When faced with the decision of which pop song really stood out to me during my youth and adolescent years, the song “Lose Yourself” by Eminem immediately came across my mind. From listening to this song during soccer game warm ups, to quietly being indulged in my own headphones while studying for high school exams, this song was like no other in my ITunes library. On top of its amazing use of musical elements, I especially love this song because of its connection to certain socio historical factors and the pure raw meaning behind its lyrics. Although the reaction to this song was quite mixed, and stirred a lot controversy, it was the most defining rap song of the early 2000s.
While sitting at my seat pondering about this piece, it brought me to a scene of reminisce to all the milestones that I’ve gone through with this song playing in the background. This feeling serves as a foreshadow to the content and messages delivered in this song that will be further discussed. I will attempt to dissect “Lose Yourself” in this paper and provide a thorough analysis of its different musical elements, its social background, and my own personal thoughts towards it. Eminem’s ingeniousness in creating this masterpiece resulted in an academy award for the best original song in 2002 – a vindication to the impact that this song has had. In discussing its musical elements, something which makes this song so easy to enjoy and popular among all audiences is its duration. Its combination of piano, guitar and drums creates a simple layering which rocks to a common 4/4 time measure.
Its rhythm is simple but strong, and gives Eminem a good framework to rap on. Similar to many rap songs, the time measure does not change throughout the whole piece and keeps a repetitive beat. The consistency of guitar chords playing on the downbeat creates an engaging feeling for the listeners to nod their heads to. Most notably, in the beginning of the song where the guitar is first introduced, the use of the word “generator”1 can be heard very clear. The snares follow a similar four feel rhythm with accents on the downbeat while the piano compliments these two aspects well with its harmony. Its duration is very downbeat focused. Apart from the guitar chords and snare drums, we can hear that the left hand chords on the piano all occur on the first beat of every bar. The use of loud synthesized sounds during the chorus is also on the first beat of every bar. The simple mixture of the uses of these instruments is important in delivering a driving beat for the rest of the song. “Lose Yourself” employs a typical strophic form2. It has the regular ABAB sections, where A is the verse and B is the chorus.
This song very accurately represents the definition behind “verse” and “chorus”. The lyrics explain in details the story of his journey and certain emotions he encountered through the verses. The chorus is the moral, hook and what comes to everyone’s minds when they think of this song. It stirs inspiration, adrenaline, and is the essence behind this song. It’s repeated three times and flows perfectly between the verses, giving the listeners a quick recap of the moral in the song. Eminem uses an interesting entrance to this song where he puts out a scenario, and asks a question – “If you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip”3. Although similar to a bridge, it’s not completely a bridge because it’s a brief introduction of the sole piano melody that occurs in the beginning of the song.
However, it has the same effect of a bridge, which offers a different sound to the song, sets the tone for the rest of the piece, and engages the audience to begin thinking and keep their ears listening. Simply put, piano chords described as “instantly recognizable” open the song with a sense of mystery, and throughout the song there is a “tense, unrelenting guitar lick”4. What make this song so popular among sport teams who want to get pumped before games is the buildup and its dynamics. Every one of the three verses progresses in a crescendo until the chorus. The chorus is very forte and it has quick volume increases by a synthesizer sounding instrument that accents the downbeats in the chorus. The use of the softness of the piano harmony complements this hardness perfectly in his three verses as you can hear it lingering in the back. The use of his fading in and out with the symbolic piano sound uses dynamics very effectively – especially his opening, which starts by only a unique piano melody creating that feeling of mystery, nostalgia, and adrenaline.
Timbre plays a vital role in the layering of this track. The three main instruments come in at different times and add its own unique place in the song contributing to the overall mood of the song. First, it’s the light high pitched piano, which is unusual in a rap song. Then the dark low pitched guitar comes in when he starts asking the question and it’s soon followed by the heavy sounding drums as he starts to rap. The interesting use of timbre gives an acoustic and classical feel versus the drums and synthesizer of hip hop giving the song its diversity and originality. The tempo of this song is not too fast and not too slow. The track runs around 88 beats per minute, close to a maestoso. It’s the perfect mix of deep thoughts and relentless energy. If this song was any faster, it may ruin the strong statement that it delivers, while if it’s too slow, it contradicts the fundamental beat and rhythm of hip hop.
Although many listeners may associate this song to have a certain depth in its tone, its texture is actually quite transparent. It’s very easy to see through this song and dissect the instruments behind its layers. The individual instruments and voices are easy to distinguish and there is no large jumble of sounds that mixes the sonic landscape. Now that the music background of the song has been established, we will look further into the making and context behind the lyrics. This song is basically the plot of the movie “8 mile” – a movie about his transcendence from poverty to success and fame5. He starred as the main character of the movie, B-Rabbit, which was supposed to represent himself. It was his journey through the underground rap scene which served as the inspiration for the plot of the movie.
In fact, it was on the set of the movie in which Eminem himself was so touched by seeing his past being put together, that he spontaneously wrote this piece. During breaks between sets, his producer just started playing chord progressions, and he would scribble lines in between sets on a small piece of paper. The importance of the instinctiveness is reflected in the movie as that actual piece of paper makes an appearance when B-Rabbit was writing lines on a bus. The idea behind the spontaneous creation of the song resembles closely about his past – his determination and his ingenuity. Having to juggle working multiple jobs to make a living – quote from the piece “that I can’t get by with my 9 to 5”6, and having limited time and few resources to pursue his passion in hopes of making it into stardom, reflects the hardships that many people who still live in poverty have to deal with. While only using impromptu lyric sessions, and without the help of any modern music gadgets, other artists, or other resources, he just composed the song while on set and recorded it in a simple trailer recording studio.
Ironically, something that seemed so ordinary became his most renowned song, earning him an Oscar. I especially enjoy this song because in those four minutes, it represents everything about his career, his movie, and has continuously inspired me even after a decade. There is a central theme in “Lose Yourself” about seizing the moment, but the lyrics are fragmented, almost as if Eminem is grasping for something to say7. However, he gets the message across, imparting shards of struggle and ambition as he switches personalities between B-Rabbit and back to his original self, Marshall Mathers. If you follow the narrative that has been constructed by Eminem’s albums and the character he plays in 8 Mile, it is almost as if Eminem has simply been sharing his personal diary with listeners. “Lose Yourself” is a cap on the frustrations, anxieties, and setbacks that everyone can relate to.
Not everyone grew up as a poor rapper from Detroit, but it’s Eminem’s unmatched ability to convey raw emotion that gives him the credibility to put together an anthem that tells us to seize the day and live in the moment while using specific examples from his lives, both real (Eminem) and imagined (B-Rabbit). The music video for “Lose Yourself” was filmed in Detroit, Michigan, and thus contains numerous shots of the iconic city. The video is a mixture of multiple scenarios, including scenes from the movie 8 Mile. The social and historical importance of this video is vast as it reflects the haunted sorrows and broken dreams of Detroit – a rundown city hoping to make a new image and revitalize itself in the turn of the century.
The specific history of Detroit will not be discussed, but in a nutshell, this city exemplifies a lot of the socio-racial problems present in America – especially problems regarding the diaspora of poor blacks into the inner city and inequality issues. Eminem demonstrates hope for the whole city by breaking obstacles of the poverty and racial cycle to make it to the big stages. It’s truly special to see that the person bringing hope for all the problems in Detroit is someone who is when first thought of, not representative of the population in the problem ravaged area – a white male.
A major topic that often revolves around Eminem especially in the early 2000s is how he is a white male in a predominately black industry, but in a predominately white country. As illustrated in 8 mile, not only does he struggle with some of the more common tangible things associated with poverty, he had to deal with his skin color as being the main source of setback in his career. He eventually overcomes his many obstacles to gain the respect of other rappers.
The subsequent impact of Eminem was huge; he was the pioneer for other white hip hop artists to look up to. However, his proclaimed self-identity was initially hard to be accepted by both whites and blacks. His “darkened whiteness” through being raised in an impoverished black inner city Detroit community deprives the filthy white of his dignity8. The audacity of this rapper from Detroit is that he dares to heroize this transgression: he is thus the “discursively black” white who undergoes the experience of moving between the two sides of racial identity9. He also explicitly proclaims, “I’m a piece of white trash10” identifying that to some extent he is also a minority within the whites. To put into context, “white trash” is a common phrase used to categorize a permanently impoverished group of whites originally from the south, the “poor whites”11. This classification was hard for both the black and white community to accept. He was caught up in the middle, with the black music industry not respecting him because of his white heritage, but the dominant white American media not accepting him due to his associations with black culture.
However, Eminem manages to skillfully manipulate social classifications while alternatively positioning himself inside and outside the “mainstream”12. When Eminem addresses “white America,” he positions himself on the outside of this group, while addressing black crowds as his own. His music links himself to his social status, reminding us that because of his past and identity of “poor white trash”, he is perceived as and describes himself as black although his skin is white, crossing the frontiers of race and class. He is from the black side, dark and damned by the America of the powerful13. It is this aspect that fundamentally distinguishes Eminem’s uniqueness from other white rappers, such as the Beastie Boys or Vanilla Ice who were both middle class. He demolishes the norm, and is eventually respected by all groups through his merits in his music.
He is the first artist to break such racial and class barriers to become accepted by all of America. His popularity exposed the hip hop industry to a whole new market of sub urban white teens, and created drastic transformations along with controversy which will be further discussed. On top of the many positive impacts that Eminem has had, he also had his fair share of controversy. Eminem has accumulated many people who despise his music through his violent and often degrading lyrics. Ever since he publically used the infamous “n-word” to discuss black people, much of the hip hop nation has been divided14. One side claims that although it was decidedly wrong for Eminem to use such language, the situation only points towards bigger issues affecting hip-hop music and culture. They claim that it is hip-hop in general that is at fault and that Eminem is just another example of that. The other side of the debate contends that Eminem is solely at fault.
They insist that Eminem’s role as the number one selling hip-hop artist—combined with the fact that he is white—makes his comments all the more hurtful and insulting. In 2001, he was famously able to survive a storm of criticism by the gay and lesbian community that was directed toward what they deemed as gay-bashing lyrics on his The Marshall Mathers LP album15. His objectification of females as “hoes” and the demeaning way he bashes his ex-wife through gender attacks stirred uproar from feminist groups. Both Kostoff and Green would not have been too fond of his function in society and inter-gender relations. Under Kostoff’s principles16, he reinforced atrocious stereotypes about gender, ones that may incur significant consequences in later generations. Despite the firestorm of controversy surrounding his often misogynistic, homophobic and violent lyrics, Eminem has always been able to transcend hip-hop music’s boundaries in a variety of ways. In conclusion, “Lose Yourself” is an accurate depiction of everything about Eminem put into one song.
It stirs emotions and inspiration that has touched millions around the world. Eminem’s persona, his poor upbringing in Detroit with a relative closeness to African-Americans, and his amazing lyrical prowess, afford him two things that are of very high value in the hip-hop community: industry respect and street credibility. He offers a sense of hope for all impoverished communities in the United States. Although he has endured heavy criticism, he has achieved feats and broken barriers that no other rap artist has done. His impact may still be up for debate for numerous generations to come, but one thing is certain – “Lose Yourself” is definitely a song for the ages.