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 the music industry-specifically Hip Hop-and how those feuds led 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.
Watch “Like Toy Soldiers” Music Video by Eminem
“Like Toy Soldiers” Review, Song Meaning & Lyrics Analysis
The hook of this track is very catchy and sums up what Em wants to say.
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 is a soldier. Soldiers take orders and blindly go to the battlefield while Captains give orders from 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 the freedom to say and do what they wanted. But not Eminem-all eyes were on him.
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.
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 to associate 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.
Eminem and Ja Rule started a beef in association with 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.
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.
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.
Eminem was so caught up in the feuds it almost seemed like he started the beef. 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 to use it for better things than talk smack about fellow artists.
Eminem could be talking about Ja Rule’s career as being dead here because nobody died in any beef 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 as 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.
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 on 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 the Aftermath record label afterward and later signed in Eminem on it.
After that mesmerizing journey, Em takes us to verse two of “Like Toy Soldiers”.
“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 beef 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 the lyrics. This may very well be the reason Em emitted Suge’s name in “Like Toy Soldiers.”
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 war without looking back and forth.
This refers to the beef with Benzino. He was the editor of a magazine named The Source.
Benzino profited from the feud with Eminem. The feud basically shed some light on 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.
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.
Whilst the beef with Benzino was escalating, the 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.
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 given 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 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.
If this trend keeps up the trend of artists getting murdered for nothing-Eminem is even willing to say to them “I love you all” if it puts an end to it all. Gangsta rap may be 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 high road. 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.
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 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 the 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.