Eminem and his Personal Journey
By Maddie Anandarajah
Saying that Eminem started out as an angry teenager is an understatement
Life dealt him some heavy blows. The public was able to witness a 360 change in persona, and the message he was left with differed worlds from what he originally preached. The tone changed and words softened. Let’s take a ride; welcome to the Eminem show.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that for many artists, songs are a window to their personal lives and experiences, with some this is more obvious than with others; it could not get more real, more 1st person narrative than a song that is delivered with your chosen tone, verse and a chorus.
Marshall Mathers went from struggling to survive in the ghetto to being an A list celebrity with proven longevity and relevance. How? He opened doors (certainly not by himself but one of the more prominent stars) to racially diversify the Hip Hop genre. His lyrical abilities as well as shocking content allowed him to be become notoriously famous world-wide. But in addition to this, he recorded his personal growth in his songs.
Eminem’s deeply wired songs often fall under frustrations caused by
1) Fans, news and the media
2) His incapable mother and his absent father and romantic relationships
3) Racism and poverty
4) Being a public scapegoat
His first set of songs had a clear Eminem stamp; his way with words and message (often aggressive);
‘My Name is’ (1999)-The song is something of a mind-bender. Comical in nature, the violence presented is mostly for humorous effect as is the adult content. Yet he gave us a brief look into his life including his social exclusion, being from a broken home and parental drug use. While these are disguised among the humorous production and tune, the song heavily migrates toward dark humour as well as a real sense of struggle if you want to read through the hilarity. The maternal dissing starts with his first song and as we all know this theme is continued.
‘The Way I am’ 2000 directs his anger at the public as well as the media in response to him, his songs and choice of vocabulary. He defends his drug use and reacts to being public enemy number 1; he feels victimized. This further leads to his anger at the double standards in society triggered by social standing/class difference and the disproportionate judgement received.
‘Sing for the Moment’ (2002) is perhaps an anomaly but a predecessor in the types of songs to come further down the lane. ‘Sing for the Moment’ thoroughly acknowledges the effects rappers have on their fans who are often vulnerable and disenfranchised themselves (through general demographics including race) and depicts his frustrations with this.
‘Cleaning out my Closet’ (2002) was notorious. Hard-hitting, extremely violent and shocking he depicts the song as if having murdered his mother. You don’t have to read in-between the lines to understand his resentment at the failure of his mother to raise him. He does not seem to hold anything back but whether his anger is justified strongly depends on which side you are more likely to listen to. His autobiographical pieces shed light on numerous mistreatment and mental health in his mother.
‘Lose yourself’ (2004) one of his greatest hits beautifully summarizes his struggles to reach the top, the judgement and critique he faces in greater detail, highly autobiographical though technically written as an external character from the movie ‘8 mile’.
‘When I’m Gone’ (2005) represents a shift; family oriented and struggling to keep balance between work and family life (as is his lesser known song ‘25 to Life’).
‘Beautiful’ (2009) is one of the first songs to take on a softer tone, more reminiscent and nostalgic and even slightly detached rather than revelling in anger. It is purely about writer’s block, artistic creativity having run out and a rather shocking announcement of wanting to walk away from music. He begins to earnestly describe his feelings of low self-esteem and the need to fit in, highly descriptive, there is a sense of seeking to identify with his audience.
‘Not Afraid’ (2010) takes on a completely different angle; it is motivational to its fundamental core. He garners a form of collective inspiration, a new found sense of pride and full of confidence. A philosophical strand of thought is visible; he seems to have taken a step back and started anew after coming out of rehab, completely abstinent from drugs.
‘Headlights’ (2013)- Now who didn’t feel a sense of pure shock when listening to this one? It is an apology to his mother, highly sentimental he accepts her shortcomings and full-scaled regret having released diss songs, individually mentioning ‘Cleaning out my Closet’. He finds blame in his own behaviour as well as his mother’s but the main message is forgiveness and acceptance.
The narrative changes, while the themes stay constant throughout more than a decade he has been releasing songs. The latter songs hold a strong sense of a multi-dimensional awareness than his previous songs which were completely self-oriented. Today we see Eminem as someone who underwent great personal growth from a underprivileged position; who doesn’t love an underdog who took control of his own demons?
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