What Makes Eminem The GOAT To So Many?
After nearly nine months of questioning, comparing, and lots of debating, the winner of Ambrosia For Heads’ “Finding The GOAT” series, the quest to name Hip-Hop’s Greatest Of All-Time MC (GOAT), has been determined. Yesterday (May 29), Eminem’s win against Tupac was confirmed at deadline, thus making the Detroit, Michigan MC the GOAT in a greater discussion that’s engaged millions of fans.
In five previous wins during the bracket-style tournament, Eminem (who, like Tupac, was a Round 1 Bye) defeated opponents by margins of 70-80%. Em’ defeated contemporaries such as Xzibit and Talib Kweli. The D12 front man bested MCs who had an earlier start in the industry, such as DMX and Busta Rhymes. Where things got especially interesting is when Marshall Mathers had a landslide sixth round win against one of his own inspirations, Big Daddy Kane. Facing Tupac Shakur, whose recent wins were by much slimmer margins, Heads knew it would be a proverbial “nail-biter.”
Contrary to what some social users may be convinced of, this is not AFH’s opinion. This is a democratic outcome in a structured competition-style debate by Ambrosia For Heads. It is our role (and our responsibility) to analyze the data, and interpret. So in the wake of the grand finale, why stop now?
In many cases, Eminem represents the total package. Since the mid-1990s, the Battle Rap alum brought the cutting wit, self-deprecation, and ability to keep the listener hanging on every word in his raps.
In 1997’s “Just Don’t Give A Fuck,” Eminem introduced himself to many, with the kind of bravado, humor, and rawness that worked for Lord Finesse, Ras Kass, Looks Like A Job For-era Big Daddy Kane…Eminem was one-part stand-up comedian, one-part MC:
“Slim Shady, brain dead like Jim Brady
I’m a M80, you lil’ like that Kim lady
I’m buzzin’, Dirty Dozen, naughty rotten-rhymer
Cursin’ at you players worse than Marty Schottenheimer
You wacker than the motherfucker you bit your style from
You ain’t gonna sell two copies if you press a double album
Admit it, fuck it, while we comin’ out in the open
I’m doin’ acid, crack, smack, coke and smokin’ dope then
My name is Marshall Mathers, I’m an alcoholic (Hi Marshall)
I have a disease and they don’t know what to call it.”
Eminem hit the ’90s with a lot of this style. Like Eddie Murphy’s benchmark acts 15 years prior, Em’ took aim at pop culture, news headlines, and struggling skeptics. The MC had a tone, which in his mid-twenties featured substance abuse, fearlessness, and imagery of lower-class Middle America (fast food jobs, 1975 Monte Carlo, mobile homes). While it was clear that Eminem was a B-boy, his experience stood apart from the common Rap narratives. Content aside, Marshall’s ability to bend words together through his one-of-a-kind cadence was staggering. Rapping fast in the late ’90s was not typically praised or marketable. Eminem was reviving the lung-collapsing lyrical style of guys like Percee P, Pharoahe Monch, Lakim Shabazz, and Kool Keith. With melodic beats courtesy of Dr. Dre, Bass Brothers, and others, Eminem was bringing oddball raps to an operatic-like stage. Infinite and The Slim Shady LP studied the great albums of the underground and the mainstream, and blended the architecture of the two.
By the 2000s, entering his thirties, Eminem raised the stakes. The Marshall Mathers LP swapped some of the stand-up-like elements for more personal writing. The D12 MC refused to mince drug-use, threatening the Right, or anger issues against his mom or daughter’s mother. Instead, the caricature became more of a character. Intermixed, Eminem made records like “Lose Yourself” and “The Way I Am.” These songs took Marshall Mathers’ experience and found ways to make them into universal messages, winning over the Academy Awards and Top 40 at once. Eminem no longer had to rely upon making fun of Pop tart felatio and Sonny Bono to get into American living-rooms. Like Tupac, Nas, or The Notorious B.I.G., the Aftermath Entertainment superstar could take his struggles and filter out messages of hope and ambition.
“No more games, I’m a change what you call rage
Tear this motherfuckin’ roof off like two dogs caged
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
All the pain inside amplified by the
Fact that I can’t get by with my 9-to
-5 and I can’t provide the right type of
Life for my family ’cause man, these God damn food stamps don’t buy diapers
And its no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer
This is my life and these times are so hard
And it’s getting even harder tryin’ to feed and water my seed, plus
See dishonor caught up between bein’ a father and a prima-donna
Baby mama drama screamin’ on and too much
For me to want to say in one spot, another jam or not
Has gotten me to the point, I’m like a snail I’ve got
To formulate a plot fore I end up in jail or shot
Success is my only motherfuckin’ option, failure’s not”
After defining himself as a punchline MC and a Pop-savvy lyricist, Eminem—by happenstance—became a Gangsta Rapper. Entrenched in feuds with Benzino, Ja Rule, and others, Eminem started making war-crying records. Not commercial successes, “Like Toy Soldiers” and mid-2000s mixtape work showed a more militant Eminem. Fans hung on every word, as Eminem chronicled his paranoia, his anger, and a multi-millionaire on the edge of sanity. This mentality would hold through Encore, into Eminem’s late 2000s Relapse return. Angst, depression, addiction, and an agitation with Hip-Hop and the world beyond would drive the conversation.
“So I take a Vicodin splash it hits my stomach and ‘ahh’
A couple weeks go by it ain’t even like I’m getting high
Now I need it just not to feel sick, ya, I’m getting by
Wouldn’t even be taking this shit if Deshaun didn’t die
Oh ya there’s an excuse you lose Proof, so you use
There’s new rules it’s cool if it’s helpin’ you to get through
It’s twelve noon ain’t no harm in self inducing a snooze
What else is new fuck it, what would Elvis do in your shoes
Now here I am three months later full blown relapse”
Eminem brought the here-and-now to his lyrics, not unlike All Eyez On Me-era Tupac, Kanye West, or Jay. With brutal honesty, lots of drama, and intimacy with the listener, Marshall Mathers took the next step. He was not only being honest, but vulnerable to a new light. Eminem wasn’t justifying his craziness as a character, he simply was confessing his perspective to the world. The cadence, flow, and skills had not changed, even if the voice, tone, and mood most certainly had.
In 20 years (and 15 in the spotlight), Eminem is one of the few Rap stars who has balanced his style with substance. Along the journey, Marshall Mathers has tapped into so many niche skills that make MCs great, especially in the eyes of specialized pockets of fans. Through both innovative song-making as well as top industry resources, Eminem was a reminder to some fans that Rap could still be unpredictably fun. To others, Eminem was the epitome of a music video star. Concepts like “Stan” or “My Name Is” were executed brilliantly in living color. This was Walkman-era Rap with all the trimmings. Presumably, Eminem was many fans’ first great MC. He rapped (and raps) amazingly, on platforms where skills are not often celebrated. More than that, through his tangible hits, his high-profile circumstances and feuds, and his first person narrative, Eminem is an artist so many people feel like they know. And he’s still recording, arguably as well as he has in the last decade.
Whether you agree or disagree with the results, is Eminem voted the GOAT because he is all things Heads seek in an MC?