Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March 8: Eminem, "The Way I Am"

Artist: Eminem
Song: "The Way I Am"
Album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Year: 2000

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Though they are one of the most rare breeds of musicians, once or twice every decade, there is a performer that is so impossible to ignore, so monumental, that for one reason or another, they end up defining that entire decade of music.  Whether it was The Beatles becoming the icon of the 1960's or Nirvana and Pearl Jam having a similar status three decades later, one simply cannot consider the music of that time without the bands in question.  As the new millennium began, there is a single individual that quickly dominated the entire musical landscape, and love him or hate him, one simply cannot consider the 2000's without a thorough discussion of Eminem.  From his jarring, often disturbing lyrics to the way in which he was able to contrast these moments with some of the most light-hearted, amusing pop hits of the decade, few artists of any style have shown as much range within their own genre.  While his first single in 1999 was certainly unforgettable, it would be his 2000 release, The Marshall Mathers LP, that would become his defining work.  Filled with some of the most unique and catchy beats in years, combined with his unpredictable, unrivaled talents as an emcee, the album quickly rose to an iconic status within the world of hip-hop.  Yet it was also on this record that Eminem showed his ability to decimate all those who meant him harm or were being insincere, and there are few more impressive moments within his career than Eminem's scathing, hard-hitting 2000 single, "The Way I Am."

Even without the lyrical content, "The Way I Am" quickly establishes itself as one of the greatest hip-hop tracks in history, and it was in fact the first beat that Eminem himself composed and placed on one of his albums.  This makes it far more understandable as to how the music so perfectly matches the overall mood that he presents on the song, lead by the dark, deep bassline.  While the overall musical arrangement stands slightly at odds with the trends of that time (ie. missing excessive bass), the bassline gives the song s strong groove, and also lends "The Way I Am" an almost foreboding feel.  Combining this with the piano loop, and the overall mood of the song conveys an uneasy, almost nervous energy, with the piano adding an almost ominous tone.  The sharp, dry snare that runs throughout the song is the only other consistent element, and this comparatively sparse sound makes the song rather unique within the overall catalog of Eminem.  It also helps to provide for a greater contrast when the chimes kick in during the chorus sections, and this sound gives the song a strange sound that is almost regal, yet simultaneously reinforces the doomed, dark feel of the song.  Clearly, Eminem had learned quite a bit from his years of having Dr. Dre produce his songs, and it is perhaps the reason that the first time he used his own beat on record, it was such a powerful success.

However, while the musical arrangement he created helps to define the songs' mood, there is simply no getting past the blistering, unrelenting lyrics that Eminem drops on "The Way I Am."  Showing what is perhaps the most aggressive side of his personality, there are points on the track where he is almost screaming, and one can feel the frustrated, yet cathartic nature of the song.  Even when he sounds to be at his most agitated, Eminem never sacrifices the clarity of his words, and it is this aspect that makes him rise so far above his peers.  Where a majority of his other songs feature at least a few moments of his trademark humor, "The Way I Am" remains dark throughout, and Eminem verbally destroys nearly everyone, proving that the original reason for hip-hop, the battle rhyme, is still alive and well.  The song is also perhaps Eminem's sharpest critique of society, as he turns his pen on everyone that wants him to be something other than himself.  Whether he is taking on fans that expect him to always make time for them, regardless of what he is doing; or his scathing attack on the mass media and how they try and pass the problems of the world off on celebrities, it seems nobody is safe from the wrath of his pen.  Though there are many brilliant lyrical moments throughout the song, there few that resonate with the power of when he delivers the lines, "...and they blame it on Marilyn, and the heroin...where were the parents at? And look where it's at, middle America now it's a tragedy..."  Simply put, once the song ends, there is nothing anyone can say aside from the fact that Eminem uses "The Way I Am" to settle all problems he had with pretty much anyone.

It is perhaps the jarring accuracy of the lyrics found on "The Way I Am" that make it such a brilliant work of hip-hop, and it hits just as hard today as it did more than a decade ago.  The simple, yet powerful beat is uniquely catchy, and Eminem crafted it to perfectly match the tone and mood that he deploys within his vocal delivery.  Furthermore, it is one of his most rhythmically complex songs to date, as a majority of his lyrics are delivered in a meter of anapestic tetrameter.  Though many emcees try and define themselves by the speed with which they rap, Eminem clearly understands how to balance speed with a rhythm and clarity that is second to none.  Completely ignoring any of the glorifications of self and lifestyle that have dominated the world of hip-hop for nearly two decades, the dark, almost apocalyptic feel that he creates via both the music and lyrics almost instantly set the song into its own category.  Yet as the song comes to a close, one cannot deny the sense of catharsis that is clearly present, and one can assume it is because during the nearly five previous minutes, Eminem settled all scores with anyone with whom he had issues.  His current state of frustration is perhaps no more clear than when he drops the lines, "...I'm so sick and tired of being admired, that I wish that I would just die or get fired...and dropped from my label, and stop with the fables, I'm not gonna be able to top on "My Name Is.""  This sense of brutal clarity is the key to why the song is so superior to the rest of his catalog, and regardless of how one feels about him, one cannot deny the impact and importance of Eminem's phenomenal 2000 single, "The Way I Am."

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