We’re hardest on the people we love. To get hypothetical, let’s acknowledge that Eminem is widely considered one of the greatest rappers the genre has ever seen, a highly skilled technician, and unpredictable comedian whose first two albums are only flawed in the moral sense…Below are ten songs that Eminem fans should go back and understand are in the great tradition of his best, listed by Billboard.
“Puke,” Encore (2004)
The trick to enjoying 2004’s little-loved Encore is that it goes past scraping the bottom of the barrel at its most ridiculous. It examines the bottom of the barrel from every angle, including inventive new ones. “Puke” will disgust many for its vomiting sounds alone, and its bratty, playground singsong cadence. Sound it out: “You. Don’t. Know. How. Sick. You. Make. Me.” But the strange, re-run feel of his running Kim soap opera sends “Puke” into this otherworldly dimension where the slapstick comedy is like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon: “Now I’m sitting here with your name on my skin/ I can’t believe I went and did this stupid shit again/ My next girlfriend, now her name’s gotta be Kim/ Shiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiii-iiiiiiit.” It’s his willingness to go and play his love life for a slapstick cartoon that makes some of Eminem’s stupidest moments so hilarious despite advisability.
“Big Weenie,” Encore (2004)
As with “Puke,” it’s Eminem’s willingness to look like a total 4-year-old in both whining cadence and limitless imagination for comedy that makes “Big Weenie” an unfairly dismissed moment of transcendence. The chorus is a highly choreographed, nasally syllable dance designed to finish with the softest of punch lines: “Because you’re a meanie.” And then after it’s put through its paces again, it climaxes on an insult that hasn’t been heard since 1984 by anyone over the age of six: “You’re just a big weenie.” Note that this hook is a fairly interesting, descending minor-key melody with Eminem’s vocal doubled, while the beat is a sparse, two-note pizzicato thing. He fills it in both aurally and comedically, stepping into new voices (including Pee-Wee’s), declaring he’s going to hypnotize the listener (or his target, likely Benzino, who really was as jealous as Em claims), and spending the verses pranking him Bugs Bunny-style. He’s also meta enough to poke fun at himself for making such a dumb song for this purpose: “You look like I sound like, singing about weenies.”
“Rain Man,” Encore (2004)
Encore is so misunderstood because its kiddie brain teasers are a disconnect from the heaviness of “Kim” or “Cleaning Out My Closet” that supposedly anchored his funny material on the preceding albums. But it’s his only other album that’s closest in spirit to The Slim Shady LP, all lightness and invention, loaded with kiddie brain teasers like “Big Weenie” or “Rain Man,” which rhyme at the more technically complex level of The Marshall Mathers LP for the purpose of asking an outrageously drawn-out, homophobic hypothetical question for the entire second verse. Then he accidentally starts to rap the first verse again for the third, and admonishes Dr. Drefor losing the beat, all without losing a step in his incredible pursuit of rhyme, before the kicker: “And I ain’t even gotta make no goddamn sense/ I just did a whole song and didn’t say shit.” It’s true. But it’s how he says it.
“My Mom,” Relapse (2009)
Relapse is Eminem’s most difficult album to enjoy because it has so many unfunny moments that are genuinely creepy, but he still cranks out new wrinkles on the same old topics. “I’m on what I’m on, because I’m my mom,” claimed the circa-2009 drug addict, who was losing his grip on the world and his comedic mastery as a result. “Go find you a white crayon and color a f—ing zebra” is as bizarre as any that a beat has ever paused for. But the hypnotic, circus-style swagger of the beat and the increasingly dark family-dinner humor of his youth-horror Valium memoir form an uncanny singsong even without any new reveals regarding his Oedipus complex.
“Bagpipes From Baghdad,” Relapse (2009)
It’s a shame that Relapse is where Eminem’s lyrics really started to collapse under their own weight, more self-conscious than ever due to his five year absence (Jay Z’s “retirement” only lasted three), because the beats are some of his best. One of the most inventive in the Eminem catalog, “Bagpipes” is exactly what it sounds like, a galvanizing Middle Eastern melody played on bagpipes, real or fake. The lyrics, which spend an embarrassing amount of time preoccupied with Em’s ex Mariah Carey and her then-new beau Nick Cannon, blessedly don’t distract from the unwinding beauty of the loop. Though the Chaka Khan/”shuck a corn” pun is unexpectedly welcome.
“Underground,” Relapse (2009)
Relapse was a funeral for most of Eminem’s running gags, so it makes sense that he returned to the dramatic, “A lot of people ask me…” outro from “Criminal” for this haunting, bizarrely syncopated track, which has the best rapping on the entire album and a see-sawing beat that matches his sick imagination. He riffs on a familiar gay slur before proclaiming himself to be “Satan in black satin panties,” then threatens to pop out of your toilet. Hannah Montana elopes with a can opener. Brighton doesn’t enlighten him like Vicodin does. Some of the humor has dated ignobly, like when he removes a lesbian’s legs to rape her. But for better or worse, it’s no less vivid or imaginative than when he sits Hannibal Lecter down in the produce section and gives him a lecture.
“Untitled,” Recovery (2010)
Recovery is a sober affair by intention; it was designed to be the flipside of the drug-addled Relapse, which was supposed to represent some kind of last hurrah for Em’s psycho side. But people were sick enough of that that Recovery turned out to be a bigger success. Rap was interested in Lil Wayne and Rihanna collaborations now, less in Lindsay Lohan-baiting “horrorcore.” But it’s a little too sober, so this hyperactive, waltz-timed(!) finale was a welcome return to Slim Shady’s mischief, with a backing track that sounded like Stephin Merritt donated it from his Lemony Snicket audiobook compositions.
“Asshole,” The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013)
The opening line, “Came to the world at a time it was in need of a villain,” is probably true, though the villain turned out to be George W. Bush. So Skylar Grey’s surprisingly beauteous chorus that Em is “just an asshole” rings truer. He’s a court jester, not Dr. Doom, but he doesn’t always know that, and lately with his threat to rape Iggy Azalea, seems to have finally lost his way. But his jesterly impulses have been in effect longer than haters or disgruntled fans want to believe, even if somewhere between Recovery and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 he tightened every syllable he’ll ever rap again into furious Rube Goldberg machines that can barely be followed unless it’s closely. The dramatized, militant march of “Asshole” is a perfect setting for this approach, though much of his best album since 2004 proved to be as well.
“The Monster,” The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013)
This was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, but here us out on why it’s still underrated. The poppiest song on The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and possibly of his entire career (depending on whether you consider “My Name Is” or “The Real Slim Shady” to be the epitome of millennial pop or outliers altogether) is carried by an effortless Rihanna hook and an EDM-inflected beat more subtle and solid than Kesha’s “Die Young” or Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling.” Eminem rides it like any other rhythmic construction he’s conquered, but with more breathing room than anything else on his most recent album. It’s a much-needed respite, and despite its ubiquity in airplay, it deserved better than its indifference response from fans. It’s more fleet of foot than “Love the Way You Lie,” and its more generalized subject doesn’t risk glorifying abuse as a bonus.
“Stronger Than I Was,” The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013)
You know Eminem’s a veteran rock star because he loves including lighter-waving power ballads on each album since “Hailie’s Song.” This one’s his strongest melody since “Mockingbird,” if more groaningly yelped than ever. His voice cracking at the end of each refrain is a wink that he knows he’s out of his depth. But that’s never stopped him. Don’t leave him out of your timelines while crediting Drake and Kanye with popularizing sing-rap.