If you didn’t live it, you don’t know the struggle. Looking back on 1999, if someone asked for a perfect 10 by Eminem, I would have heard of Eminem, but wouldn’t be able to name 10 songs by him. My, how the times have changed. As I sit here and formulate A Perfect 10 by Eminem, I am struck by how many songs can make such a list. Let’s get a little history lesson on before I dispense with what I feel makes up A Perfect 10 by Eminem for me.
I had the unfortunate distinction of growing up when rock and hip-hop were struggling with their identities. As the millennium approached, rock had moved on from the Grunge sound of the early and mid-’90s and into nu-metal. Anyone who is an ardent fan of rock music knows that this was a dark period. Hip-hop found itself in the same boat—coming after the East Coast/West Coast feud; materialism became the topic as the Bling Era was born. There was not much substance thrown around during this time, and it was hard to find a distinct voice to separate themselves from the pack. I found myself struggling to find a sound that would sink their hooks into me and make me want to hit replay over and over. All that changed with three simple letters: TRL.
For those unfamiliar, TRL stood for Total Request Live—a daily show that MTV aired live. Viewers were able to call or e-mail songs to the show, which MTV would tally up. From that tally, TRL would present the top ten songs each day. The popularity of TRL led to many musicians and bands becoming overnight sensations. One of those artists that benefitted from the TRL boost was Eminem.
What can be said about him that has yet to be said? He’s won numerous awards including Grammys, People’s Choice Awards, and even an Academy Award. His albums have consistently topped the music charts, and he is a millionaire many times over. Instead, I would like to offer my personal choice of ten songs that create a perfect album for me.
Following the precedent he set with his latest album, Music to be Murdered by, I have composed a Side A portion and a Side B. Each side of my top ten will include three “bonus tracks” for songs that did not make either top ten but were tracks I felt were standouts in their own right.
I made one rule to make the ‘Perfect 10’, and that was Eminem had to be the main focus of the song. I am excluding his guest appearances or Eminem tracks where he only offered up one verse. To make my top ten, Eminem needs to be on 50% or more of the song. Yes, it’s arbitrary, but it’s the rule I put in place. With that out of the way, let’s get into Side A of my Perfect 10 by Eminem.
Bonus Track 1: “Evil Deeds” Encore, 2004
I’m sure this may surprise many of you, or maybe now, but “Evil Deeds” is the only track from Encore that will show up on either side (spoilers!). In recent years, Encore seems to be undergoing revaluation as unjustly critiqued when first released. Is it misunderstood? No. I have felt the same about the album since it was first released. There are a plethora of bad songs and terrible lines that permeate all aspects of the album. Not to say all songs are bad, but the weak vastly outnumber the strong. You might think otherwise, though, as the first musical track kicks in. Punctuated by a fast and jagged beat accompanied by a faint chorus—giving an ominous tone, Eminem raps about being hated by his family before making it in the music industry. In the second verse, Em details making it with the rap community, but no one understands his pain due to how successful he is. The track is full of reflections on his standing within his public and personal life and stands as a worthy track in his discography.
Bonus Track 2: “Bad Guys Always Die (with Dr. Dre)” Wild Wild West Soundtrack, 1999
I know what you’re thinking: “Nothing good came from the film Wild Wild West.” For the most part, you are correct, though I would like to present this Eminem and Dr. Dre collaboration as evidence that not all is lost. With a dusty, Western-themed beat, Eminem and Dr. Dre portray themselves as Western outlaws ready to duel each other. As with the best of the lyrical collaborations between Dr. Dre and Eminem, each weaves a well-told story and allows the listener a front-row seat for their misadventures. Yes, the song is attached to an underwhelming film, it does not mean that this adventure between Em and Dre is not worth taking.
Bonus Track 3: “Phenomenal” Southpaw Soundtrack, 2015
The mid-2010s output from Eminem had some questionable decisions. Adapting a staccato flow that he still utilizes to some extent, much more of his songs feel jagged with the abundance of syllables Em fits into each verse. No matter your thoughts on his flow lately, there is no denying his lyrical ability. One of his better songs with this flow came from the soundtrack to Southpaw: “Phenomenal.” Finding Marshall in full anthem mode, the lyrics are tailor-made to be placed onto your workout playlist, filled with inspiring and empowering themes of giving more than you get, fighting till your last breath, and applying yourself. Granted, none of this song is new territory nor anything new, but for what it is, “Phenomenal” does the job.
Track 1: “The Way I Am” The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000
Possibly my favorite track Eminem has done, off my favorite album of his, “The Way I Am” is dark, angry Eminem at his best. Covering themes mentioned earlier in “Evil Deeds,” Em rages throughout the track about people not understanding him and allowing him to live the life he wants. Punctuated by a haunting beat that Eminem produced, Eminem paints a dark and brooding picture of his life in a way that listeners can comprehend. “The Way I Am” punched above its weight when it was first released and holds up just as well in 2021.
2: “Beautiful” Relapse, 2009
Like 2004’s Encore, 2009’s Relapse is undergoing a revival as another misunderstood album. I wouldn’t say I agree with that statement, but I enjoy Relapse as a whole more than Encore. After five years away, Em returned and attempted to harness Slim Shady once again. What came of this attempt was an album of over-the-top stories without much substance. The only meaningful moments to be found came late in the album with the song “Beautiful.” Written in parts before and after his addiction battle, it’s one of the more intriguing songs in his catalog. We listen to Eminem go from self-wallowing to confident within himself to conquer his demons within the track, but also in life.
Track 3: “Legacy” The Marshall Mathers LP 2, 2013
I can see a lot of people getting on me about this track. “He did the school/bully thing,” on “‘Brain Damage,'” you might say. “Em told of his old neighborhood better in ‘Yellow Brick Road,'” another might shout. I agree with that, but combining all the hits plus the ethereal chorus sung by Polina, adds an element missing from those aforementioned songs. “Legacy” is something akin to your favorite meal made by the best chef in the world: you’ve had it before, but this version tastes slightly better all other times.
Track 4: “White America” The Eminem Show, 2002
Mirroring “Evil Deeds,” “White America” kicks off another Eminem album, this time: 2002’s The Eminem Show. In one of Eminem’s first fully-political songs, he angrily details critical and familial responses he faces. Almost a defendant on trial against America, Eminem fights off accusations from government officials and middle-America of instigating controversy. Seeing the hypocrisy of making it in hip-hop, yet drawing the attention of being caucasian within a predominantly black community, Eminem relishes in causing controversy. “White America” is a big middle finger to upper-class, white, suburban America and proves why Eminem has remained a constant force in the pop culture zeitgeist to this day.
Track 5: “Elevator” Relapse: Refill, 2009
Now, let’s head on over to no one’s favorite album, Relapse, though we slightly deviate to the re-release, Relapse: Refill. Initially, a stop-gap between Relpase and its planned sequel Refill would be the last tracks released during his “accent” phase. Containing seven previously unreleased tracks, the tone on Refill felt like a continuation with goofy rhymes and accents a-plenty. Wedged dead-center in the Refill tracklist is the standout song: “Elevator.” Eminem details the success he has accumulated over his career over a fun and bouncy beat. He flashes back to his earlier days with his best friend, Proof, that he could never imagine success as a rapper. “Elevator” is a top-tier Eminem song and features one of the best hooks he has ever laid down.
6: “The Warning” Non-Album Single, 2009
No one wants to be on the end of an Eminem diss track. You can ask Ja Rule, Benzino, and M.G.K. about that. Using masterful wordplay amongst those who disrespect him, Eminem is a force of nature. So, it’s weird to see him dedicate an entire song dissing Mariah Carey. It happened, though. After Carey released the single “Obsessed,” Eminem took offense and launched into a three-minute tirade destroying Carey and her then-husband, Nick Cannon. Flowing almost effortlessly in one long verse, he dishes on Mariah’s house, matching tat’s with Nick Cannon and a hilarious jab at himself about him prematurely ejaculating on her stomach. Nothing is off the table as Em even includes what appears to be Mariah Carey during her time with Eminem. Some may say that formulating a diss track to Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon is weak and punching below his weight, but you still have to be impressed with the heat he can throw out when he needs to.
7: “Lock It Up (Featuring Anderson .Paak)” Music to be Murdered by, 2020
Now we have come to one of his newest songs, plus the one most reliant on vibes. Easily the best track from Music to be Murdered By, Em makes a great decision and teams up with Anderson .Paak. Allowing .Paak first dibs on the hypnotic beat, .Paak rides well with a confident swagger about looking for a party before Em jumps in for verses two and three. The confidence continues as Eminem takes a swipe at Joe Budden, details that he is “paid as Oprah,” and how a mic in his hand is considered a weapon. None of the themes touched up are new and will familiar to most Stans out there. Instead, the intoxicating beat welcomes the listener in for its scant runtime—meshing these two artists into a mesmerizing concoction that goes down as smooth as the beat.
8: “Can-I-Bitch” Straight From the Lab (Bootleg), 2003
Remember earlier when I mentioned how effortlessly Eminem dissed Mariah Carey? Six years before that, Eminem laid down another diss track with ease to rapper Canibus. In the early to mid-2000s, after signing 50 Cent to his label, Eminem found himself feuding with musical artists including Limp Bizkit, Insane Clown Posse, and Everlast. Each felt the wrath of Eminem to a degree, but on “Can-I-Bitch,” Em takes a different approach. Borrowing from Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story,” we find one of the bounciest and—dare I say, fun diss tracks Eminem released? Recanting how the feud started, Eminem makes hilarious observations including, Eminem receiving multiple messages from Canibus, confusing the ‘E’ with an ‘A’—assuming he wanted to massage Eminem. He then teams with Dr. Dre to meet Canibus in Canada—on the way, hitting Jermaine Dupri and Pet Shop Boys, both in Eminem’s sights at the time. What makes this song stand out among the rest is the lack of care Eminem gives to this beef. “Can-I-Bitch” is a silly song. Em knows that. Instead of getting upset, he looks at Canibus and laughs in his face, taking away any power Canibus might have on him.
9: “As the World Turns” The Slim Shady LP, 1999
I can hear some of you saying “Finally” as I get to a song from The Slim Shady LP. While not my favorite album Eminem has produced, his major-label debut does have some worthwhile tracks. “As the World Turns” might be the best song to sum up what made the Slim Shady person so intriguing. Telling two different tales, Eminem spins a whacked-out version of life in the first verse as he details murdering his guinea pig, no one believing in him, and eventually, assaulting a fat girl from his gym class. His next adventure leads him to a laundromat, looking for trashy women. He finds a woman, explaining that he’s escaped prison and looking to rob her. The story spins wildly out of control with an impressive amount of detail to fill your brain. Even if the story is silly and over-the-top, with Eminem’s lyrics, you can visualize the scene as Eminem paints the canvas with a plethora of rhymes. “As the World Turns” may not have the substance of other Eminem songs, but it encompasses everything that made you fall in love with him.
10: “25 to Life” Recovery, 2010
A track that I feel does not get the love as it should, is this track off Recovery. Doing what he does best, Eminem paints a vivid picture for the listener as he struggles with his love life. Not as angry as he has proven with tracks like “Kim,” but still harboring hate, Eminem rails on his love suffocating him and not allowing a life outside of their relationship. Having a title like “25 to Life” sets the tone of someone who has, or still is, trapped in prison. And a prisoner he is. The prison? Hip-hop. Em weaves a masterfully intricate tale of how his addiction in life is the rap industry—he needs to find a way to free himself before his life sentence has been served.
And that does it for Side A. A Perfect 10 by Eminem. What are your thoughts? What makes a perfect ten for you? You are probably wondering what’s with Side A? As I mentioned earlier, Eminem has too many songs to fill one ‘Perfect 10’, so I decided to create A Perfect 10 by Eminem: Side B with another batch of great songs. Make sure to check that out as well!