Eminem

Rapoetics: Elements of Poetry in Eminem’s Lyrics

Marshall Mathers, more commonly known as Eminem, is perhaps one of the most controversial entertainers in recent times. From his shocking lyrics in his earlier albums (which included derogatory slurs and misogyny) to his highly publicized feuds with fellow rappers, Eminem has created a persona that has become difficult to separate with the artist.

Yet, one thing people can agree on is Eminem’s near-mythical levels of word play. Various critics, from fellow MC’s and DJ’s to music magazines and artists, have all cited Eminem’s lyrical prowess as other-worldly.

Indeed, if Walter Pater is to be believed that “all art aspires to the condition of music”, then Eminem has certainly fulfills the criteria. Not only are his songs commercial successes, they are also critically-acclaimed, and rightfully so: his use of various poetic devices puts even modern poets to shame.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that his songs can be used to describe the basic, and even some advanced, concepts in poetry.

Scope of Study

But how many songs does Eminem have? As of 2018, he has released 344 songs. This includes official studio release, features with various artists, and collaborative albums with D12 and Bad Meets Evil, as well as releases under Soul Intent. This does NOT include unofficial mixtapes, bootlegs, or leaks.

Because it would take too long a time to break down every single song by Eminem, this article will only cover three songs: Stan, Lose Yourself, Kings Never Die.

Elements of Poetry

Rhyme

Perhaps the most recognizable element of poetry, rhyme occurs when two words end with the same sound. While not all poems contain rhymes (especially more “modern” poems), it is most certainly one of the more defining elements of rap.

In poetry, there are 5 different kinds of rhyme:

  • End rhyme
  • Internal rhyme
  • True Rhyme
  • Slant Rhyme
  • Eye Rhyme

Each rhyme has a very specific construction and can be seen all throughout Eminem’s songs.

End Rhyme

  • End rhymes are rhymes that can be found at the end of stanzas or lines. In the sample songs given, end rhymes are marked in red, and it can be seen all throughout the lyrics, for example:

“But what’s this shit you said about you like to cut your wrists too/

I say that shit just clownin’ dog/ come on, how fucked up is you?”

-Stan, 2000.

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy/

There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti

-Lose Yourself, 2002.

“But I’m running from it to be standing at the summit/

And plummet, how come it wasn’t what I thought it was, was it

-Kings Never Die, 2015.

Internal Rhyme

  • In contrast, internal rhymes are rhymes that are found in the MIDDLE of words, stanza, or line. For example:

“I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom/

I sent two letters back in autumn, you must not-a got ‘em

-Stan, 2000.

“Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity/

Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked/

He’s so mad, but he won’t give up that easy? No”

-Lose Yourself, 2004

“I can hear the drummer drumming/

And the trumpets, someone’s trynasummon someone, I know something’s coming”

-Kings Never Die, 2015

True Rhyme

  • A true rhyme is similar to an end rhyme, with the only difference being that a true rhyme MUST have identically stressed vowel sounds, as well as any subsequent sounds, in the rhyming words. In the case of the sample songs, true rhymes can be found in these particular lines:

“Dear Slim, you still ain’t called or wrote, I hope you have a chance/

I ain’t mad, I just think it’s fucked up you don’t answer fans

-Stan, 2000.

“The souls escaping, through this hole that its gaping/

This world is mine for the taking

-Lose Yourself, 2004

“I complain about the game, I shout and I pout, it’s a love-hate

But I found out that I can move a mountain of doubt

Even when you bitches are counting me out, and I appear to be down for the count

Only time I ever been out and about is

Driving around town with my fucking whereabouts in a doubt”

-Kings Never Die, 2015

Slant Rhyme

  • Also called Imperfect Rhymes, slant rhymes are the opposite of true rhymes: whereas the latter requires that the rhyming words have identical stressed VOWEL sounds, the former requires that the rhyming pair have identical ENDING CONSONANT sounds. For example:

“See Slim, shut up bitch! I’m tryin’ to talk/

Hey Slim, that’s my girlfriend screamin’ in the trunk”

-Stan, 2000.

“He won’t have it, he knows his whole back city’s ropes/

It don’t matter, he’s dope, he knows that, but he’s broke”

-Lose Yourself, 2004

“’Cause here I sit in Lucifer’s den by the dutchoven just choosing to sin/

Even if it means I’m selling my soul, just to be the undisputed again/

Do whatever I gotta do just to win

-Kings Never Die, 2015

 

Eye Rhyme

  • An eye rhyme are rhyming pairs that LOOK like they rhyme because of their spelling, but are in fact pronounced differently, for example:

“I know you probably hear this everyday, but I’m your biggest fan/

I even got the underground shit that you did with Skam

-Stan, 2000.

“Make me king, as we move toward a, new world order

A normal life is borin’, but super stardom’s close to post mortar

-Lose Yourself, 2004.

“And trophies just don’t mean jack anymore/

If I’m here today and gone tomorrow

-Kings Never Die, 2015

In hip-hop and rap, the use of rhymes and rhyme schemes are part of a system called “flow”, which is the process of how the lyrics of a rap song interact with one another. Unlike poetry, the words used in rap are usually heard before they’re read, which is why it can sometimes be difficult to discern the more advanced types of rhyme. Also, because it is spoken, some words are made to rhyme in the way it’s pronounced.

One of the most popular examples of the importance of pronunciation in rhyming rap verses can be seen in Eminem explaining how a person can rhyme multiple words with “orange”, a word that is notorious for being difficult to rhyme with anything. But with the use of a few rhyming elements, and specific ways of enunciation, Eminem made it possible:

Meter

In poetry, meter describes the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem. Meter is what gives rhythm and melody to a poem and is the internal beat that a rap verse follows. There are many different types of meter schemes in both poetry and rap, but one of the most popular meters is the Iambic Pentameter. The iambic pentameter is a metric line that uses five metrical feet (syllables), with each feet consisting of one short, or unstressed, syllable followed by one long, or stressed, syllable. This type of meter can commonly be found in Shakespeare’s works, for example:

William ShakespeareWhen I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver’d o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

-Sonnet 12, William Shakespeare.

In this example, the use of iambic pentameter can be seen in the way each line is stressed. Every line of sonnet 12 follows an iambic pentameter because each word pairing follows a stressed-unstressed pattern:

When I / do COUNT / the CLOCK / that TELLS / the TIME;

And SEE/ the BRAVE/ day SUNK/ in HIDEOUS/ night;

In the case of Eminem, his song Lose Yourself can also be seen using a metric line that is similar to an iambic pentameter:

Eminem Lose Yourself
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thesaleswhisperer/15018762650

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin’
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s chokin’, how, everybody’s jokin’ now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!

-Lose Yourself, Eminem

In this example, Eminem uses a slightly modified iambic pentameter in his lines. While the entire song is not all in iambic pentameter, this verse can be considered an iambic meter because of its stresses and feet:

His PALMS/ are SWEATY/ KNEES weak/ ARMS are/ HEAVY

There’s VOMIT/ ON his/ SWEATER already/ MOM’S spaghetti

Interestingly, Shakespeare’s use of the iambic pentameter went beyond aesthetic; because its natural rhythm and melody gave it a sing-song characteristic, Shakespeare favored the iambic pentameter specifically so that his actors will have an easier time memorizing their lines. Perhaps, this has helped Eminem’s songs to become just as memorable as some of the Bard’s verses.

Poetic Language

Because poetry is much more succinct than prose, it needs to use various literary devices. These devices are collectively called poetic language. While there are numerous types of poetic language devices, the most commonly used ones are:

  • Alliteration
  • Assonance
  • Consonance
  • Imagery
  • Personification
  • Metaphor
  • Hyperbole

Rappers commonly use these devices as well, so that they can deliver lines with blistering speed and accuracy without sacrificing their message.

  Alliteration

  • Alliteration is the use of the same letter to start a series of lines or verses or used by a series of words in the middle of a sentence. Although the words do not have to necessarily rhyme, their similar sounds lend a melodic quality to the whole stanza, for example:

It’s been six months and still no word, I don’t deserve it?/

I know you got my last two letters,wrote the addresses on ’em perfect”

-Stan, 2000.

I was playin’ in the beginnin’, the mood all changed/

I been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage/

But I kept rhymin’ and stepwritin’ the next cipher/

Best believe somebody’s payin’ the pied piper”

-Lose Yourself, 2004.

“I can hear the drummer drumming/

And the trumpets, someone’s trynasummon someone, I know something’s coming”

-Kings Never Die, 2015.

Assonance

  • Assonance is a literary device that uses words with the same VOWEL SOUND in a series of lines, verses, or repeated throughout a sentence. Note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same exact vowel, but it MUST make the same vowel sound. For example:

“But anyways, fuck it, what’s been up? Man how’s your daughter?

My girlfriend’s pregnant too, I’m ’bout to be a father

If I have a daughter, guess what I’m a call her?

I’ma name her Bonnie”

-Stan, 2000.

“It only grows harder, only grows hotter/

He blows us all over these hoes is all on him/

Coast to coast shows, he’s known as the globetrotter”

-Lose Yourself, 2004.

“Gotta get up, give it all I got or give up/

Spit on, shit on, stepped on, but kept going I’m tryna be headstrong/

But it feels like I slept on my neck wrong/

‘Cause you’re moving onto the next, but is the respect gone?”

-Kings Never Die, 2015.

Consonance

  • ­In contrast, consonance uses the same idea as assonance, in that it is the repetition of a sound in a series of words, sentences, lines, or stanzas. The only difference being is that it relies on the use of a CONSONANT sound rather than a vowel. For example:

“There probably was a problem at the post office or somethin’

Sometimes I scribble addresses too sloppy when I jot ’em”

-Stan, 2000.

“He’s chokin‘, how, everybody’s jokin‘ now/

The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!/

Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity/

Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked

-Lose Yourself, 2004.

“On the floor stacked against the door

Are they just metaphors for the odds of me comin’ back again?

‘Cause all the accomplishments, accolades, awards

And trophies just don’t mean jack anymore

If I’m here today and gone tomorrow”

-Kings Never Die, 2015

Imagery

  • In poetry, imagery is a device employed by the poet to paint a mental picture of a particular event or image. Imagery aims to invoke any, or all, of the 5 senses so that the reader can reconstruct what the poet sees in their own head. In rap, imagery is used to create detailed pictures for the listener. For example:

“If you didn’t wanna talk to me outside your concert/

You didn’t have to, but you coulda signed an autograph for Matthew/

That’s my little brother man, he’s only six years old/

We waited in the blistering cold for you/

For four hours and you just said, “No.”/

That’s pretty shitty man, you’re like his fuckin’ idol/

He wants to be just like you man, he likes you more than I do”

-Stan, 2000.

“All the pain inside amplified by the/

Fact that I can’t get by with my nine to/

Five and I can’t provide the right type of/

Life for my family ’cause man, these God damn food stamps don’t buy diapers”

-Lose Yourself, 2004.

“I went from powdered milk and Farina/

To flipping burgers on the grill for some peanuts/

From Gilbert’s to arenas, call me Gilbert Arenas, still appeal to the dreamers/

I made it to the silver screen where Rocky’s still what the theme is/

Khalil on the beat ’cause making the beat ain’t the same/

Feeling to me as killing the beat is/

So fulfilling to me is what filling a seat is”

-Kings Never Die, 2015.

Personification

  • With personification, a poet uses words to give life to inanimate objects by giving it human characteristics, emotions, or personalities. Rappers often use this to describe their own struggles. For example:

“And when you dream I hope you can’t sleep and you scream about it/

I hope your conscience eats at you and you can’t breathe without me”

-Stan, 2000.

In this example, the persona is speaking directly to Eminem, hoping that his conscience “eats” his insides with guilt.

“So here I go is my shot/

Feet fail me not ’cause maybe the only opportunity that I got”

-Lose Yourself, 2004.

Here, Eminem implores his feet not to fail, so that he may keep going in his journey to become the greatest rapper to live.

“I can hear the drummer drumming/

And the trumpets, someone’s tryna summon someone/

I know something’s coming”

-Kings Never Die, 2015.

The images of drums and trumpets are common in the bible, specifically bible passages that talk about judgment. Here, Eminem uses these images and personifies them, as if the trumpets themselves are the ones doing the summoning.

Metaphor

  • Metaphors are one of the most powerful devices that a writer, poet, or rapper can use in their craft. Simply put, metaphors are implied comparisons between two images, usually complimentary, but always designed to evoke multiple images and feelings in the reader or listener. For example:

“You know the song by Phil Collins, “In the Air of the Night”

About that guy who could a saved that other guy from drowning

But didn’t, then Phil saw it all, then at a a show he found him?

That’s kinda how this is, you could a rescued me from drowning

Now it’s too late, I’m on a thousand downers now, I’m drowsy

And all I wanted was a lousy letter or a call”

-Stan, 2000.

In the song “Stan”, the persona describes the feeling of his unrequited obsession/affection for Eminem as “drowning”. Throughout the song (which is in itself constructed like an epistolary poem between Stan and Eminem), Stan repeatedly tries to contact Eminem through various means, with Eminem only responding in the last verse. In Stan’s letters, it is made obvious that he is suffering from some undisclosed mental illness that has made him violent, obsessive, and depressive, all of which culminates in a dramatic murder-suicide of him and his girlfriend.

“And its no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer

This is my life and these times are so hard”

-Lose Yourself, 2004.

2004 marked the debut of Eminem as a movie star, starring in the semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile. The movie follows B-Rabbit as he struggles to become a successful rap artist so he can elevate his status in life. 8 Mile was a critical and commercial success, and was partly based on, and inspired by, Eminem’s life. “Lose Yourself” was released to coincide with the movie and the lyrics mirror the struggle of Eminem with his fictional counterpart. However, unlike the movie, Eminem did not have “Mekhi Phifer”, the actor who played his best friend and confidant in the movie.

“I want it, I’m coming to get it

So you son of a bitches don’t duck you’re gonna get Riddick Bowe’d

Critics’ll end up in critical

Think your shit is dope all you’re gonna get is smoked then

And I ain’t stopping ’till I’m on top again, all alone and on a throne

Like a token of respect, or a homage poem, or an ode I’ve been owed

Tossed in the air by my own arm, and launched so hard I broke my collarbone

(And when it’s my time to go, I’m still not leaving)

Stop for no one, I don’t know but I’ve been told an obstacle that

Blocks your road, knock it over, time to go for that pot of gold”

-Kings Never Die, 2015.

In 2007, after eight years and several multi-platinum albums, Eminem took an indefinite hiatus after checking himself into drug rehab. The rapper admitted that he had been suffering from sleep medication dependency and was struggling to produce new work. He didn’t come back to the studio until two years later, releasing Relapse and Recovery in 2009 and 2010, respectively. However, critics were less than impressed with these two albums and were disappointed by Eminem’s lackluster attempt at a comeback. In 2015, Eminem was tasked to write the carrier song for the movie “Southpaw”, a sports film that focuses on a disgraced boxer on the road to redemption. In the song, Eminem mirrors the struggle of the film’s character as a metaphor for his own struggle to get “on top again, all alone and on a throne” and prove himself once again as the leading rapper of his time.

There are many more elements of poetry, and many more songs in Eminem’s discography, but as successful and critically acclaimed as he is, there are many more rap artists who can be used as examples of rappers who use poetic devices in their work.

It is fortunate that, in recent times, rappers like Scroobius Pip, Tyler the Creator, and of course Eminem have all brought their own brand of poetics into the craft, thus cementing rap as a discipline worthy of academic study, respect, and appreciation.

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