Eminem is a paradox. He’s the most private artist in the industry today, yet, fans know more about his family tree than their own. Eminem’s latest album, “Revival”, is in the same vein. It’s conflicting, just like the artist.
Revival is chock full of star-studded features, from Pink to Ed Sheeran to fan favorite Skylar Grey, everyone is present on the third installment of Eminem’s Recovery series. However, from all these big name tunes, one simple track stood out to me the most: Believe. Let’s get into why.
As I’ve stated before I’m a lyric man. I don’t know much about production and flow, but I’d dissect a lyric by syllable if I had to.
The song continues from Walk on Water’s hype outro where Eminem states, “he created Stan”.
Believe then starts with an “AND”, stating continuation. Eminem demonstrates similar continuation in the last two tracks on this album, Castle and Arose.
And I started from the bottom
Like a snowman, ground-up
Like round chuck
In the very first bar he’s already rhymed “snowman” and “hand” with “Stan”. And this is only the beginning.
Regardless, as the song progresses you really start to notice the sincerity behind the track. Unlike Walk on Water, where although the number was introspective, it all seemed to be a set-up for Beyonce’s hook. It felt like the tune was only made for the first reveal; to make a splash if you will.
This song is pure Eminem. And it’s one of the biggest reasons I adore this song. It erases one of the biggest concerns about my favorite artist getting old: his lyricism.
Eminem is a lyrical phenom. Eminem is also a magnificent story-teller. Somehow this man always manages to paint a picture and take you through his life in about 4 minutes. Stan, Bonnie and Clyde, Kim, Mockingbird are few of the classics that spring to mind when I listen to Believe, and I love that.
He even throws in a reference to Cleanin Out My Closet for long time fans.
The story this time, is only about Eminem. Not his mother, not his wife, not his daughter, not his fans, just him.
The story is about the underdog who made it to the very top of the game. About a megastar’s legacy. And a reflection on willpower and friendship. 4 stories in a 4-minute song. Criminally underrated is an understatement.
The Underdog Story
Eminem starts Believe by reflecting on his current status. How he is now in good neighborhood, bumping shoulders with the elite of elites. But he also talks about what got him there. Reminiscing his 8-mile days where he used to get ‘hired and fired on the same day’* for general factory work, collecting welfare throughout his life.
*Rock Bottom – Eminem
Down in the dumps, bullied, and abused by family and society alike Eminem discusses his own evolution- how he used the anger and raw emotion to become one of the greatest MCs of all time.
Eminem also discusses how he got a taste of fame with the little success of his only hit single; the title-track of the album, Infinite. But as a testament to his grit and struggle he remained unsatisfied because being close to success only “counts in time bombs (wherever a grenade lands, it still does damage) and horseshoes (closest to the target wins).”
After a 4-year hiatus, Shady returns. Spotlight’s back on him, everyone waiting to compare him to his ‘old self’. And although he expressed doubt in his ability on Walk on Water – he has faith, that he can still stay on top of the rap game at the age of 45.
Eminem also ponders over how critics of today believe he’s past his prime, has fallen off, and should retire. The decks are stacked against the man again.
It’s a situation bathed in irony, he’s an underdog who’s at the top of the game.
A Tale of Friendship
Believe also expands on the friend-cum-mentor relationship Eminem had with long-deceased MC Proof.
After 20 years in the business, Eminem is drained. He calls upon his biggest source of inspiration, and that’s where I get hints of old Eminem. The word-play and metaphorical references on the third verse are ridiculous. It reminds me of vintage Marshall, the angry blonde-headed kid who took the world by storm. The ‘I don’t care’ attitude returns, there’s no time for reflection, it’s time to get back to work.
Speaking of work, not many people are aware but Eminem is known for his extreme work-ethic and perfectionism. Here’s an interview from T.I. elucidating on the meticulousness behind the genius. [3.40-ish]
This line is particular is significant, because Eminem states the love/hate relationship he has with his own perfectionism. The ‘heartbeat loop’ is a figurative term for his producers who work as per his will on each and every track. And the hate is what fuels his fire.
Reflecting on Eminem's Legacy
The penultimate theme I deduced was on the subject of legacy. Eminem finally adopts the humble-brag and reminds people why he’s treated like a living legend. Eminem’s monologue to you, the listener, who is now critiquing his every move and once looked upon his songs to get through your darkest hours is powerful. Secondly, it’s also a subtle reminder to the artists who say that he’s lost his touch; that they once themselves looked upon Eminem as an inspiration. And thirdly, he reminds people about the 4-years he was gone; the people watched upon his every move, waiting for him to release an album, making the wait almost unbearable. As demonstrated when he pushed back Revival’s release date.
Lastly, Eminem recounts the artists he’s destroyed over his illustrious career. And he’s still not to be trifled with. After all, a wounded tiger is the most dangerous. Notice the wordplay on “cost”, “cheap shots”, “overpriced” and “free”. Also “the bird” is another term for flipping the middle finger.
What does a man who’s achieved everything do next? From winning the Oscars, to becoming the highest selling artist in history, the man’s done it all. At 45, there’s not much gas in the tank. But that’s what separates the legend from the common man: Perseverance. This verse in particular kind of hurt my soul, it forced me to realize that all good things must come to an end.
Man, in my younger days
That dream was so much fun to chase
It’s like I run in place
While this shit dangled in front of my face
But how do you keep up the pace
And the hunger pangs once you’ve won the race?
When that fuel exhaust is coolin’ off
‘Cause you don’t got nothin’ left to prove at all
‘Cause you done already hit ’em with the coup de grâce
Eminem is past his prime, and the coup de grace (death blow) he’s talking about are his most critically acclaimed albums — The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show. Records like these solidified him as a legend in Hip-Hop, and Em isn’t sure that he can deliver on the same level or better twenty years later. And yes, he does explicitly state that he’s going to keep grinding, but, you know when you know. It’s taking every ounce of mental strength not to just quit, all he’s asking is we give him a chance. And keep faith.
I believe, do you?