Just want to ride on my motorcycle.
Arlo Guthrie is an absolute legend, and I’m a total sucker for his talking blues. His “Motorcycle Song” is an all time favorite of mine. This song was a part of his 1967 debut album, Alice’s Restaurant, and is probably overshadowed a bit by “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” which was the first song on the album and took up the entire A-side of the record. I’ve included the Spotify album beneath the video.
This is too good not to share. The jazz makes it music related, I swear.
if I run for president in 2020 my attack ads will just be an adult swim style text bump that says "them niggas be fuckin kids" with some smooth jazz— Zachary Fox (@zackfox) November 19, 2017
i really didn't have to do this but i did: pic.twitter.com/C33WRcRCpG— Zachary Fox (@zackfox) November 19, 2017
I was wondering why this jazz beat went so hard and then I realized it’s a sax cover of O.T. Genasis’ “Cut It.”
Last Friday Eminem released a track titled “Walk On Water” which features Beyoncé. While this clipping isn’t entirely about that song in particular, I suggest you give it a listen first.
First, while listening to the song, I started to think about Eminem’s style and flow, and how it has evolved over the years. In this song, as well as his BET cypher which goes at Trump, Eminem’s flow feels stripped down and places a ton of emphasis on cadence and word play. There’s a particular rawness and maturity to it that made me want to reflect back on some of Eminem’s older music. I’m going to stay true to how I actually listened to all of this, but it comes back full circle at the end.
In scrolling down to find Eminem’s first album, I simply hadn’t realized just how much music he has produced over the years. From that, I began to realize that I honestly haven’t listened to it all. I’m just young enough to have heard my oldest siblings listening to Eminem, knowing his name and knowing just how big he was, but to have not grown up actually listening to his music. I honestly think one of the first albums I ever listened all of the way through on was Relapse which was released in 2009.
All of this is to say, I went all of the way back to listen to The Slim Shady LP (1999) and listened all of the way up to his most recent releases, and it provided for a very conflicting experience. As I’d go through each album, I’d hear popular songs I knew of growing up, but hearing them in the context of the actual album completely changed those songs for me. Listening chronologically also gave each album and song more significance. Coming back to these albums with a tuned ear and a sense of maturity helped me pick up on the little clues and commonalities that subtly link each album.
It only comes from listening now that I realize that these albums—these songs—were less schizophrenic or insane, as they’re so often depicted as, and far more theatrical. I’ve been listening to a ton of Kendrick Lamar recently and trying to understand all of the characters and personas he constructs in his music, and going back to Eminem’s music has made me feel like an idiot. Through the countless skits and disclaimers, how did I have such a false understanding of his music? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved Eminem’s music, but I defintely didn’t understand it entirely which is the result of not growing up actually listening to it. In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, Eminem states:
“Well, look, I’ve been doing this shit for, what, 14 years now? And I think people know my personal stance on things and the personas that I create in my music. And if someone doesn’t understand that by now, I don’t think there’s anything I can do to change their mind about it.”
I say it was a very conflicting experience going through each album because what I remember of Eminem during the time most of these were released are just fragments of other people’s opinions and I was far too young to get the graphic nature of Eminem’s lyrics. Even now, listening back to many of these songs put my stomach in a knot. But I say many of these albums were more theatrical because you start to pick up on Eminem’s characters and personas that aren’t necessarily reflective of himself. Much of the misogynistic lyrics put on display the toxicity of internalized masculinity. And funny enough, it’s as though Eminem tries to tell us this so many times across his albums but when we’re only fed sound bites it’s hard to understand the plot of the play. Now let us return to his music.
Eminem released Infinite in 1996 which is his debut studio album, but I’m including The Slim Shady LP below simply because Infinite as whole isn’t on Spotify. While I’m including the album below, I suggest you continue reading on then circle back to the album and do as I did (listen to each album chronologically).
Following The Slim Shady LP we get The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) which, to this day, is still Eminem’s most successful album having sold over 32 million copies world wide. In this album, we get the track “Stan” which is largely written from the perspective of Stan, an fictional, overly obsessed fan of Eminem. Little did Eminem know, stan would go on to become a part of music vocabulary and is literally defined by the Oxford dictionary as “an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.”
It’s important to highlight The Marshall Mathers LP and “Stan” because they both tie back to Eminem’s recent release of “Walk On Water.” I had only listened to “Walk On Water” once when it was release which immediately sent my down the rabbit hole of Eminem’s other music, and so I didn’t completely listen to the lyrics or notice the nuanced details of the song. So here it is again for you to listen to.
The very first line Eminem spits is “Why are expectations so high? Is it the bar I set?” which sets the tone for the entire song. It’s the sad reality most musicians face—the difficulty of living up to your past hits, and the struggle which comes from wanting to grow and progress but always having your work compared to what preceeded it. While Eminem asks the question, he already knows the answer which comes out at the beginning of the second verse.
“It’s the curse of the standard That the first of the Mathers discs set Always in search of the verse that I haven’t spit yet Will this step just be another misstep To tarnish whatever the legacy, love or respect I’ve garnered? The rhyme has to be perfect, the delivery flawless And it always feels like I’m hittin’ the mark ’Til I go sit in the car, listen and pick it apart Like, ‘This shit is garbage!’”
I was just going to include the first two lines, but this whole section seemed relevant. In here we see how he directly mentions his Mashall Mathers LP, and how he feels he can never live up to it or at least feels an obligation to uphold his name. This pressure seems to have reached a point where he feels nothing he writes is sufficent.
Throughout the song, if you listen closely, you can hear Eminem rummaging through pieces of paper and ripping them up. In listening to the Steve Berman skit on Relapse, I realized Eminem hadn’t released anything for 5 years which is largely because of a drug problem he was facing, but it may have also been hard to follow up some of his previous albums before that. Over the past few years, it’s said that Eminem has scrapped entire projects such as Relapse 2 and the King Mathers LP. Hearing Eminem ripping up pieces of paper in the background of each chorus not only demonstrates the point of the song—how he fears nothing he writes lives up to his past work—but is also reminiscent of an actor on stage going rogue, ripping apart their stage and speaking from the heart.
It’s as though all of Eminem’s past albums have been acts of a play. There’s a particular complexity to each one which comes from Eminem constantly switching between characters, but with a close eye you can begin to follow it. And with his recent release of “Walk On Water,” the very present change in tone mimics a monologue. With that, I can’t help but fear that we’re nearing the end of the play.