Monday, 23 November 2009

38: Eminem - Lose Yourself

So this is what Marshall Bruce Mathers III (a.k.a Slim Shady, a.k.a Eminem) can achieve when he's got a movie plot to help focus his lyric-writing. Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan of Em's back catalogue. He has revolutionised the rap game, and he's truly one of a kind. It's just that his rhymes often descend into puerile name-calling and the lyrical equivalent of fart jokes. In small doses, we can laugh at his take on modern celebrity culture, but after a while, the joke wears thin.

Not so on 'Lose Yourself', a song so wonderfully crafted that it picked up an Oscar and two Grammys, and was recognised as the most successful rap single of all time by the Guinness Book of Records (on the basis of a twelve-week run at #1 in the US charts, topping the charts in 23 other countries, and becoming only the second song in history to record over two million digital downloads).

Set over a slow, almost plodding riff, Em sings in character as B. Rabbit about the difficulties in launching a rap career. The first verse vividly details Rabbit's stage-fright ("His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there's vomit on his sweater already, Mum's spaghetti"), the third verse explains Rabbit's desire to look after his family, his inability to hold down a regular job, and his realisation that success as a rapper is probably his only chance t make something of himself. The chorus features the most perceptive lyric of his career: "you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime".

'8 Mile', the film for which the song was written (Em reputedly wrote the lyrics on set between takes) is one of my favourite of the past ten years, and this is the second song from that film to appear on my list - the other was
Gang Starr's 'Battle' at #82. Eminem proved himself to be not only the premiere rapper of his generation, but also a fine actor. The film was gritty, often depressing, and always in-your-face, and this song, with its similar characteristics, was the perfect accompaniment. Autobiographical or not (and it's easy to see parallels between Eminem's life and that of Rabbit in the movie), this is his pièce de résistance, the high point of his remarkable career.

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