There are many songs in Eminem’s vast discography that can stimulate many types of emotions. Happiness, sadness, anger, love, lust, greed, politics, stress, and anything else you can name. This is the sole fact that has made Eminem so much more relatable to the masses than any other rapper out there. Eminem’s “When I’m Gone” song takes you through several of those emotions while narrating one of the most relatable stories to many people out there. Let us explore the lyrics and meaning behind this song.
“When I’m Gone” releases as one of the three original songs on Eminem’s greatest hits compilation album ‘Curtain Call: The Hits’ released on December 6, 2019. This song was a massive success for Eminem, charting in the US at #8 and in the UK at #4 and #1 in Australia. As of February 2018, the song is certified quadruple-platinum by RIAA for sales over 4 million units worldwide.
Eminem has often spoken about this song being one of the truest and most emotional songs he has penned. In an interview with Mojo in the Morning, Eminem spoke about the story behind “When I’m Gone”;
The guilt of always having to leave. At the time it was mainly Hailie that it was effecting. Literally the things that I say in the song about her giving me the coin and putting boxes in front of the door to try to block it, to try to stop me from leaving, those things really happened. I’m at a point in my life right now where I don’t know where my career’s going; this is the reason we called it Curtain Call because this could be the final thing.
It would kill me. Just writing the song, when I hear the second verse of that song, everything in it is so true… There’s two songs that I’ve done where I was in the booth recording the songs, I’ve been teary eyed. “Mockingbird” and this new songs are probably the most emotional that I’ve written.
Both “When I’m Gone” and “Mockingbird” are dedications to Eminem’s biological daughter Hailie Jade Mathers. She also features in “When I’m Gone” music video with her step-sister Whitney Scott Mathers.
Watch “When I’m Gone” Music Video by Eminem
Download “When I’m Gone” Song on Apple Music and Amazon
Buy ‘Curtail Call: The Hits’ Album on Apple Music and Amazon
Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “When I’m Gone”
This song speaks about Eminem’s dilemma between his two callings in life. He is a rapper and a father. At this juncture of his life, he has to make a choice, or at least strike a balance between the two. But he is Eminem, Marshall Mathers, even worse, Slim Shady. The Stans keep on demanding for more Slim Shady. Eminem spoke about this in the interview with Mojo; “I realise that I had to leave my home for the stage. My second passion is to be out there to just rap in front of that many people, but you gotta decide what’s more important, and right now there’s nothing more important than my family.”
However, the song is an address to Hailie Mathers to never doubt that her father left her, even when he is not around. Eminem consoles his daughter by saying that even from afar, he is always looking down at her. “Gone” could imply being physically away and being dead.
It is not an exaggeration when Eminem introduces the song as his own real-life in his own words.
In the first verse of “When I’m Gone,” Eminem talks about an encounter with his daughter right before he takes off to Sweden for a concert. Hailie doesn’t want Em to go again leaving her and her mom alone. But Eminem fails to realize the severity of this request. Even when Hailie says that she can’t find her mom, Eminem ignores her request. “Dad’s gotta catch a plane,” probably was a familiar phrase in Em’s household back then. Eminem was reaching the zenith of his popularity at this time, having released five studio albums, including massive hits such as ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ and ‘The Eminem Show.’
Eminem mentions that he would do anything to protect her family, especially his daughter Hailie. He has her tattooed on her right arm, in line with the popular idiom ‘give my right arm.’ However, Eminem fails to execute this in real life, because he has to chose to leave in order to provide for his family.
This song essentially signifies the death of Eminem’s alter-ego ‘Slim Shady.’ The crazy, hilarious and lyrically genius, Slim Shady became one of the main reasons for Eminem’s mainstream success in his career. But Eminem realizes that it was getting out of hand and he cannot maintain the balance between his family and supplying for the demand for Slim Shady. He mentions that although Slim Shady made Marshall Mathers, tonight he is ending Slim Shady for good.
With these lyrics, Eminem directly speaks to his daughter Hailie Mathers. He says that no matter what happens or no matter how far he is, he is always looking out for her. Nonetheless, in real-life, Eminem and Hailie Mathers had a very estranged relationship.
Eminem and Hailie Mathers are still continuing the conversation from the first verse. Hailie’s words in these lyrics draw a perfect picture as to how broken this household was at the time. Kim Mathers is crying somewhere, Eminem is on tour all the time, there is no one to look after the kids and Hailie is confused as she can be. They see Eminem on TV most of the time as mentioned in “Mockingbird.”
Hailie knows that there is no stopping her father from leaving them again. So she hands him over a necklace locket that she believes will keep him safe.
At this point, Eminem’s reality blurs out. He walks out his bedroom door and walks in on a stage in Sweden. The Stans in the audience go wild. Hailie and Kim are distraught back at home. Eminem wonders if it was actually Hailie or was it his guilty conscience that was talking to him.
Either way, he is now forced to perform to his audience, much like how he has little control over his music career.
In the third verse of “When I’m Gone,” Eminem details the concert he magically appears on in the second verse. He is in Sweden performing to 60,000 people. This is also not an exaggeration.
In the audience, to Eminem’s disbelief, he finds Hailie. Here, Hailie could very well be a manifestation of Em’s own conscience telling him what he needs to hear because he would not listen to himself. Hailie screams that her mother’s wrists are bleeding which is also a true story. At a concert where Kim was present in the audience, Eminem performed his song “Kim” dedicated to bashing her. He had to perform the song out of the request from the audience, and is yet another example of Eminem putting his career above of his family. In an interview, Kim says that she felt absolutely horrible after this act of humiliation in front of the whole world and she came home and slit her wrists.
In the audience, Hailie screams at Eminem not to even worry about it. She just came here to give him a coin that says ‘Number One Dad.’ The irony of this act is not lost on us. Hailie makes her statement that the infamous Eminem chose his fans above his family and that is the life he will have to live going forward. This has also manifested to be true in his real-life.
Eminem returns behind the stage and out of rage and frustration loads up his gun, points at his head, screams ‘die Shady’ and cocks the gun. Then he wakes up. This line signifies the death of Slim Shady in the song which makes him wake up to his real life, which is his family.
Eminem walks out of his room, this time to the garden, to find out his two daughters swinging on the swing with Kim right beside them. The world around him brightens–“there’s birds singin’, It’s spring and Hailie’s outside swingin’.”
It is a tough balance between fame and family, and one that an artist has to consciously ponder upon. Eminem, being the best at what he does, failed to keep his family knit. But he did manage to knit an even bigger family-Stans. But we cannot help but think that Stans also had a part in Eminem’s personal life crawl into shambles.
Let us hear what you think about “When I’m Gone” by Eminem in the comments below. What do these lyrics mean to you?
Check out the complete lyrics to “When I’m Gone” by Eminem on Genius.