Dubbed as one of Eminem’s greatest hits, the single “Not Afraid” comes out in a time of self-healing for the Detroit rapper. Abandoning his usual crazy, whacky, fun and hilarious lyrics, this song spills out Eminem’s vow to stand back up on his own two feet. Why? Let us take a look at the history, lyrics, and meaning behind this track.
“Not Afraid” was released as the first single off of Eminem’s seventh studio album ‘Recovery’ on April 29, 2010. The song was an instant hit, selling over 380,000 copies in the first week of release. The song also debuted at #1 on Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, a feat that only 16 other songs have accomplished in the chart’s history. Previously Eminem’s singles “Lose Yourself” and “Crack A Bottle” have debuted at #1 on Billboard Hot 100. By June 2014, RIAA certified the song 10x Platinum for over 10 million sales in the USA alone. “Not Afraid” won a Grammy Award in 2011 for ‘Best Rap Solo Performance’ and MTV VMAs for ‘Best Male Video’ and ‘Best Hip Hop Video’ for the song’s music video.
“Not Afraid” conveys a very positive message. Em talks about taking life by horns and pushing through to achieve greatness. The song has a rather personal touch to it as ‘Recovery’ album came at a time of Eminem recovering from his addictions.
Eminem also talked about the song in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. The interviewer asked if “Not Afraid” will make Em a role model for the audience. He responded;
Whatever I can be to people is fine. Some people may look up to me. Some people may consider me a f*cking menace. But I’m grateful for every fan letter I get, and for every person who says I helped save them.
I don’t know, man. I feel like I took a lot of time off. Not doing sh*t for those four or five years, how lazy I got – it’s time to get back to doing what I love. I feel like I’ve got a lot of gas in the tank. I just want to make up for letting people down.
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Lyrics Review and Song Meaning of “Not Afraid”
Eminem rallies up his audience around him with some powerful lyrics on the chorus of the track.
First of all, Em says that he is no longer afraid to take a stand for himself. At this juncture of life, Eminem was recovering from a severe drug addiction that almost took his life. Hence, it is not a baseless statement when he says that he is standing up to life. So he invites all of his audience to come stand up to whatever thrown by life. This journey might be difficult–stormy, but he is there for them.
It is no secret that Eminem’s songs have inspired and even saved the lives of his fans. “Not Afraid” adds to this list of songs.
The intro to the song comes after the chorus!
Eminem hints that this song is a helping hand to whoever is struggling with addiction. He says that his life has been a “ride” referencing to a rollercoaster ride which has many ups and downs. Eminem reached the pinnacle of rap and hip hop game towards the year the 2000s before he got severely addicted to drugs. Watch Eminem talking about his addiction in the video below.
However, his 2009 album ‘Relapse’ admitted his falling out and his 2010 album ‘Recovery’ suggested that he is getting back on the horse. In April 2019, Eminem showed his 11-years sobriety token on Twitter.
Eminem starts off the first verse by saying that let him tell these words out loud so that you can hear better. It isn’t the same motivation to read the same lyrics off a page. So listen.
Next, he goes on to say that it really does not matter what the world thinks about him, he is going to do whatever pleases him. This is the same attitude that got him addicted to drugs, but in a more positive circumstance such as recovery, it is still the best attitude to have. Em says that there were people who loved seeing him go down the rabbit hole and never see the sunlight again. He has a big ‘FU’ to those people because this time he is taking a stand.
Em also mentions his discography from ‘Infinite’ to ‘Relapse’ (the latest at the time) and says that he has zero time for critiques who say smack about them. He will still keep on doing what he loves–hip hop. This addiction ad talent to music is also his gift and curse. It is as if he is married to the game!
In the second verse of “Not Afraid,” Eminem not just conveys his empowering message but also shows off a bit.
He goes off beat when he says “I shouldn’t have to rhyme these words in a rhythm / For you to know it’s a rap.” He purposely goes off beat to say that he doesn’t have to rhyme these words. Clever!
Next, Eminem talks directly to his fans. He apologizes for falling off the wagon and vows that he will not go there. ‘Relapse’ is Eminem’s first album after getting clean. A lot of media hatred has been thrown towards this album for not being ‘the best’ of Eminem. Even the rapper admits it; “last Relapse CD was “ehh”.” Even though the general idea of the ‘Relapse’ album is as such, over the years it has developed its own reputation for being uniquely creative and bizarre.
In the latter part of the second verse, Eminem says that he is still figuring out what this “circle” of life means to him. He has pretty much gone through the full circle of life, having nearly overdosed to death.
Eminem has gone through a lot since his childhood—from poverty to lack of a father figure to a drug addict mother to getting bullied to having his close friends getting shot and so on. Drugs may have shown him an easy way out of these demons from his past. But Eminem admits that it is time to grow up and stop justifying his drug abuse to the above reasons. It is time to exercise these demons.
In these lyrics, Eminem vows to himself that he is “holding his ground” from this day forward. And his “ground” is saying no to drugs and cleaning up his act. He is getting his life back together and boy has he done that!
In the third and final verse of the song, Eminem says that the decision to get clean was his own. However, it may have been inspired by all of “you.” This “you” may be a reference to his fans and his daughters, Hailie, Whitney, and Alaina, whom he loves very much. He admits that whatever support and direction received from this “you” was immensely helpful for his recovery because somebody believed in him. Through this song, Em is putting this same energy out there for anyone who needs it: he believes in you!
He talks to his haters and competitors as well. No more “beef lingers” after this. He is done with feuds of the sorts that got him restless at nights and made him rely on drugs for assistance. He is a newborn from today onward.
Eminem quite straightforwardly sends a message to his daughters as well. He says that he is taking responsibility as an adult from now onward. He promises to “raise” them right like “raising” the bar for himself. To ‘raise the bar’ is to set a higher standard.
Em ends the verse by saying that he is undoubtedly aiming for the moon, so at least he will be in the stars when he is done. But he is going to make sure that he enjoys this journey and not try and take shortcuts to his goals!
“Not Afraid” is undoubtedly one of Eminem’s most personal and creative works in his catalog. What is even greater is that he was able to stick to the plans he set for himself in this song. This is a straight-up role model track and a personality for anyone who needs it.
Aside from all this seriousness, Eminem also said this about the song; “Anything that I am afraid of; eight-legged insects, giraffes… I have a weird thing about giraffes man, I don’t like their necks…”
Let us hear what you think about this track by dropping a comment below. Check out the complete lyrics and further song meaning breakdown on Genius.