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Hip hop superstar Eminem can't get his mind off television

Tom Horgen

Eminem is a pop culture addict. Thoughts of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Paris Hilton dance around in his head like little kids on Jacko’s bed. This addiction serves him as both vice and virtue, making him a slave to pop culture and a demigod who rules over it.

The rapper has relished in his job as culture commentator: a watchdog snapping his jaws at “Total Request Live” regulars and politically correct terms he doesn’t like. But with his new album, “Encore,” he’s past the point of no return, merging completely with the pop culture machine he so disdains.

Eminem can’t help speaking in its language, telling his life story in pop culture proverbs. He sings about his daughter, his daughter’s mother and his hit biopic, and intertwines these themes with familiar tracks from the pop culture jukebox.

Some of this hipper-than-thou wallowing is good. He opens the album gloriously, with songs such as “Yellow Brick Road,” in which he confronts his own racist, 10-year-old lyrics that The Source magazine unearthed earlier this year. He’s at his most personal in these moments, letting us in further than we’ve ever been before.

“Evil Deeds” further explores the pain of his fatherless childhood. “Little Toy Soldiers” isn’t as much a new diss track to Benzino and Ja Rule but a genuine afterthought on how stupid rap beefs can be. He caps this block of great songs off with “Mosh,” his “Stomp, mush, shove, push, fuck Bush” song.

These serious, intelligent songs take Eminem down the path toward righteousness.

But then there’s a sudden screeeeeeeech in the album, like downshifting at 110 mph.

This is where his addiction takes over.

He unloads another block of songs that all lead up to the album’s first single, “Just Lose It.” The single is, in itself, a mockery of the formula Eminem uses to sell his records. He releases a catchy single that laments whatever teeny-bopper is hot at the time and then leaves the rest of the album to more daring, more intelligent songwriting.

Eminem knows how contrived his formula is, so he prefaces “Just Lose It” with a track called “My 1st Single,” which was supposed to be, as he says in the song, “Encore’s” first single. It’s a prototype of “Just Lose It” that had to be scrapped because excessive piss-and-fart jokes. Next is “Rain Man,” which is just a bunch of pop culture references muddled together for no reason. He ends the song rapping, “I just did a whole song and I didn’t say shit.” Indeed.

In the same block of songs, you’ll find “Ass Like That,” in which Eminem raps about the ills of pop culture in the voice of his culture-commentating rival, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. By now, you’ll have gotten the point that pop culture can get pretty grotesque, especially when you’re the king of it. But did he really have to rap an entire song in the voice of an angry puppet?

It’s clever of Eminem to identify his own absurdity, but he spends way too much time doing it on “Encore.” He excels at hard, infuriating songs like “Mosh,” but even then, he seems a bit out of touch. He released the video for the anti-Bush battle cry only one week before Nov. 2 – a little late in the game. Maybe the pop star was too caught up in making silly songs about his own legend to care about stuff that really matters.

No doubt, the drastic turn halfway through “Encore” – taking it from serious, hard-edged raps to pop culture tomfoolery – suggests Eminem might be high on his own supply. A king lost in his own kingdom.