The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath/Interscope)

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The music industry is a business in which knowing the market and meeting its desires are the only standards that matter. And by those criteria -- chart positions and profit margins -- The Marshall Mathers LP is one of the best albums you'll ever hear. It's a commercial masterpiece.

Part comedian, part social commentator and all nuevo-gangster, Eminem, the rapper/MTV action figure (new from Kenner!) is back, and he looks and sounds comfortable inside the bubble packaging. Almost every song contains music so light, so insidiously catchy that the accompanying one-liners and sugar-rush style and shocking lyrics (which these days are commonly mistaken for dope emceeing) make for perversely enjoyable listening; Eminem is to rap what Britney Spears is to pop, were she singing about cunnilingus -- or were 'N Sync covering AMG's "Bitch Better Have My Money."

The hardcore and underground fans, now only a fraction of the rap-buying public, may shudder at the thought of such combinations, but Marshall hasn't forgotten you. There are a couple of salvageable tracks, enhanced with guest appearances and, of course, Dr. Dre's pristine production.

For his homies, "Bitch Please II" is gun-clapping G-hop that mixes lollipop melody with an umphalumping bounce. "Real" G's will note the appearance of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg-- who, incidentally, calls Eminem, his "li'l nephew"-- with fellow West Coast all-stars Xzibit (Likwit Crew) and Nate Dogg (from the defunct Death Row Records). Despite Eminem's running joke/life-of-high-school silliness, the song manages to be macabre enough for each guest to retain his card-carrying hardcore status.

For the "headz" who enjoy battle-style delivery in cipheresque settings, "Under the Influence" takes Eminem's vomit-core theme and lets D-12, his crew of emcees, run with it. It's not a masterpiece, or even the best from Eminem, but a pleasant surprise for fans of his early stuff, who beg for his smartass lyrics to pack more poetically palatable punch.

Overall, the real star of The Marshall Mathers LP is executive producer Dre, who earned his fame with the original mass-marketed gangstas, NWA; he couldn't make bad music if he tried, and his co-production with Mel-Man on several tracks suggests he won't tolerate his team's making bad music, either. Most of the songs are mixed by Dre; even when he doesn't help out on the production end, the songs still sound damn near perfect. But it's disappointing to think that a producer of Dre's caliber and a rapper of Eminem's haven't created a product with more artistic merit, with the clever lyrical content and metaphoric depth of "Bad Meets Evil" on Em's '99 debut, The Slim Shady LP, and beats that are as undeniably dope as Dr. Dre's "Nothin' But a 'G' Thang" and "Deep Cover."

Nevertheless, if what you want is good background music for partying in the deuce-triple-mark, look no further. The Marshall Mathers LP is sure to be played at least once on every stereo on the planet.

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