Seventeen years ago, Eminem released one of his greatest hip hop/rap creations ever- ‘The Eminem Show’ album as his fourth studio album. Amongst the many creative, powerful and crazy tracks in the album, “Without Me” holds a special place. Why? Let’s explore its story, lyrics and the meaning behind it.
“Without Me” was released as the lead single off of ‘The Eminem Show’ album from 2002. The song became notoriously famous for its catchy lyrics, the bizarre music video and the extremely dense rhyming schemes. It is one of Eminem’s most successful singles, charting #1 in many countries including the UK, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and more. The single topped at #2 in the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The song is also certified 2x and 4x Platinum in sales by BPI and RIAA in the UK and the US respectively. The song was also nominated for ‘Record of the Year’ at 2003 Grammy Awards.
The music video for “Without Me” became a hip hop sensation. It swept the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards by winning ‘Video of the Year,’ ‘Best Male Video,’ ‘Best Rap Video’ and ‘Best Direction.’ Its peak achievement is winning ‘Best Music Video’ award at 2003 Grammy Awards.
It should also be noted that Dr. Dre did not co-write or produce this song, as per the popular misconception. He was only the mixing engineer on the song, apart from making a cameo in the music video.
Watch “Without Me” Music Video by Eminem
Download “Without Me” Single on Apple Music and Amazon
Buy ‘The Eminem Show’ Album on Apple Music and Amazon
The entire premise behind “Without Me” is the belief that Eminem’s absence from the year 2000 to 2002 created a void in rap and hip hop music. Eminem returns with “Without Me” in May 2002 as the first release since his previous release ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ in June 2000. So Eminem joins with Dr. Dre, in Batman-Robin style, to save the music industry.
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “Without Me” by Eminem
The intro to “Without Me” features a sentence by Obie Trice. Eminem put this on his record as a promotion of the young prodigy rising up under Em’s record label Shady Records. Obie Trice uses his birth name as his stage name as per a request by Eminem’s friend Proof. Hence, the line is a promotion of this fact.
Eminem was never ashamed of his rough upbringing. For the most part of his teenage life, he grew up in a trailer park with his mother, Debbie Mathers. Hence, in these lyrics, he puts a spin on the “Buffalo Gals” song by Malcolm McLaren, which originally goes “two Buffalo gals go round the outside.”
In these lyrics, Eminem sets up the anticipation high for the return of the infamous notorious dog in the rap and hip hop business. It is also interesting that he says “Shady’s back” as opposed to “Eminem’s back” even though the song is by Eminem. However, the lyrics and style of the song suggest it fits more towards the Slim Shady persona.
And so begins the incredibly dense and complicated lyrical rhyming schemes and patterns. What makes Eminem so unique is that his story-telling ability whilst constructing these complicated rhyming schemes. You can find more about this on YouTube.
Eminem kicks off the song with a nod to the Slim Shady alter-ego he has built. Fans are requesting more and more for Slim Shady over Marshall Mathers or even Eminem. Slim Shady is a more wicked, crooked and psychotic personality of Eminem. But if he is what the fans want, he is ready to give Slim Shady, under Eminem.
What is the recipe for Slim Shady? Well, Eminem has the answer. “A little bit of weed mixed with some hard liquor/Some vodka that’ll jump-start my heart quicker.” Wait, there’s more. How about a little dose of electric shock from a defibrillator? Perfect!
Em’s previous album ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ (MMLP) was one of the best creations in music ever. Industry experts had the doubt that if Eminem could ever come up with a better album than this. They even alluded the 2-year hiatus between the ‘MMLP’ and ‘The Eminem Show’ to Eminem having run out of content. So Em goes on to sing that he is back and no one needs to worry or doubt his skills, which proved to be true with this 2002 album.
Eminem also talks about his run-in with the Second Lady, Lynne Cheney, when she spoke out against Eminem for ‘degrading and violating them (women) to new levels.’ In this verse, Eminem says she should much worry about his husband, the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, for his heart condition. Dick Cheney had several heart attacks even prior to the release of “Without Me” in 2002.
Eminem further references the controversy of MTV banning his music videos on their channel for being too ‘explicit.’ But Em says MTV feels so ’empty’ without him on it. Em does not forget to scream a swear word at his mother, who sued Eminem for being mentioned on the song “My Name Is” from ‘The Slim Shady LP’ released in 1999. Although he was sued for a sum of $10 million, Em only had to pay around $1,000. Eminem’s most aggressive lyrics about Debbie appears on “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” on ‘The Eminem Show’ album.
In the chorus of “Without Me,” Eminem takes it upon himself to fill the emptiness in the hip hop industry created because he took off for two years. In the music video, Em dresses up as a superhero (Robin), along with Dre (Batman), to save the day. Eminem has been nothing but controversial throughout his career. So why not spice up the industry a little more with some more of it?
In these lyrics, Eminem talks about the impact he has had on the music community, be it good or bad. Kids, who are troublesome and mischievous, listen to Eminem. Even Eminem says that is a no-no showing the ‘explicit’ label on ‘The Eminem Show’ CD cover. But it is not to his fault. The kids are ashamed of their parents listening to the likes of Elvis Presley–a musical icon in Rock n Roll music. The kids build-up pressure from society, school and even home and then comes Em’s music like the firecrackers they had been longing.
‘Polluting airwaves’ is a reference to Eminem’s music being put on the air. He knows that he is called ‘destructive,’ ‘angry,’ ‘explicit’ and ‘degrading.’ This is polluting the air in a sense. But the biggest controversy is that people keep on asking for Slim Shady, who is the trademark symbol of all the negative words above. It is fair that even Eminem is confused with what to do.
So Em continues to do what he does best. It might feel like a splinter inside your skin to keep on listening to Em and not being able to stop it. But this gives Eminem the much-needed attention and publicity, which, in music business, is always good for business. Em also boldly states that he is the best thing since wrestling on TV. Kids are usually addicted to Wrestling Entertainment, especially WWE, which is also considered bad for kids since it seems to promote violence.
In the third verse of “Without Me,” Eminem shows why he is a controversy. He namedrops and insults Kirkpatrick of ‘N Sync, Limp Bizkit and Moby. In the case of Moby, Eminem insinuates that his time is not even worth to take a shot at Moby, so he will be sending his prodigy Obie Trice instead. Moby is a techno artist and Eminem claims that nobody listens to techno music. After cracking these insults, Eminem invites any of them to come back at him, which most actually did. Em says he has a lot more insults where these came from.
The reference to Price is factual as he turned his name into an unpronounceable symbol in 1993. Prince called this the ‘Love Symbol‘ as it seemed to merge the traditional symbols for male and female genders. Eminem’s underground rap career began somewhere in 1989-1995.
Eminem gained a lot of backslash in the early days for poking his head into where it does not belong-rap and hip hop music. In the early 1990s, rap and hip hop music was dominated by African American artists. So just Eminem being in the underground battle rap arenas and then making it out big, as a boy with skin, was controversial enough. But Em says that he is not the first to do so. The King of Rock n Roll music, Elvis Presley had a similar premise. He was also accused of integrating ‘black music’ into his own work and making it big by selling it to the masses.
Elvis Presley was not the first to integrate black music into white music and Eminem was not the last. There are 20 million more white rappers out there who do the same thing and making it out big. But, of course, Eminem is the only source of controversy. So, even though there are 20 million white rappers out there, the void created by Eminem cannot be filled by any of them. Hence, what would the industry do without him?
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Check out the complete lyrics and further analysis of the song meaning on Genius.