Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

Thanks to that repurposing project, I’ve had Eminem on the brain lately.  And I knew from day one that I would need a post to profess my love for the wonderful Mr. Mathers.  Here it is.

I get that Em’s lyrics are offensive, derogatory, and sometimes just plain twisted, but they are also brilliant.  The way he constructs his rhymes, stretching syllables and words to create verse after incredible verse is nothing short of amazing.  I have such respect for his skill.  Although I love most of his songs, there are lyrics of his that I will never forget: “Picket signs for my wicked rhymes.”  Who honestly thinks to rhyme “picket signs” with “wicked rhymes?”  Eminem does.

There is a 60 Minutes interview of him with Anderson Cooper, and he tells Anderson, “People say that the word orange doesn’t rhyme with anything, and that kinda pisses me off, because I can think of a lot of things that rhyme with orange.”  He goes on to explain that if you enunciate the word differently, stretching it into two syllables, you can get it to rhyme with other things.  “Door hinge” was my favorite example his.  It’s absolutely unbelievable if you ask me.

Another thing that made me love Eminem beyond his music is the movie 8 Mile.  Although it is not directly a biography, it explains his life through the character Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith, an aspiring rapper in Detroit like Eminem once was.  The best part of the movie is undoubtedly the final rap battle between Jimmy and his rival Papa Doc.  If you haven’t seen the movie and you don’t want me to give away the ending…stop reading now.  Jimmy knows he’s white and that he lives at home with his mom (among many other things often used against him in rap battles), and he decides to rap about all of these things so that his opposition will have nothing to say about him.  He also finds out a fun little secret about his not-so-gangsta opponent and uses this to cut him down.  So smart, right?!  It’s one of the greatest scenes in any movie I’ve seen.

Eminem has always been controversial for his lyrics or his family drama, but he is one of the most talented rappers out there.  Maybe even the most talented.  I really love his more serious, personal songs, but some of his crazy stuff is certainly entertaining.  If I could meet Eminem, I would probably cry and then hug him (without his permission of course, because he doesn’t seem like the hugging type).  And then I would die happy.

What are your favorite Eminem songs?  Or musical artists in general?


4 thoughts to “Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?”

  1. Hi Melissa,

    Thanks so much for the post. I don’t often think of my favorite musicians as writers, so this post really helped me think about the connection between writing and music. I especially love that example you gave about rhyming different things with the word orange- even if people argue that Eminem’s lyrics are not appropriate, they definitely can’t argue that he’s a musical genius.

    As for my relationship with Eminem (or with his music, I guess), I started listening to his music around fifth grade. My favorite song was “Cleaning Out My Closest.” I don’t think I understood what any of the lyrics actually meant, but I loved it, and could recite every word (including that great lyric that you included in your post that rhymes picket signs and wicked rhymes). Another one of my favorites was Hailie’s Song. I think I liked this song because it’s so personal, and contrasted some of his more harsh songs, and fans to see him as a more vulnerable father figure rather than just a rapper.

    I agree that as much as we might love Eminem, we have to challenge him on some of the choices that he makes. He should be held accountable for the message that his lyrics send, even if he’s doesn’t necessarily endorse that message.


  2. Melissa-

    I love this post. I started listening to Eminem around the start of middle school and my parents absolutely hated it. They always tried to delete all of his songs off of my mp3 player because they were convinced he was just a bad influence. I didn’t really understand any of the lyrics at that point but I loved the way that they all flowed together–I think that’s a really good sign of an incredible artist, that he can be enjoyed even if you don’t understand his message.

    Of course, as I grew up, I eventually realized that my parents and most other adults were right; each time I learned a new swear word and what it meant, I went back and listened to an Eminem song and was shocked at how vulgar and hateful most of the lyrics really were. I was close to giving up on his music just because it was so dark and (seemingly) purposeless…and then I saw 8 mile for the first time. This fantastic film made me realize that, despite the shocking vulgarity of his lyrics, Eminem really is just expressing his deepest fears, concerns, and dreams in his songs in the linguistic form that he’s most comfortable with–the one he grew up speaking. The filthiness of his lyrics don’t reflect his true self, just the culture he grew up in.

    When I made this revelation (which my parents ultimately agreed with, after seeing the film too), I couldn’t get enough of Em. With some of his songs (e.g. “Crack a Bottle” or “Without Me”) do kind of seem like he just made them to be vulgar and have fun (nothing wrong with that in my mind, as long as it’s in proportion), the vast majority of them seem to be reflecting a deep-seeded insecurity about his daughter, his life, his fame, or any number of other factors. His ability to express these fundamentally human emotions in a way that speaks to the psyche of his listeners in such a powerful way would make him a supreme music artist by itself; add to that the unfailing brilliance of his lyricism and the transference of modern-day “Detroit” street rhetoric and you should have one of the greatest cultural icons of his time.

    If anything is holding him back from fully reaching this point, it may indeed be the lyrics so vulgar that they contribute to at least 30 grandma-fainting incidents a year. As divulged in the Anderson Cooper interview you mentioned, Em acknowledges that the use of all the swear words and homophobic slurs is really just a reflection of modern day urban culture and really should be treasured as a bonus to his music; inevitably, however, many people (young and old) tend to associate Slim Shady with other rappers who mirror his vulgarity without any of the deeper messages. It’s really a shame that someone like Chief Keef will be inseparable from Eminem in some people’s minds, but all it takes is a careful listen to a song such as “Stan” or a viewing of “8 mile” to demonstrate that Eminem really is eight miles ahead of the rest of today’s rap game and should be respected as such.

  3. I love Eminem. I remember first hearing his stuff in elementary school, right around fourth or fifth grade, and though I didn’t really “get it” at first (I was under the spell of every boy band), my appreciation for his music grew exponentially when I hit middle school.

    The typical Eminem fan may list their favorite songs, but, keeping with your theme (I witnessed the orange-door hinge connection during that interview too and it blew my mind), I always like to talk about my favorite song lyrics, rather than the songs themselves. Because not only is Em a genius with phonetics, but the concepts he creates are TRUTH.

    Like when he says in “Love the Way You Lie” – “You don’t get another chance, Life is no Nintendo game, but you lied again, now you get to watch her leave out the window, guess that’s why they call it ‘window pane.'”

    He’s clearly lived through so much real life, that there are few topics that he can’t entirely explicate in his raps to the point where we just bow down and thank him for the honest they few are courageous enough to share.

  4. Melissa,
    It seems to me as though the way you feel about Eminem is similar to the way I feel about Kanye West. I don’t know what it is about Kanye, I just get him. I tell this to people, and they laugh, because Kanye and I are probably the two most opposite people- on paper, that is. Regardless of what anyone says, I know that if I ever met Kanye, we’d really hit it off.
    I love the way you describe how Eminem constructs rhymes. I agree, these rappers are truly talented. A lot of people who don’t understand rap haven’t really listened to the way the words are strung together. A lot of these songs are really poetic and actually demonstrate a lot of skill.
    I really hope you do meet Eminem one day- I’d love to see the look on his face as you go in for the hug.

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