Eminem’s five best songs — agree?
For all the bashing Eminem has taken — from feminists, gay-rights groups, and even Michael Jackson — the rapper may have no harsher critic than himself. Multiple personas and voices (Marshall Mathers, Slim Shady, Eminem, various whiny women) are constantly at war within his songs, and no winner has yet been declared. And that’s what makes his verbose, melodically dexterous music way too complex and contradictory — not to mention hilarious — for even the most concerned culture warrior to dismiss. As Eminem releases his latest album, Encore, here are our picks for his five greatest songs:
”Role Model” (The Slim Shady LP, 1999) When Eminem wrote this song, no one had accused him of providing a bad example for kids — simply because no one had yet heard of him. But he anticipated the criticism, and defused it by stretching it to laughable extremes. Over a quintessentially sinuous Dr. Dre beat, he raps, ”Follow me and do exactly what the song says/ Smoke weed, take pills/ Drop out of school, kill people, and drink.” In the course of a relentlessly vulgar and funny rant, he blasts Sonny Bono, Hilary Clinton, and Garth Brooks, while declaring himself the real killer in the O.J. Simpson case. He concludes: ”I tie a rope around my penis and jump from a tree/ You probably wanna grow to be just like me.”
”The Way I Am” (The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000) Eminem’s second album boasted newfound musical and lyrical sophistication, as evidenced in this angry track, driven by a majestic, piano- and church-bell-enhanced beat. He packs a snarl into every word, blasting his critics by accepting every word they say: ”I am/ Whatever you say I am/ If I wasn’t/ Then why would I say that I am?” With newly acquired sincerity, he leaps into the larger culture, pointing out the hypocrisy of reactions to Columbine: ”Middle America/ Now it’s a tragedy/ Now it’s so sad to see/[In] an upper-class city.”
”Stan” (The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000) On The Slim Shady LP‘s creepy ”’97 Bonnie & Clyde,” Eminem had facetiously rapped about murdering his then-wife. On ”Stan,” he confronts the consequences of the older song, rapping with eerie realism from the point of view of an obsessed Eminem fan who takes his lyrics too literally. ‘”Dear Mr. I’m Too Good To Call Or Write My Fans/ This’ll be the last package I ever send your ass,” the title character writes, announcing an impending murder-suicide. And the chorus, sampling a huge chunk of Dido’s ”Thank You,” manages to make the dull British singer sound temporarily fascinating.
”Without Me” (The Eminem Show, 2002) Beginning with his debut album’s ”My Name Is,” each of the first singles from Eminem’s discs has been bubblegum pop disguised as hip-hop. ”Without Me” is the best of the bunch, with Eminem spitting a syncopated assault on his fans, himself, and pop culture — all at a seemingly impossible speed over a bouncy beat. ”I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley/ To do black music so selfishly/ And use it to get myself wealthy,” he raps. And anyone who doubts Em’s skills should try doing this one on karaoke night — it won’t be pretty.
”Lose Yourself” (8 Mile Soundtrack, 2003) The first hip-hop song to win an Oscar, ”Lose Yourself” is Eminem’s inspirational anthem, his cheese-free version of, say, ”Eye of the Tiger.” Its beat pushes forward instead of laying back, and with a two-chord guitar riff at its base, it feels more like rock than hip-hop. But the basic message — ”Success is my only motherf—ing option/ Failure’s not” — was universal enough to reach even ancient Academy Awards voters.
What Eminem songs would you add to the list?