Eminem – Like Toy Soldiers (Song Review, Meaning & Lyrics Analysis)
Anyone who knows anything about Marshall Mathers knows that he is a genius lyricist. He could very well be considered the best hip hop/rap lyricist of all time. Some would disagree with this and some of you may already be sold. For those who aren’t, I present to you “Like Toy Soldiers”, a track that gives me chills to this date even after a decade since its release.
“Like Toy Soldiers” first appeared on the fifth studio album by Eminem. The album was titled ‘Encore’ and was released on November 12, 2004. The album was released under Dr. Dre’s record label Aftermath. The album went Quadruple platinum within a month of release. To this day, ‘Encore’ is considered one of the greatest rap albums of all time.
“Like Toy Soldiers” widely addresses the feuds that took place in music industry-specifically Hip Hop-and how those feuds let to ending their lives. Eminem speaks in an emotional tone in the song about how frustrated and sad and angry he is about what artists do to each other. He compares the feuds in Hip Hop to a battlefield. Eminem and other artists are toy soldiers in the field, who are lead to war to die.
“Like Toy Soldiers” Review, Song Meaning & Lyrics Analysis
The hook of this track is very catchy and sums up what Em wants to say.
Step by step, heart to heart
Left right left, we all fall down like toy soldiers
Bit by bit, torn apart
We never win, but the battle wages on for toy soldiers
This hook has been extracted from “Toy Soldiers” by Martika. However, Eminem makes it work for “Like Toy Soldiers” too. He speaks about how the artists are lead into war like toy soldier-toy soldiers are expendables, they have no emotions, no relatives, no blood, sweat and tears, toy soldiers are used at will by kids-much like them Em and other artists kill each other like emotionless plastic toys.
The feuds go on and on and more and more people get dragged into them. Some lose their lives and family in the process. But does it ever stop? It keeps on waging and toy soldiers keep on falling down.
Eminem gets in on the first verse.
I’m supposed to be the soldier, who never blows his composure
Even though I hold the weight of the whole world on my shoulders
I ain’t never supposed to show it, my crew ain’t supposed to know it
Eminem is a soldier. Soldiers take orders and blindly go to the battlefield while Captains give orders at the safety of their air conditioned bunkers. Eminem expresses that he had no control over the feuds that were going on. He was merely a soldier caught in the crossfire.
At the release of the fifth album, Eminem was already a global phenomenon. He was The white rapper. The whole world has eyes on him-naturally, he had to maintain his composure. Lesser artists had freedom to say and do what they wanted. But not Eminem-all eyes were on him.
Even if it means going toe to toe with a Benzino
Eminem had a brief feud with Benzino the rapper. Benzino released “Pull Ya Skirt Up” and Eminem responded with “Bully”, “The Sauce” and “Nail The Coffin”, and Benzino was never affiliated with Eminem again. However, when the dust settled Benzino was a few ticks popular than he was before and Em was left with a black mark on his career.
It don’t matter I’d never drag them in battles that I can handle
‘less I absolutely have to, I’m supposed to set an example
I need to be the leader, my crew looks for me to guide ’em
If some shit ever does pop off, I’m supposed to be beside ’em
Eminem is a lyrical genius. Possible, there’s no one who can outdo him a lyrical rap battle. He is aware and confident of that fact. However, he regrets having associating his ‘crew’ and friends in his battles, even though he had control over them. Eminem is the leader of Shady Records and his crew includes D12, Yelawolf, Slaughterhouse and included artists like Obie Trice and 50 Cent. Eminem is required to set an example to them, because if he goes into battle, the rest of the crew would follow him like toy soldiers.
That Ja shit, I tried to squash it, it was too late to stop it
There’s a certain line you just don’t cross and he crossed it
I heard him say Hailie’s name on a song and I just lost it
Eminem and Ja Rule started a beef in association to the beef 50 Cent had with Ja. Eminem may have tried to stop the beef from escalating, but Ja went on to diss 50 Cent, Eminem and Dre in “Loose Change”. Eminem would have been fine with Ja insulting him, but he took it across the line. The line being associating Em’s daughter Hailie in the same track. Ja goes: “Em, you claim your mother’s a crackhead and Kim is a known slut / So what’s Hailie gon’ be when she grows up?”. That was a cheap move and a very bad career move. Is Ja Rule still alive? I have no clue.
It was crazy, the shit went way beyond some Jay-Z and Nas shit
Jay-Z and Nas had one of the biggest musical rivalries in the past. Em says his feud with Ja Rule got uglier than Jay and Nas diss, mainly because of Ja claiming Eminem’s daughter will grow up to be a crackhead and a prostitute.
And even though the battle is won I feel like we lost it
I spent so much energy on it, honestly I’m exhausted
Eminem took out Ja Rule in many songs after the feud started. I can only imagine the mental exhaustion it all had on Em to fight back. And he says he was drained after the dust settled.
And I’m so caught in it, I almost feel I’m the one who caused it
This ain’t what I’m in hip hop for, it’s not why I got in it
Eminem was so caught up in the feuds it almost seemed like he started the beefs. But in reality he never started any of them. Benzino attacked Em first, and Ja Rule dissed Eminem for being associated with 50 Cent. But in the end it got so personal that it felt like Em started them. Eminem says he is not in Hip Hop to murder each other. He is an amazing lyricist-he knows that-he wants use it for better things than talk smack about fellow artists.
That was never my object, for someone to get killed
Why would I want to destroy something I helped build?
It wasn’t my intentions, my intentions were good
I went through my whole career without ever mentioning [Suge]
Eminem could be talking about Ja Rules career as being dead here, because nobody died in any beefs associating Eminem. However, he could be talking about other artists who have died before such as Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G and Bugzz. Many say this line refers to the death of Em’s best friend Proof, but he was shot years later this song was released.
Eminem is an artist who has done a huge service to the genres of rap and hip hop. We can consider him a pioneer in mainstreaming Hip Hop and Rap. So why would he want to destroy it?
Suge Knight is just trouble. If you’ve watched ‘Straight Outta Compton’ movie you would understand the feud Suge had with Dr. Dre and what a fierce man he is. Suge Knight won’t probably limit him to a lyrics battle if he was dragged into beef. So Em was careful enough to leave him out of all his musical career as Eminem was working with Dr. Dre at the time. Even in this verse the name ‘Suge’ is omitted. Had Eminem tried to help Dre at the time, he would be merely like a toy soldier.
The last part of the first verse describes the beef with Suge Knight and Dr. Dre and how Eminem faced it all.
And that was just outta respect, for not running my mouth
And talking about something that I knew nothing about
Plus Dre told me stay out, this just wasn’t my beef
So I did, I just fell back, watched and gritted my teeth
While he’s all over TV, down talking the man
Who literally saved my life, like fuck it I understand
This is business, and this shit just isn’t none of my business
I’m still knowing this shit could pop off at any minute, because
Had Eminem been called out, he probably would have gotten into a pretty ugly beef with Suge. But for some reason both parties stayed out of their ways. Eminem was working with Dr. Dre when the feud between Dre and Suge escalated. But it all started before Eminem. So Em says he chose to not run his mouth on something he basically knew nothing about-he doesn’t know the ins and outs of the feud. Even Dre had told Em to stay out of it, so he did. Dr. Dre cleared the path for Eminem to be a global phenomenon. Eminem has shown his gratitude to Dre many occasions because of this. So it hurt him to see Suge Knight taking shots at Dre. The feud between Dre and Suge was all business. It was mainly about Dr. Dre walking out of Suge’s record label ‘Death Row Records’. Dre walking out was a huge loss for Suge business-wise. Dre formed Aftermath record label afterwards and later signed in Eminem on it.
After that mesmerizing journey, Em takes us to verse two of “Like Toy Soldiers”.
There used to be a time when, you could just say a rhyme and
Wouldn’t have to worry about one of your people dying
But now it’s elevated, cause once you put someone’s kids in it
The shit gets escalated, it ain’t just words no more is it?
It’s a different ball game, you call names and you ain’t just rapping
“Like Toy Soldiers” track says there were simpler times in hip hop history-where rap battles were limited to the stage, and it was ‘acceptable’ dissing. But things have escalated now. The rich artists are also powerful and do not stop at anything to settle their beefs offstage. Especially when you drag someone’s kids into the feud and diss them so disgracefully, it gets beyond control. It’s not just words anymore-they are bullets. Once you mention someone’s name in a song, it’s no longer rapping-it’s a diss. So gotta be careful of what you put in lyrics. This may very well be the reason Em emitted Suge’s name in “Like Toy Soldiers.”
We actually tried to stop the 50 and Ja beef from happening
Me and Dre had sat with him, kicked it and had a chat with him
And asked him not to start it, he wasn’t going to go after him
Until Ja started yapping in magazines how he stabbed him
Fuck it, 50 smash him, mash him and let him have it
This bit talks about the beef between 50 Cent and Ja Rule. When Ja took shots at 50 in the beginning, Dre and Em sat down with 50 Cent and calmed him down and asked him not to go after him. But the release of “Loose Change” by Ja Rule pushed 50 Cent beyond control. And even Eminem was like ef it, let him have it. “Loose Change” got Em involved in the feud too. So both of them murdered the career of Ja Rule. Like toy soldiers they waged into war without looking back and forth.
Meanwhile my attention’s pulled in another direction
Some receptionist at the Source who answers phones at his desk
This refers to the beef with Benzino. He was the editor of a magazine named The Source.
Has an erection for me and thinks that I’ll be his resurrection
Tries to blow the dust off his mic and make a new record
But now he’s fucked the game up, cause one of the ways I came up
Was through that publication, the same one that made me famous
Benzino profited from the feud with Eminem. The feud basically shed some light to The Source magazine and he probably sold a few hundred copies of it.
The irony is that Eminem was featured on The Source magazine when Em didn’t have a record label. Eminem says that article shed some light on him. So Benzino effed up the game by trying to diss Eminem. There was no logic to it.
Now the owner of it has got a grudge against me for nothing?
Well fuck it, that mothafucka could get it too, fuck him then
The owner of The Source magazine got mad at Eminem because of the feud with Eminem. Em was so done with this childsplay by this time. So several harsh words express how he felt about The Source magazine taking shots at him.
But I’m so busy being pissed off, I don’t stop to think
That we just inherited 50’s beef with Murder Inc
And he’s inherited mine, which is fine, ain’t like either of us mind
Whilst the beef with Benzino was escalating, 50’s feud with Ja Rule had escalated too. Murder Inc. was Ja’s record label. ‘We’ here means Aftermath record label. So now it is a battle between record labels.
We still have soldiers that’s on the front line
That’s willing to die for us as soon as we give the orders
Never to extort us, strictly to show they support us
And maybe shout ’em out in a rap or up in the chorus
To show ’em we love ’em back and let them know how important it is
To have Runyon Avenue soldiers up in our corners
Their loyalty to us is worth more than any award is
This refers to beef-by-association that has pretty much got everyone involved in everyone’s feuds. D12 were sure toy soldiers to go to the front line to die for Eminem. Most likely, they didn’t even need to be give the orders to do so. Eminem had to give orders for them to stand back, for it’s only going to be an unnecessary brawl between unnecessary parties. Runyon Avenue is in Detroit where Em and D12 members grew up. All of them had Eminem’s back. They were loyal, like toy soldiers. Awards were the last thing on Em’s mind at this point.
But I ain’t tryna have none of my people hurt or murdered
It ain’t worth it, I can’t think of a perfecter way to word it
But Eminem does not want other people involved in his feuds, because mostly they end up with someone getting hurt or worse. He says it’s not worth it.
Nath from Genius.com explains the last line best:
“Perfecter” isn’t the proper way to use the perfect superlative. He should say “more perfect” instead. But he uses the incorrect form on purpose, to show that he’s being ironic : he says that he can’t think of a “perfecter” way to WORD it, whereas he perfectly knows that it is incorrect. He basically plays on a contradiction between what he’s telling and what he really thinks 🙂
We don’t call him a lyrical genius for nothing and “Like Toy Soldiers” is a good example of that. Well, we didn’t even talk about the flow and syllables in this song.
Than to just say that I love y’all too much to see the verdict
I’ll walk away from it all ‘fore I let it go any further
But don’t get it twisted, it’s not a plea that I’m copping
I’m just willing to be the bigger man if y’all can quit popping
Off at your jaws well then I can, cause frankly I’m sick of talking
If this trend keeps up-the trend of artists getting murdered for nothing-Eminem is even willing to say them “I love you all” if it puts an end to it all. The gangsta rap maybe fun to word and curse, but it ends in blood and terror. Eminem says he is walking away from all the feuds he had, has and will have in the future. I don’t think Eminem has had any serious feud with anyone since (maybe, except for Slim Shady himself).
Eminem is not backing down. He is taking the highroad. He is not a coward. He is sick of it all. If they can’t stop popping their jaws, Eminem will. Nobody can have a single party feud.
I’m not going to let someone else’s coffin rest on my conscience cause
Eminem couldn’t stand the thought of someone getting killed because of him. This is why Eminem was very specific on keeping his loyal soldiers out of his battles.
We know how hard it hit Eminem when his best friend Proof was shot dead in a street. It almost drove Eminem to insanity. Had Proof died due to a beef of Eminem, we probably would not have an Eminem left today. Behind all the harsh lyrics and outward appearance, Eminem is a loving human being.
There it is… One of the greatest hip hop songs explained line-by-line for the sake of humanity. Hip Hop violence reduced a lot today. But then there’s ethnicity and racial wars waging on. It just never ends. People find some insane outlet to do their dirty deeds at different times.
“Like Toy Soldiers” is definitely one of the best lyrical works by Eminem and possibly by anyone from hip hop industry as well. The sensitive topic it addresses makes it even more valuable as a work of art.
What do you think about “Like Toy Soldiers”? Have I missed anything? Do you have a different interpretation? The comments section is open to you.