rather than scandalise them.
- Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Hailie was born on December 25th, so the second verse of "Mockingbird" tells the story of Hailie's first birthday, revolving around how Marshall was too poor to put presents under the tree for her.
- Diss Track: Despite swearing off beeves in "Like Toy Soldiers", "Big Weenie" is a diss aimed at Benzino. However, it's far too silly to be worthy of retaliation and seems to be a parody of the entire concept of diss tracks at all.
- Domestic Abuser: The object of "Crazy In Love" and "Love You More" (an obvious No Celebrities Were Harmed of his wife, Kim) is a violent abuser, which turns Slim on.
- Everything Is Racist: Benzino in "My 1st Single" rails against Justin Timberlake for making a grunting noise that sounds a bit like the N-word... in an underage sex tape of him taking Britney's virginity.
- Happily Adopted: Eminem had just adopted another child at this point — his niece, Alaina — and part of "Mockingbird" is dedicated to assuring her that he loves her just as much as his biological daughter, Hailie. He even asks Lainie to call him "Daddy", saying it has a nice ring to it.
- Horrible Hollywood: A main theme this time around is rampant sexual abuse and perversion within the entertainment industry and how it's both exploited and covered up. "Just Lose It" and "Ass Like That" reference Michael Jackson's child molestation charges, Paul Reubens's arrest for public masturbation, and R. Kelly's repeated sexual abuse of underage Black girls. "My 1st Single" parodies the obsession with Britney Spears's virginity.
- Idiot Savant: "Rain Man", an absurd rambling freestyle, is about the idea that Eminem is a genius rapper and a failure at everything else. It ended up becoming a significant song to Eminem and a big part of his personal mythology, with him referring to himself as "the Rain Man of rap" as a title in multiple later songs.
- Insult Comic: Slim analogises himself to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a ridiculous sockpuppet that allows him to get away with insulting celebrities for fun.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: "Evil Deeds" goes through versions of "Mama Had A Baby And Its Head Popped Off" and "Mary Had A Little Lamb" to reflect Slim being born an insane, hated child. "Puke" uses a variation of "Cross My Heart, Hope To Die" to insult Kim, and "Mockingbird" is a mostly unironic version of "Hush Little Baby, Don't Say A Word".
- I Will Fight No More Forever: "Like Toy Soldiers" is a graceful swearing off of beef, which Em had spent the previous years pointlessly escalating due to his Hair-Trigger Temper. It's a major moment of Character Development.
- Jailbait Taboo: "Ass Like That" mocks R. Kelly's predation of teen girls, and the adult obsession with barely legal starlets like the Olsen Twins, Jojo and Hillary Duff (who was apparently delighted by the shoutout). "My 1st Single" has a verse touching on the public obsession with the virginity of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears.
- Kinder and Cleaner: After cutting back on shock content on The Eminem Show, Encore shows Eminem reintroducing it in a more toned-down form for a Black Comedy album. It is notable for not containing any homophobia (a whole verse of "Rain Man" is dedicated to mocking homophobes). There's only a couple of references to drugs ("Big Weenie" mentions ecstasy), the misogyny is in comedic love songs, and "One Shot 2 Shot" and the "Curtains Down" skit are the only violent moments on the album. Eminem still makes jokes mocking disabled people, but they're rather abstract and confusing.
- Lightmare Fuel: While Encore is not strictly Horrorcore, the comedy on the album has an unsettling feeling of a man losing his mind. This is intentional, as the album ends with Slim committing suicide.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Big Weenie" has an extremely sinister, pulsing beat suggesting dark, lurking evil. It's one of the silliest songs on the album.
- Murder-Suicide: The album ends with Slim committing a mass shooting before turning the gun on himself, reflecting Eminem's desire to retire.
- Musicalus Interruptus: Dre gets bored and falls asleep during "Rain Man", causing the beat to stop until Slim rouses him.
- Mystical Hollywood: Multiple songs throughout the album suggest Eminem became famous at the cost of his soul, and is possessed by a demon. The music video for "Ass Like That" shows Eminem undergoing a sort of supernatural possession from Triumph.
- Origins Episode:
- "Evil Deeds" is an origin story for Slim Shady, going from his childhood as 'Satan spawn' to him becoming a dysfunctional megastar.
- Eminem normally skipped over his time in the white rap group Soul Intent in interviews; "Yellow Brick Road" is the first time Eminem ever told stories about this time in his life, and serves to discuss the time he first became a rapper.
- Pædo Hunt: "Just Lose It" mocks Michael Jackson's bed-sharing, while "Ass Like That" touches on his alleged use of "Jesus juice" to seduce children.
- Parental Love Song: "Mockingbird" is a love song from Marshall to his daughters, explaining that he loves them and so does their mother.
- Pretty Fly for a White Guy: "Yellow Brick Road" tells a bleakly hilarious story about Eminem and his white rapper friends getting beaten up by Black kids in the mall for wearing Flava Flav clock medallions.
- Protest Song: "Mosh" is against the Iraq War and President George W Bush. To a lesser extent, it's also a fantasy of rap music ending racism.
- Pop Rap: One of Em's most playful and catchy albums, with several tracks where he sings in a pop style rather than raps. "Like Toy Soldiers" also calls forward to the stadium power-ballad style that would become a signature starting from Recovery.
- Rage Against the Author: Unlike most of Eminem's characters, who he's able to deflect into tussling with Slim, Christopher Reeve is smart enough to rail against The Storyteller Eminem for writing and performing this disgusting shit about him.
- Robo Speak: Slim's electrolarynx, used throughout the skits.
- "Just Joking" Justification: "Ass Like That" is a parody of this argument.
- Self Botched Catchphrase: In "Rain Man" — "Hi! My name is... I forgot my name!"
- Sex Is Good: In "Crazy In Love", one of the reasons Slim thinks his girl is perfect is because she loves sex. She carries around sex toys, masturbates so often that she doesn't even feel it any more, and Slim can fuck her without a condom.
- Shifting Voice of Madness: Slim's flipping between multiple accents and characters, and the disjointed rapping style he uses, gives the impression of his impending mental breakdown.
- So Unfunny, It's Funny: The hook of "Big Weenie" is an overwrought and complex mass of syllables excoriating Benzino that lands on the pathetic punchline of "because you're a meanie. A meanie."
- Spark of the Rebellion: In "Mosh", Eminem fantasises about starting a revolution, in which his music "provides just enough spark" to allow the people to rise up against the corrupt government and end the war.
- Stress Vomit: Not Eminem's first (or most famous) use of this trope. In "Puke", thinking about Kim's irresponsible behaviour stresses Slim out so much that he uncontrollably vomits. In "Evil Deeds", he's so stressed out from being famous that he threatens to projectile vomit on anyone who isn't taking him seriously.
- Surreal Humor: Many of the jokes here begin to rely on Eminem's baroque personal imagery of childhood, Tabloid Melodrama and stupid voices.
- This Is a Song: "Puke" dedicates rather a lot of its runtime to explaining that it's an off-the-dome freestyle.
- Throwing Out the Script: In "Big Weenie", Slim feigns that he's forgotten his lyrics, before revealing it's a psych-out and throwing away his paper to freestyle the rest of the song.
- Toilet Humor: The shock comedy this time around is heavily based on toilet functions. Even the sedate "Yellow Brick Road" has a burp in the intro.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: "Puke" includes lots of vividly accurate vomiting noises.
- What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: At the time Eminem made Encore, he'd told the press he'd quit drugs. "Big Weenie" therefore mocks the idea of Eminem needing drugs to be able to rap, saying his haters want to see him out of his mind on drugs, and dying. Unfortunately, in reality, the album was made on drugs. Eminem would check himself into rehab for the first time only a few months after the album came out. (He would eventually get clean for good in 2008.)
- You're Just Jealous: The hook of "Big Weenie" has Slim tell this to Benzino.