As legend has it, Marshall Mathers used to want to rap so bad as a teenager he would sneak out of his school, walk a ways through town, and sneak into another high school that his friend Proof attended just to engage in lunchroom freestyle battles. Those class skipping sessions were the anthesis of the legendary battles that were recreated on the big screen for 8 Mile, the semi-autobiographical tale of a troubled man who wanted nothing more than to rap and be revered for his skill. That innate desire to simply rap and be lauded for the skillful approach to the art has been the story of Eminem’s career, and in the later stages it has plagued him and transformed him into a robotic, rambling machine of non sequiturs that rhyme impeccably and make almost no sense.
Em’s obsession with proving his skill has manifested itself into an unhealthy preoccupation with rhyming and playing with words, and he even once discussed his frustration with the fact that the word “orange” has no true rhymes on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper. “People say that the word orange doesn’t rhyme with anything, and that kind of pisses me off,” he told Cooper before tossing out a series of words that rhymed with a reconfigured pronunciation of the word orange. “I put my orange, four-inch, door hinge in storage and ate porridge with George,” he blurted out on command, ironically detailing the most fatal flaw of the second half of his career. It was an impressive display, but ultimately a series of words that were meant to rhyme, above all, sacrificing all meaning and significance of how they actually connect to say, well, anything.
What makes all of that frustrating is that Eminem was always at his best when he had something to say. Whether it was a political statement, a biting analysis of culture or a scathing look at himself, whenever he had something meaningful to get off his chest it was always more exciting than his lyrical exercises.