At this very moment, all eight of Eminem’s albums, including his latest, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, are sitting on the Billboard 200 chart, leaving 192 slots for everyone else. It’s fairly obvious why: On a technical level, the guy is a master of the dictionary and twists internal rhymes like a game of Tetris. And yes, the man can tell a helluva story — though so many of them end the same way: murder. (Surprisingly, there are a few that end with inspirational messages, if you can believe it.) Here are his top 20 verses: the ones that shocked, the ones that awed, the ones that knocked us out and held us in the trunk.
20. Nicki Minaj, “Roman’s Revenge (feat. Eminem)” Pink Friday, Second Verse (2010)
Key Lines: “Twisted-ass mind, got a pretzel for a brain / An eraser for a head, fucking pencil for a frame”
This guest appearance on Minaj’s debut album proves there’s no doubt Eminem knows how to hold a knife and swing a sword. This is Kill Bill–style wordplay, painting with blood spatter.
19. “Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” The Slim Shady LP, First Verse (1997)
Key Lines: “You wacker than the motherfucker you bit your style from / You ain’t gonna sell two copies if you press a double album”
In another life, Eminem could’ve been a stand-up comedian, the kind that peers over the edge of the stage and makes fun of your shirt. (Or, more pointedly, an American hero – he brazenly starts his song off by mocking Jim Brady, Ronald Reagan’s aide who was shot and paralyzed in a 1981 assassination attempt, thereby putting truth to the title.)
18. “’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” The Slim Shady LP, First Verse (1999)
Key Lines: “Oh where’s mama? She’s taking a little nap in the trunk / Oh that smell? Da-da musta runned over a skunk”
By all reports, Eminem’s a good father. (Most recently, he was on hand as his daughter Hailie won homecoming queen at her high school this year.) How she turned out to be even close to well-adjusted is unclear, growing up in a household where inter-bedroom death threats were the norm. Here, the 4-year-old giggles and gurgles as she becomes an accessory to her mother’s death, helping to build a sand castle over the body before splashing in the surf.
17. Masta Ace, “Hellbound feat. Eminem and J-Black,” Game Over, First Verse (2000)
Key Lines: “Fuck the planet, ‘til it spins on a broken axis”
People could accuse Eminem of having no heart: Forcing someone to listen to any of his albums could qualify as a form of emotional abuse. But he does have an oddly inspirational side to him, one that he’s relied on in recent years for poppy radio schlock. As for this song, it’s a raw version of “Recovery,” the same vein tapped for “Till I Collapse” and “Lose Yourself.”
16. “Bully,” Straight From the Lab EP, Third Verse (2003)
Key Lines: It’s like a never-ending cycle / That just seems to come full circle / Everybody’s gotta be so fucking hard / I’m not excluding myself / Cause I been stupid as well / I been known to lose it when someone says something smart”
Eminem’s greatest strength is his ability to cut through bullshit and noise with a chainsaw. His second-greatest strength? Acknowledging his own hypocrisy. In this verse, he tells Irv Gotti to stop feeding Ja Rule ecstasy, pleads for hip-hop to stop the violence, and notes how easily he could get his daughter to perpetuate a brutal cycle.
15. “8 Mile,” 8 Mile Soundtrack, First Verse (2003)
Key Lines: “Sometimes I just feel like, quitting I still might / Why do I put up this fight, why do I still write / Sometimes it’s hard enough just dealing with real life”
By the time 8 Mile had come out, Eminem was a cartoon character with a mallet, hitting his own head with his tongue dragging on the floor. In a crazy twist, Rabbit — his on-screen persona in the film — is what managed to give him authenticity and allowed us to sympathize with him.
14. “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” The Eminem Show, Third Verse (2002)
Key Lines: “Goin’ through public housing systems, victim of Munchausen’s Syndrome / My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn’t”
Eminem gave an interview to Complex recently where he said he’d no longer bleed out his old wounds for the public’s amusement, as his words were damaging real-life relationships. Perhaps no verse of his is as dark as this one, where he reveals not just how he discovered the pills belonging to Debbie, his mother, but how she’d accuse him of stealing them from her. He gleefully ruminates on Debbie’s death and gloats that Hailie would never be at the funeral. (Somehow, on this year’s “Headlights,” Em buried the hatchet with — not in — his mother.)
13. “Déjà Vu,” Relapse, Third Verse (2009)
Key Lines: “Go in the room and shut the bedroom door and wake up in an ambulance / They said they found me on the bathroom floor, damn”
In 2009, Eminem wasn’t exactly shocking anymore: There’s not much further one can go than detailing the murders of everyone in one’s family. (See later songs.) His fans had matured, while he kept making cartoons. But on “Déjà Vu,” he paces through his very real drug problems — how the death of his best friend broke his world and how it led him to overdose. Awful.
12. “Stan,” The Marshall Mathers LP, Third Verse (2000)
Key Lines: “It’s been six months and still no word, I don’t deserve it? / I know you got my last two letters, I wrote the addresses on ‘em perfect”
Whether as a moralist or as a bully, Eminem has often gone after easy marks: celebrities, women, the LGBT community, hypocrites, and politicians. But here, he goes after his superfans, condemning them for taking his lyrics too literally. It requires a perfect dismount, and he does exactly that.
11. “Kim,” The Marshall Mathers LP, First Verse (2000)
Key Lines: “(Why are you doing this?) Shut the fuck up! (You’re drunk / You’re never gonna get away with this) You think I give a fuck?”
There’s “easy listening,” and then — far down the spectrum — there’s this. Eminem starts with a jolt: “Don’t make me wake this baby, she don’t need to see what I’m about to do / Quit crying, bitch, why do you always make me shout at you?” The whole thing is a nightmare blasted through the speakers as Eminem screams at Kim for bringing another man into their bed, and then screams some more for her to look at her new guy now, look at him, existing somewhere between dead and alive. Eminem then puts Kim in the trunk of their car, a familiar image that — while repeated ad nauseam — never grows less frightening.
10. “The Real Slim Shady,” The Marshall Mathers LP, Second Verse (2000)
Key Lines: “Sit me here next to Britney Spears / Shit, Christina Aguilera better switch me chairs / So I can sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst / And hear ‘em argue over who she gave head to first”
There may never be a guy as willing to burn bridges as Eminem, a pop star who openly hated everyone around him. Ten years later, these attacks aren’t as interesting, because he hasn’t updated his targets much: On “Berzerk,” his new album’s first single, Eminem goes after Monica Lewinsky and Kevin Federline, Britney’s ex from almost a decade ago. But at the time, there was something hilarious about his ability to not give a damn.
9. “Nail in the Coffin,” First Verse (2003)
Key Lines: “If you was really selling coke, well then what the fuck / You stop for, dummy? If you slew some crack, you’d make a lot more money than you do from rap”
The equivalent of a shoe and a bug in a dark alley, this is Eminem absolutely demolishing Benzino (quasi-publisher of The Source; quasi-rapper) in a rap battle. The circumstances are long and too stupid to explain, but Benzino felt Eminem was bad for hip-hop culture. So, Eminem responded appropriately: by hitting him over the head with a shovel and throwing him into a ditch.
8. Dr. Dre, “Forgot About Dre (feat. Eminem)” 2001, Second Verse (1999)
Key Lines: “And when the cops came through / Me and Dre stood next to a burnt down house / With a can full of gas and a hand full of matches / And still weren’t found out”
In late 1999, Dr. Dre put out his much-anticipated comeback album, his first proper release since The Chronic in 1992. At that point, Eminem had already gone triple-platinum off of The Slim Shady LP with The Marshall Mathers LP due to come out the following May. “Forgot About Dre” showcases an ascendant Em, one who steals the song he’s guesting on and — between murdering a man, a woman, and a pair of twins in a hot car — makes you forget anyone else is even on it. (It helps that Eminem also wrote both of Dr. Dre’s verses, as revealed in the credits on the back of the album.)
7. “My Name Is,” The Slim Shady LP, Third Verse (1999)
Key Lines: “By the way, when you see my dad / Tell him that I slit his throat in this dream I had”
What an introduction to make to America. (Other lines from this verse include: “How you gonna breastfeed me, Mom? You ain’t got no tits!”) With this song in 1999, Slim Shady, an Eminem alter ego who has no shame or sense of boundaries, broke the parental locks on TRL and climbed into living rooms everywhere. Where Joe Camel sold cigarettes to kids, here was Eminem, hawking violence through cartoonish imagery. The video is cute: He dresses like Marilyn Manson, rolls around in a straitjacket, and blows kisses at the camera. And his lyrics plod carefully, easy to understand. With kids watching, MTV edited the lines “I just drank a fifth of vodka, dare me to drive?” by swapping in “Kool-Aid.”
6. Drake, “Forever (feat. Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Eminem),” More Than A Game Soundtrack, Fourth Verse (2009)
Key Lines: “You dealing with a few true villains who stand inside of a booth, truth spilling / And spit true feelings until our tooth fillings come flying up outta of our mouths / Now rewind it”
Four years after the song’s release, the conversation soldiers on: Who had the best verse on “Forever”? It could be anyone, but consensus usually swings to Em’s knockout punch. (For better or worse, he’s used this rat-a-tat, science-textbook flow ever since.)
5. “The Way I Am,” The Marshall Mathers LP, First Verse (2000)
Key Lines: “At least have the decency in you / To leave me alone, when you freaks see me out / In the streets when I’m eating or feeding my daughter”
He goes on to say, “I’m not Mr. N’Sync, I’m not what your friends think.” Paralyzed by anger and paranoia, this guy was, amazingly, on TRL all the time. It’s no wonder he barely leaves his house anymore.
4. Jay Z, “Renegade (feat. Eminem)” The Blueprint, Second Verse (2001)
Key Lines: “Maybe it’s beautiful music I made for you to just cherish / But I’m debated, disputed, hated, and viewed in America / As a motherfuckin’ drug addict, like you didn’t experiment”
Maybe Nas said it best when he was at war with Jay Z: “Eminem murdered you on your own shit.”
3. 50 Cent, “Patiently Waiting (feat. Eminem)” Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Second Verse (2003)
Key Lines: “Shady Records was eighty seconds away from the towers / Some cowards fucked with the wrong building, they meant to hit ours”
This is Eminem at his peak. It seems so easy to untangle one’s tongue and teach it to say “Don’t let me lose you, I’m not trying to confuse you when I let loose with this Uzi and just shoot through your Isuzu,” but it’s not. Eminem just makes it look that way.
2. “Lose Yourself,” 8 Mile Soundtrack, First Verse (2002)
Key Lines: “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy / There’s vomit on his sweater already: mom’s spaghetti / He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready / To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting / What he wrote down”
For a long time, Biggie’s “Juicy” was the first rap song most kids learned word for word. That all changed in 2002, when “Lose Yourself” exploded, becoming an inescapable phenomena. Kids, parents, everyone everywhere was rapping about being so nervous to battle-rap that they threw up all over themselves. Millions of albums sold later, Eminem finally crosses over, bridging the moral gap he’s been butting up against. Written and recorded on the set of his movie 8 Mile, it deserves to cross over from theme song to national anthem.
1. “Stan,” The Marshall Mathers LP, Fourth Verse (2000)
Key Lines: “But what’s this shit you said about you like to cut your wrists too / I say that shit just clowning dog, come on, how fucked up is you?”
Where “Lose Yourself” is a movie summarized in song, the closing verse to “Stan” is masterpiece theatre. For four minutes, Eminem riles up an angry mob and leads them straight to the gates…only to stop short, turn around and tell everyone to go home, to maybe not take things so far. Sure, you can follow Slim Shady’s instructions, but he’s no more powerful than David Berkowitz’s dog.