Eminem, a.k.a. Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Slim Shady, is the most feared lyricist on the planet. He has been since his milestone Marshall Mathers LP tsunami-ed through the airwaves and changed Hip-Hop forever. “Rap God“, his latest single from The Marshall Mathers LP II, has reminded listeners just how fierce his mic skills remain. And although he set the Internet ablaze with the epic track, die-hard fans still agree, Em is just not the same caliber emcee we initially loved. The song, or perhaps Eminem as a writer, is still missing the “it” factor that wowed audiences into a frenzy. What exactly is he doing wrong?
Let’s look at his earlier, more acclaimed work and compare it with his contemporary writings.
“Lose Yourself” (Verse 1):
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already: mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth but the words won’t come out
He’s choking, how? Everybody’s joking now
The clock’s run out, time’s up, over – blaow!
Snap back to reality, oh! – there goes gravity Oh –
there goes Rabbit, he choked
He’s so mad, but he won’t
Give up that easy nope, he won’t have it He knows,
his whole back’s to these ropes
It don’t matter, he’s dope
He knows that, but he’s broke
He’s so stagnant, he knows
When he goes back to this mobile home,
that’s when it’s Back to the lab again, yo,
this whole rhapsody He better go capture this moment
and hope it don’t pass him
It’s a pretty immaculate 16, isn’t it? His rhymes don’t sound forced. He doesn’t use a double time tempo to stretch corny metaphors or wordplay. Instead, he uses multiple compound rhyme schemes throughout the verse, a complicated technique only the finest lyricists employ, and flows succinctly with the instrumental. It’s efficient storytelling and technical prowess wrapped in a lyrical bow.
Now, let’s contrast that verse with later material.
“Cinderella Man” (Verse 1):
There’s a storm coming that the weatherman couldn’t predict
I start the bug, prick you better, flee cause I get ticked
It’s a wrap, I was down, when I was down, I was kicked,
I got up I’m back to punch you to the ground, you trick,
it’s a trap Fuck my last CD, the shit’s in my trash
I be god damned if another rapper gets in my ass
I hit the gas and I spit every rap as if it’s my last
You can die in the blink of an eye So bat your eyelashes,
and keep winking and blowing kisses Cause you’re flirting with death
I’m destroying your livelihood, I ain’t just hurting your rep
I catch a flow and get going, no remorse I’m showing Ain’t slowing for no one,
knowing there is nothing you can do about it
Zero in on the target like a marksman,
the target is you
I shut your lane down, took your spot, parked in it too
Arsenic flow, lighter fluid saliva: what can you do?
Go get your crew to hype you up stand behind you like “whoooo!”
That boy’s hot enough to melt Hell, burn Satan too
Fry his ass and put his ashes back together with glue
See you can hate em, he don’t blame you frankly he would too
This game could ill afford to lose him, how ’bout you? Now guess who?
He begins the verse with juvenile wordplay (the “bug…flee…ticked” lines) and doesn’t upgrade. He’s still using compound schemes but that’s the only credit he earns here. His flow lacks a natural cadence and the entire verse is uninspired and generic. The rest of the song follows suit. It’s enjoyable mostly due to the production and back-up vocals and it’s unusual that any song feature steals the spotlight from Em’s verses.
We’ll revisit another exceptional performance as an example.
“My Name Is” (Verse 3):
Stop the tape This kid needs to be locked away
Dr. Dre don’t just stand there, operate
I’m not ready to leave, it’s too scary to die
I’ll have to be carried inside the cemetery and buried alive
Am I coming or going, I can barely decide
I just drank a fifth of vodka, dare me to drive
All my life I was very deprived
I ain’t had a woman in years My palms too hairy to hide
Clothes ripped like the Incredible Hulk
I spit when I talk, I’ll fuck anything that walks
When I was little I used to get so hungry I would throw fits
How you gonna breastfeed me Mom, you ain’t got no tits!
I lay awake and strap myself in the bed
Put a bulletproof vest on and shoot myself in the head
I’m steaming mad And by the way, when you see my Dad
Tell him that I slit his throat in this dream I had
Slim ‘s sarcastic lyricism is top notch on “My Name Is”. His inflection is well choreographed with the Dr. Dre beat and his trademark multisyllabic patterns are creative and entertaining. He also uses assonance for added effect. “It’s too SCARY to die, I’ll have to be CARRIED inside the cemeTARY and BURIED alive…” The chorus, infamously catchy, and the production, a stripped down Labi Siffre sample, is but an afterthought in the wake of Eminem’s charisma and technique.
Let’s compare this performance with another lackluster effort.
“Fast Lane” (Verse 2):
Catch me in my Mercedes Bumping Ice Ice Baby
Screamin’ Shady til I die Like a half a pair of dice, life’s crazy
So I live it to the fullest til I’m Swayze
And you only live it once
So I’m thinking bout this nice, nice lady
Wait, don’t stop me now fore I get on a roll (Danish)
Let me tell you what this pretty little dame’s name is cause she’s kinda famous
And I hope that I don’t sound too heinous when I say this
Nicki Minaj But I wanna stick my penis in your anus
You morons think that I’m a genius
Really I belong inside a dang insane asylum
Came to drive them trailer parks crazy
I am back And I am razor-sharp, baby
And that’s back with a capital B with an exclamation mark
Maybe you should listen when I flip the linguistics
Cause I’mma rip this mystical slick shit
You don’t wanna become another victim or statistic of this shit
Cause after I spit the bullets I’mma treat these shell casings like a soccer ball
I’mma kick the ballistics So get this dick, I’mma live this
The beat’s engaging drums and blaring bass are combined with a hearty chorus that just pulls the listener’s ear. But, unfortunately, Eminem’s verses practically push it away. These sped up paces are him practicing quantity over quality. The quicker he raps, the more rhymes he can stuff within his verse. However, the substandard puns and repulsing banter leave the fans altogether detached. There’s also no imagination to the bars. It’s verbose, bland, and unsophisticated.
Measure this work against his material on the original “Bad Meets Evil”.
I don’t speak, I float in the air wrapped in a sheet
I’m not a real person, I’m a ghost trapped in a beat
I translate when my voice is read
through a seismograph And a noise is bred,
picked up and transmitted through Royce’s head
Trap him in his room, possess him and hoist his bed
’til the evilness flows through his blood like poisonous lead
Told him each one of his boys is dead
I asked him to come to the dark side, he made a choice and said…
Cause this is what happens when Bad meets Evil
And we hit the trees til we look like Vietnamese people
He’s Evil, and I’m Bad like Steve Seagal
Above the law cause I don’t agree with police either (Shit, me neither)
We ain’t eager to be legal
So please leave me with the keys to your Jeep Eagle
I breathe ether in three lethal amounts
While I stab myself in the knee with a diseased needle
Releasing rage on anybody in squeezing range
Cold enough to make the seasons change into freezing rain (He’s insane)
No I’m not, I just want to shoot up and I’m pissed off Cause I can’t find a decent vein…
I used to be a loudmouth,
remember me? I’m the one who burned your house down,
well I’m out now
And this time I’m coming back to blow your house up
And I ain’t gon’ leave you a window to jump out of
Give me two fat tabs and three shrooms
And you won’t see me like fat people in steam rooms
And when I go to hell and I’m getting ready to leave
I’mma put air in a bag and charge people to breathe
Eminem exhibits astute lyricism and a self-assured flow in “Bad Meets Evil”. He’s humorous and his vernacular is technically impressive as he employs remarkable assonance in the second verse without altering his pace. It’s an ideal lyrical delivery that carefully carries the listener’s attention till its conclusion.
Lastly, we’ll examine “Rap God”.
But for me to rap like a computer must be in my genes
I got a laptop in my back pocket
My pen’ll go off when I half-cock it
Got a fat knot from that rap profit
Made a living and a killing off it
Ever since Bill Clinton was still in office
With Monica Lewinsky feeling on his nut-sack
I’m an MC still as honest
But as rude and as indecent as all hell
Syllables, killaholic (Kill ’em all with)
This slickety, gibbedy, hibbedy hip-hop
You don’t really wanna get into a pissing match with this rappidy rap
Packing a Mac in the back of the Ac, backpack rap crap, yep, yep, yackity-yak
Now at the exact same time
I attempt these lyrical acrobat stunts while I’m practicing that
I’ll still be able to break a motherfuckin’ table
Over the back of a couple of faggots and crack it in half
Only realized it was ironic I was signed to Aftermath after the fact
How could I not blow? All I do is drop F-bombs, feel my wrath of attack
Rappers are having a rough time period, here’s a maxipad
It’s actually disastrously bad for the wack
While I’m masterfully constructing this masterpiece as
It’s apparent Eminem emphasizes his performance (breath control, enunciation, tempo) over lyrical substance (metaphors, double entendres, punchlines, etc.) to make up for his apparent weaknesses. Aside from his blazing vocal dexterity, the song quality is average at best and the verses lose their appeal over time because his bars still lack personality, a characteristic that endeared him to the masses. It’s monotonous and vacant of any thought-provoking imagery or meaning.
Nevertheless, I do agree with Eminem. Although he can’t out-rap his former self, he can embarrass 99% of the game. So, he is in fact a Rap God. But, his production lately just reminds me how much I miss the old Eminem. He was funny, witty, sarcastic, and provocative; the kid from the wrong side of the tracks whose artistry inspired me. The trailblazing career he shared with his fans in the beginning designated his reputation utterly bulletproof. His winning streak from The Slim Shady LP to The Eminem Show is legendary. Practically everything he touched during that time period was platinum, literally and figuratively. (Actually, The Marshall Mathers LP went diamond). Not even the greatest of all time, Jay-Z, could match the genius behind Eminem’s penmanship. And on that note, I leave you with his finest hour: “Renegade”.