Eminem is one of the most well-known hip hop artists of all time. Even people that don’t listen to rap that much usually have an Eminem song in their playlist. His second solo album, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ is the highest selling rap album of all time and holds a Guinness world record. He has won an Oscar for his song ‘Lose Yourself’ from the 8mile soundtrack. Most rappers would say he is a big influence, and he is in my top 5 greatest rappers of all time.
Today we are going to explore the evolution of his style, and how it has changed over the years. From his first radio freestyles to his latest feature on Big Sean’s new album, we will be able to observe a big change over the years as his life influenced his rhymes.
We start in 1995, with a tune called ‘Fuckin Backstabber,’ featuring the late Proof of D-12. This is one of the first songs Eminem put out back in his early career before ‘Infinite’, before ‘The Slim Shady EP’ and before getting signed by Dr Dre. We can hear the difference from the Eminem we all know immediately, with Shady rapping at a fast pace, going double-time, about someone who has done him wrong. The lack of Humour is evident, the lyrics focus more on getting revenge against this backstabber. The song has a true underground vibe to it, a far cry from the commercial sound that would arise from working with Dr.Dre. He is more focused on displaying his lyrical prowess rather than not giving a fuck and putting a middle finger up to the world.
Next up is some rare unreleased music from Eminem’s first album, ‘Infinite’. This song ‘Tonite’ is a happy tune, full of party lyrics but lacking Eminem’s signature ‘Fuck you’ attitude. He is again eager to display his lyrical skills, showing us that he can write intricate, multi syllable rhymes. It’s all very clean and upbeat, there is no danger or humour in the rhymes yet. There’s nothing to make him stand out from the rest. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good song that I enjoyed, but only because I’ve been an Eminem fan for years. Without his catalogue on top of it, It’s just another song with no real exceptional lines, a bit clean cut and dare I say bland?
Here we see Eminem on the radio, what suddenly grabs our attention is that the clean cut image has been fucked out the window. He grabs our attention with the first rhyme, disregarding PC, claiming that he has ‘Met a retarded kid named Greg, with a wooden leg’, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he proceeds to ‘snatch it off and beat him over the fuckin’ head with the peg’. Painting a fucked up image, embracing his alter-ego Slim Shady. He isn’t concerned with displaying his lyrical skills as much with this one, with a simple rhyme scheme of greg/leg/peg, its more about the sick imagery. The skills are still in there too though, rhyming ‘foster mammas’ with ‘Nostradamus’. This style would serve him well in his career with his shocking rhymes gaining him millions from here on out.
Now we arrive at Eminem’s first street single, just signed to Dr.Dre’s Aftermath label, the middle finger toting madman starts rhyming about ‘ Buying a ticket to your concert, just to come and kick your ass’. He is embracing his sick imagery and fuck you attitude that he has developed since throwing out the clean cut image, taking shots at fellow white rapper Vanilla Ice in the process. He tells us he is Slim Shady, an ‘Impulsive drinker, addict.’ Assuring us he doesn’t give a fuck, painting a twisted self portrait of his alter-ego. You can tell he had fun writing this song, he must have just sat and thought of the most fucked up rhymes to spit for a good while. The multi-syllables are still there, but intertwined with the shock rap style, remember this is around 1999 when no-one had heard anything like this. He was making money with a sick style consisting of the craziest things he could think of saying, he must have been pretty happy.
On his second album, Eminem is still at it, spitting the most sick and twisted lyrics he can think of, but on this tune he has gone all out and sped into hyper-drive. The ill flow over the Dre production is just pure fire, and he doesn’t stop painting fucked up pictures with each line. His trademark style is still there but in my opinion it is even sicker on this album. ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ is a solid listen, and I suggest that you should go and listen to it right now. With songs like ‘Stan’, the emcee tells a story, the same way he did on Brain Damage, displaying skills beyond the average rapper. The latter was a crazy story about getting bullied and flipping out, ending up brain damaged. But Stan is more realistic, about an obsessed fan. With his superstardom, the song received critical acclaim from rap fans, and is still one of the best tunes ever written.
With his third album, ‘The Eminem Show’, Em starts getting more political, and speaks more on his situation, his career. The sick imagery we grew to love has been replaced with a more sober narration of his views and beliefs. He has tamed his style, even singing a song for his daughter on ‘Halie’s Song,’ showing us a different side of himself. While millions love this album, some hard-core fans of his sick and twisted imagery feel it’s a step in the wrong direction. He took a producer role in this album, taking over from Dr.Dre, giving himself free reign over what content went into the tunes. Perhaps Dre was influencing his sickness.
Then we get to ‘Encore’, where Em adopts a true mainstream flow. Many fans enjoyed this album, but just as much noticed the decline in lyrical skills. He himself admitted that he was becoming heavily addicted to drugs during the creation of this album, and you can tell when you listen. Gone are the days of sickness, and even the sober views of the Eminem shows have been masked by the drugs. There are still some stand out moments in the various songs that make up Encore, but I personally think this is his worst album. Simplistic rhymes without the really explicit content in them, and whole rhyme schemes of nursery rhyme simplicity. You can hear the drug’s effects coming through in his voice too, it sounds like he doesn’t give a fuck, but not in a good way.
After going quiet for a while, cancelling a tour I had tickets to, He returns with ‘Relapse’. Fans like me are excited about a comeback. He drops 3 AM, and we soon realise he has adopted some sort of serial killer persona. He has got an accent that sounds half Arabian, and it is weird. But true fans embrace it, the skills back in the rhymes along with the sick imagery to a degree. It’s not as good as back when he first came out, but well take it. The humours back too, dark, sick humour. It’s probably because he has been rich for so long, he doesn’t have the life that could inspire his earlier work. He keeps the serial killer persona up for the entire album, and we know he is not a serial killer so we are left wondering why. It’s still better than encore though, so this is possibly a return to greatness for the emcee.
Em teams up with Rihanna on his next album , Recovery. He has switched up his style again, distancing himself from the accented rhymes of relapse. We can tell the drugs are gone, but is that a good thing? He was on drugs in his early career, on ‘Encore’ he just took too much. But we can tell the skills are back bigtime, with his intricate multi-syllable rhymes, his style has been given a breath of fresh air and resuscitated. The humour is more or less absent in this album, with only one hidden bonus track giving us a blast of slim shady fun. He forgoes his usual satirical pop single, replacing it with a sober yet uplifting anthem, ‘Not Afraid’ which is epic live, with all the fans singing along with the chorus. While his rhymes on that record are corny, overall it is an improvement on relapse.
He is back with Rihanna again on his latest album, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’, for a personal favourite of mine. ‘The Monster’ has a killer hook, an anthem for anyone with mental illness. Em has developed his new style even further now, his skills are back to the first Marshall Mathers LP grade, and while there isn’t any sick imagery anymore, he weaves different rhyme schemes together in a very entertaining way. He is spitting commercial yet personal rhymes, sober as ‘The Eminem Show’ yet more lyrically intricate. While every song on the album isn’t incredible, song like ‘Bad Guy’ which is a seven minute long sequel to ‘Stan’ give us faith in his new styles potential, and the song ‘Rap God’ dominates the game with skills rivalling all competition. The humour is back too, showing us that he must be in a good place.
Eminem is back on top of his game, while running his own record label Shady Records, signing super-group Slaughterhouse, and Alabama emcee Yelawolf, he joins them on the Shady Cypher. Going acapella, he displays skills that surpass any of his career so far. He weaves rhyme schemes together with ease, painting sick images reminiscent of his early career, but much more intricate. His style has become mind blowing again, this is Slim Shady on steroids. While some might argue that it is too wordy, he is far from trying to sound smart, he is displaying lyrical genius. He doesn’t put any unnecessary words in there, every word works towards painting the picture. With his verse on the cypher coming in at 7 minutes, we are left amazed and fully entertained by the end of it. Slim shady at his peak.
And so we arrive in the present day. Ems style has gotten even more intricate. He is rhyming overtime. Diving into complex schemes that no one else is doing, I don’t even think they would be able to. He has humour in there but he is taking a more serious stance at the same time, painting fucked up imagery yet again. With an album supposedly on the way this autumn, we are left eagerly anticipating what he will do next!