His name is Marshall Mathers. He's just a regular guy who happens to have a few alter egos, some skeletons in his closet, and a way with words.
OK, maybe he's not so regular, seeing how the man also known as Eminem has rhymed himself into Greatest Of All Time contention—not to mention that his every move has been publicized and scrutinized since 1999, when The Slim Shady LP donkey-punched the game silly, making it unsafe for pop stars, moms, and anybody else who pissed off the Detroit representer. Ever since, the Dre-signed rap superstar has attempted to keep his private life private, a task he himself makes difficult by always being so brutally honest in his songs. It's his compulsive willingness to share his raw feelings in inspired lyrics and wide-ranging flows that has struck a chord with fans.
But even before his breakthrough, Em was a promising MC looking for his chance to blow. Controversy aside, at the essence of all his music there has always existed an artist's deep-rooted respect for hip-hop. Every lyrical war he waged, whether it was against kin, rap rivals, or the media, every confrontational and/or funny remark he made on record—it could all be traced back to his humble beginnings as a battle rapper from the wrong side of the tracks.
His rise to fame is a real-life drama full of protests, court cases, and a duel with drugs, all echoed in his songs, videos, and albums. But, above all else, it's the passion that burns within his competitive nature that has set him apart from many of his peers. How the Great White Hope became possibly the G.O.A.T. is a story best told in verses, so with Slim Shady's next album soon upon us, Complex felt it was the perfect time to compile 100 of Eminem's best sonic scriptures to tell the tale of this rapper/producer, shit-starter, loving father, and survivor. Take a listen and you'll see Eminem's saga is as much about where he's from, where he's been and where he's at—back on top. These are the best Eminem songs.
#100. Outsidaz f/ Eminem "Hard Act To Follow" (1998)
Damn, this begs for a proper release. Even on a lo-fi, fifth-generation copy that sounds like it was recorded in the Hudson River, there is no mistaking quality when you hear it. New Jerusalem's Outsidaz click were some of the first artists outside Michigan to give Eminem props (he obviously appreciated the recognition, having shouted them out on various records). No slouches themselves on the microphone, the extra-large crew, led by Pace Won and Young Zee, should have blown up themselves. On this turtle-paced, Wu-ish-flavored adventure, the gang brings odd deliveries and treasure trunks full of jewelz. Pre-famous Eminem's guest spot blends in without a hitch, signs of his trademark provocative vocab already in effect, talkin' about puttin' foots up lesbians' crotches and "spitting blood like Kiss' lead guitarist." Even after all these years, a second act from Slim and the Outsidaz would be more than welcome.
#99. D12 "My Band" (2004)
Producer: Eminem, Luis Resto
Album: D12 World
Eminem's celebrity status got so HUGE that it often overshadowed the talents of the Dirty Dozen. In what proved to be their biggest hit as a unit, the buddies decided to g'head and have fun with the Marshall Mania. Eminem has a jolly time pretending to be an arrogant lil' prick who lords over the other members in his "band," the term itself a swipe at not only hated boy bands, but the type of clueless fans who call rappers "singers." The D12 fellas try to get some shine—like when Bizarre says, "Fuck the media, I got some suggestions/Fuck Marshall, ask us the questions"—on this parody upon parody upon parody, but the truth is the clique is having genuine fun spewing endless verses and messing with the choruses.
#98. Eminem f/ Swifty, Bizarre & Fuzz Scoota "No One's Iller" (1998)
Producer: DJ Head
Album: Slim Shady EP
Label: Web Entertainment
This early incarnation of D12 was already ready for the big time. Oozing confidence, Bizarre rides the Pharcyde-ish trizz-ack talking that crazy: "My girl beat my ass and shot me in the back with a two-piece/'Cause she found out I was havin' an affair with her 10-year-old niece." Even then Eminem never lacked for fresh rhymes, coming in with, "Down a fifth, crack open a six/I'm on my seventh 8-ball, now I gotta take a piss/I'm hollerin' at these hoes that got boyfriends/Who gives a fuck who they was/I'm always takin' someone else's girl like Cool J does." Sounds like a man coming for the crown.
#97. DJ Spinna f/ Eminem &Thirstin Howl III "Watch Dees" (1999)
Producer: DJ Spinna
Album: Heavy Beats Vol. 1
As far away from mass appeal as possible, this slow-grinding, downright weirdo serving of pure '90s underground hip-hop is another example that Eminem paid dues in the independent circuit; he's no overnight MTV creation who made it big only because he's white, as some want to think. The unorthodox flow of Thirstin Howl, that tortured scream and the hook's husky commands of "watch this!" (sample courtesy of English ska band Madness) lead up to a young, hungry Eminem, who you can tell is already a battled-tested veteran, kicking a series of crisp lines aimed to get crowd reactions. As clever as the one-liners are, his completely random off-the-wall threats, like "Strip you naked twice/Pistol-whip you and force you to take advice," win too.
#96. Eminem "Rock Bottom" (1999)
Producer: Bass Brothers
Album: The Slim Shady LP
"Rock Bottom," a gritty look at the lifestyles of the poor and dangerous, is more relevant now than when it was written. The recession ain't no joke, and Eminem ain't crackin' any either on this grim first-person account of a minimum-wage worker who is "'bout to burst this tec at somebody to reverse this debt." A dozen years later, Eminem lives in a mansion with an elevator in it, but the hurt is so alive in his voice on "Rock Bottom" that you can bet he has not forgotten the days when he felt "discouraged, hungry, and malnourished / living in this house with no furnace, unfurnished."
#95. Masta Ace f/ Eminem & J-Black "Hellbound" (2000)
Producer: DJ Rob, Domingo
Album: Game Over
Label: Yosumi Records
In 2008, Eminem remixed Masta Ace's underappreciated "Slaughtahouse" single (not to be confused with recent Shady signees Slaughterhouse). During a Shade 45 interview with Em and Ace that same year to promote the remix, Em, who has on numerous times cited MA as a key influence on him, was asked by Tony Touch when the duo would collaborate on a track together. Ace spoke up and said that the collabo had already happened—sort of—eight years earlier when an old Eminem verse was slapped onto "Hellbound." Eminem confessed back then that he had yet to hear the song. What he was missing out on was an uplifting underground joint that heavily samples theme music and sound effects from the SoulCalibur video game for Dreamcast. The zooming, ethereal melody conjures up sword and sorcery adventures, which contrast with Eminem's raw rap, but it still works. Plus, the chance to hear Em and Ace on the same record is heavenly.
#94. Eminem f/ Obie Trice "Emulate" (2005)
Album: Anger Management 3: The Exclusive SHADE 45 Mixtape
Floating in cyberspace for years, "Emulate" resurfaced in recent times with a second verse from Eminem (Obie's visualizations are repeated twice ... are those verses or is that hook? Oh, wait, it doesn't matter—it's butter any way you slice it). A reminder of how slept-on Obie Trice was, this also showed that when you strip away the fanfare you can judge Eminem on the only thing that matters: skills. The simple yet effective beat and precise lyrics and flow are the type of ish that real hip-hop purists want a copy of on their playlists.
#93. Eminem "Business" (2002)
Producer: Dr. Dre
Album: The Eminem Show
All the Batman and Robin references are a little off since Dre doesn't even rhyme on this one, but Doc does provide superpowerful production—with its driving rhythms and celebratory horns that cruise along like a flashy, souped-up vehicle. The celebratory feel is infectious, as an at-ease Em hops in the driver’s seat and lets rhymes fly at you like a Dark Knight boomerang. "You ain't even impressed no more, you used to it," he half-jokes, knowing damn well his fans still think this duo is dynamic.
#92. Eminem "On Fire" (2010)
Producer: Denaun Porter
Upon first listen, "On Fire" sounds like Em effing around in the studio (hell, he even goes so far as saying, "I just wrote a bullshit hook in between two long-ass verses"). And maybe he is just goofin' off, but Eminem's B-game is still enough to take out most of the league. In fact, the looseness brings out plenty of fun stuff like "Flows tighter/Hot-headed as Ghost Rider/Cold-hearted as Spider-Man throwin' a spider in the snow," as well as smarmy ad-libs like, "I'm so fuckin' sick I got ambulances pullin' me over and shit." The only thing fully serious here is the production, which resembles an operatic exorcism.