Eminem was the first introduction to the world of hip-hop for millions, acting as a gateway drug to the genre, opening hearts and minds to a plethora of work that infiltrated the mainstream and usurped the pop princesses of the day. Em was the first chapter in many people’s journey to a library of songs and albums, and it’s a journey he shared when delving deep into the history of hip-hop.
In 1997, Eminem’s life changed forever when he went from being a local hero in Detroit – thanks to his rap battle antics – to becoming a global superstar after he was picked up by Dr Dre. It was here that Eminem developed a scything tongue and the kind of inner pen that few could contend with.
Before getting spotted by Dre and Interscope Records, Eminem never envisaged that he would become the most famous rapper on the planet and, in truth, solidifying mainstream success seemed like an improbable dream. Then, his life dramatically changed in a short time, and the music world was suddenly talking about the real Slim Shady.
After developing his Slim Shady alter-ego, Eminem had the perfect vehicle to plough all his pent-up anger into, unleashing a style and flow that made him an unstoppable and unique talent. Listening to rap music changed Eminem’s life; it allowed him to express himself fully and become the heroic lyricist we now know him to be.
Below, we dive into the annotations of Eminem’s best lyrics from the man himself.
Eminem explains his lyrics
‘Just Don’t Give a Fuck’ (1999)
“So put my tape back on the rack/Go run and tell your friends my shit is wack”
“When we put [the 1996 debut album] Infinite out, it was local. We pressed up under a thousand, initially. We expected we’d be able to get something with it, though,” Em told Rolling Stone.
“When that didn’t happen, it was really deflating. People were saying that I sounded like AZ and Nas. I was upset. Not to say that I didn’t love AZ and Nas, but for a rapper to be compared to someone, for people to say that you sound like someone else — nobody wants that. I had to go back to the drawing board. So I remember getting mad. I was like, ‘I’m gonna rap like I don’t care anymore. Fuck it.’ I started to write angry songs like ‘Just Don’t Give a Fuck.’”
‘My Name Is’ (1999)
Do you like violence?
Wanna see me stick Nine Inch Nails, through each one of my eyelids?
Wanna copy me and do exactly like I did?
Try acid and get fucked up worse that my life is?“
“We saw [the video] for the first time on MTV. It came on really late at night. That’s when it was like, ‘OK, this isn’t a joke anymore.’ We had kind of felt that, being in the studio with Dre and shit. But once that single came out, my life changed like that. Within a day. Just going outside. I couldn’t go outside anymore. In a day.”
Because of the seismic impact of the song, Eminem preferred to explain the entire track. “It went from the day before, doing whatever the fuck I wanted to do, because nobody knew who the fuck I was, to holy shit, people are fucking following us. It was crazy. That’s when shit just got really — it was a lot to deal with at once.
‘Sing for the Moment’ (2003)
“These ideas are, nightmares to white parents
Whose worst fear is a child with dyed hair and who likes earrings
Like whatever they say has no bearing
It’s so scary in a house that allows, no swearing
To see him walking around with his headphones blaring
Alone in his own zone, cold and he don’t care
He’s a problem child, and what bothers him all comes out
When he talks about, his f- dad walking out
‘Cause he hates him so bad that he, blocks him out
If he ever saw him again he’d probably knock him out
His thoughts are whacked, he’s mad so he’s talking back
Talking black, brainwashed from rock and rap
He sags his pants, doo-rags and a stocking cap
His step-father hit him so he socked him back
And broke his nose, his house is a broken home
There’s no control, he just lets his emotions go”
This track offered Eminem a chance to hit back at his critics: “This is where I was dealing with critics who didn’t understand why people were identifying with me. I realised I was becoming like the rappers that I looked up to as a kid. I identified with and loved LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. I felt like if everybody didn’t understand their music, it didn’t matter — they were speaking to me.
“So that’s what I was trying to make people realize on this track. I may not be shit to you, but there’s a kid in fucking Nebraska, or somewhere, that I’m talking to. I don’t care if you’re listening, because he’s listening. That’s who I’m directing my material at.”
‘Rap God’ (2013)
“Ungh, school flunky, pill junkie/But look at the accolades, these skills brung me”
Perhaps Eminem’s most recent hit, ‘Rap God’ saw Em position himself as a saviour of hip hop. “I don’t ever want to be too braggadocious. If I’m going to brag, let me pull it back with lines like ‘school flunky, pill junkie.’ I’m a fucking waste of life. I’m a waste of sperm. I am a fucking outcast of society, I am a piece of shit. But I know how to rap.
“Other than that, I’m a fucking scumbag. I’m worthless. Or this is what I’ve been told.”
‘Shady XV’ (2014)
“I slap Linda Ronstadt with a lobster, throw her off a balcony/Just so happens she’s fond of algae”
Eminem has never been afraid to push the envelope, and he didn’t hold back in 2014: “Let’s say I’m writing, and I lock onto Linda Ronstadt. I’m in the studio, and I chuckle. Someone hears me and is like, ‘What the fuck are you laughing at?’ It’s because I thought of something funny that rhymes with something. I’m not gonna not say this, because it’s funny, regardless of whether or not it’s fucked up.
“If it happens to connect and there’s some kind of humour in it, some reason for it to rhyme with something else, then I’m going to say it.”