I am a big fan of Detroit rapper Eminem, so when his new album Revival turned out to be pretty terrible, I decided to look back at his discography to remember all of the great music he has released. Obvious choices include his original three albums, The Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP, and The Eminem Show, which propelled him to worldwide fame and established him as one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time.
However, the album that resonated with me the most was Relapse, released in 2009 after a four-year hiatus in which Eminem heavily struggled with drug addiction to prescription drugs like Valium and Vicodin.
Many consider Relapse to be one of Eminem's weaker albums with common criticisms citing his use of strange accents and the inclusion of songs without any real substance. One of these critics includes the rapper himself who stated on the song "Not Afraid" from his follow-up album Recovery, "In fact, let's be honest, that last Relapse CD was—ehh. Perhaps I ran them accents into the ground."
While I do agree that many of Relapse's songs like "We Made You" and "Crack A Bottle," I do not exactly stand with the best of his music, the songs in which Eminem gives an artistic glimpse into the causes and extent of his addiction stand as some of his greatest because of his honesty in presenting the turmoil of drug addiction. The three songs that stood out to me the most are "My Mom," "Deja Vu" and "Beautiful" because of the look they give into the mind of a drug addict who just happens to be one of the most famous rappers of all time.
In the song "My Mom," Eminem adds to the multitude of tracks from his discography in which he accuses his mom of being a terrible parent and the root cause of his problems, in this case, his addiction to drugs.
The song has a comedic tone with exaggerated syllables and funny metaphors, but listening to the lyrics reveals his mom as a person who was more worried about getting high than being present in her son's life. Eminem even claims she used to force him to take drugs like Valium to sedate him, but it may be an exaggeration as the rapper frequently describes fictitious or inflated events in his music to demonstrate his points.
Whatever the case may be, the important point of "My Mom" is that kids tend to do what their parents do, and being exposed to his mother's frequent drug use unsurprisingly led Eminem down the same path. Additionally, Eminem's mother contributed a great deal to his unfavorable childhood in which he was often bullied and felt alone, so he turned to painkillers and other drugs to bury his past in the back of his mind.
While it is ultimately a person's own choice to take drugs, being brought up in a poor situation like Eminem's can still have a great impact on a person's likelihood to take them, especially since they may consider them an ordinary part of life and not understand the dangerous consequences they can have.
"Deja Vu" is one of my favorite Eminem songs because of the way it directly puts you into the rapper's head while he is struggling with addiction, and it shows why drug addiction is a disease that is so hard to crack.
The song begins with medical emergency responders arriving at the home of Eminem after he collapsed from a methadone overdose in 2007, and then recounts the events that led up to this point (if anyone is interested in hearing Eminem's perspective on this overdose a decade later, I would recommend listening to the songs "Castle" and "Arose" from Revival).
In the first verse, he recalls that his addiction started after he started drinking NyQuil in order to fall asleep and he eventually moved on the harder drugs like Valium once it was no longer doing the job.
The second verse involves the rapper recalling his alcohol problem, and how having a single drink would lead him down a slope of drinking more and more until he would collapse on the ground and blackout the next morning.
In the final verse, Eminem finally admits to himself that he has a drug problem and that it was exacerbated by the death of his best friend Proof and his inability to sleep at night, but nonetheless still recalls a relapse three months after his overdose.
The song is so impactful because it shows that drug addiction is not always an immediate thing and that it is often the culmination of many events building on top of one another that causes a person to turn to harder and harder drugs. Furthermore, often times drug addicts do not notice a problem in their lives until it is too late, and even once they have this realization and want to kick their dangerous habits, a relapse can occur at any time.
While many of the songs on Relapse were recorded by Eminem while high on drugs, "Beautiful" is a track he wrote sober during a period when he was working hard to end his addiction.
While the two previous songs I discussed have lighthearted and comedic elements in them which mask their dark underlying tones, "Beautiful" involves a completely serious Eminem inviting his fans to understand perhaps the greatest contributing factor to his, and many others', drug addiction - depression. Eminem offers his listeners a glimpse into his mind and why his depression is facilitating his addiction problems.
Firstly, he believes that his music is not as good as it once was and that it may be time for him to retire from rap forever. Secondly, despite his millions of fans and constant media attention, Eminem feels alone in the world because he considers all this attention to be bogus because of his fame. Thirdly, he admits that he has only ever wanted to fit in, possibly because of the lack of a father figure in his life.
The power of the song comes from the realization that Eminem, despite his massive fame and wealth, is still a human and goes through the same emotions and tribulations as anybody else. In the chorus he sings the words, "But don't let 'em say you ain't beautiful / They can all get fucked, just stay true to you," to show anybody struggling with a problem that he understands what they are going through and that they can get past whatever issue is eating at them by loving and believing in themself.
For Eminem, if one positive thing can come out of his addiction and depression, it is to remind the world that everybody is beautiful in their own way. Many depressed people turn to drugs because they do not want to deal with the constant judgement placed upon them by themselves and others. "Beautiful" offers a message of hope in light of darkness by showing the raw thoughts of a man who does not want anybody else to go through what he had to.