This man seeks out the jugular.
Reputation can follow n artist for the entirety of their career. For Eminem, regardless of how his music might have changed over time, his reputation is that of a hardened warrior. The product of many hard-fought battles. Occasionally wars. Sometimes with hip-hop challengers, others with emboldened pop stars. Regardless of the target, Slim has never been one to pull punches. In some cases, he may opt to abstain entirely; consider his short-lived beef with his friend and collaborator Royce Da 5’9,” which found Em turning another cheek to “Malcolm X.” Yet for those who do manage to draw his ire, Eminem has made a habit of ruining livelihoods and burning bridges to high heaven.
Since first establishing mainstream dominance with The Slim Shady LP, Eminem has been a lightning rod for criticism. The trend exists even today, with media pundits like Joe Budden and Lord Jamar continuously taking shots at the divisive legend. Yet there was a time when such disrespect would all but force a self-respecting artist into the ring. That’s not to say the targets were always top tier challengers, but that didn’t stop Em from doling out excessive force. In honor of his formidable reputation, take a moment to revisit some of the most legendary diss tracks of his career.
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Before Em became a household name, he was embroiled in a feud with House Of Pain’s Everlast. Legend has it that the beef originally gathered steam after Em “snubbed” Everlast in a hotel lobby, a la Cosmo Kramer. Feeling some type of way, Everlast fired a few warning shots at Em on the Dilated Peoples track “Ear Drums.” “Cock my hammer, spit a comet like Hailey, I'll buck a .380 on ones that act Shady,” he rapped, and thus sealing his fate.
Before long, Em responded in full, satirizing Everlast’s foray into guitar-driven rock-rap with “I Remember.” Stylized after Everlast’s then-aesthetic, Em unleashed both melodies and bars at in Whitey Ford’s direction. Though the sung parts are serviceable disrespect, Em’s holds nothing back in his extensive verse, stringing together some of the most impressive multi-syllabic schemes in diss track history.
QUITTER w/ D12
“I Remember” was not the first time Em would reserve time for Whitey Ford. “Quitter” marked the finishing blow of his one-two punch (unless we’re counting “Girls,” another diss record worthy of remembrance), a furious assault bolstered by supporting fire from D12. Tonally different from its predecessor, “Quitter” finds Eminem spitting venom, upping the intensity of his disrespect in the track’s first section. The topics of discussion remain the same, but while “I Remember” served to contextualize the beef, “Quitter” was there to send Whitey into chaos.
Everything from his religion to his sexual orientation to his curious stylistic choices were put under a microscope, in the same manner as ants. At this point, Em had all but sealed the deal, allowing the “Lil Homies” to ride to war for the sole purpose of making a point.
The thing about “Can-I-Bitch,” one of Eminem’s most hilarious and brilliantly crafted tales to date, is that it was never intended for release. The track was ultimately leaked in the early millennium as part of the Straight From The Lab EP, which stands among his most notorious collections of leaked material. Yet the damage was done, and fans were treated to the zany dissection of Canibus and his “intergalactical metaphors from Mars.” Channeling a bloodlust-fuelled Slick Rick, Em delivers an effortless flow that doubles as rather compelling narrative; a “Stan 2.0” if you will, complete with appearances from Dr. Dre, the Pet Shop Boys, and the peskily resilient Canibus.
The dawn of Em’s most storied beef, “The Sauce” marked the first volley at one Ray Benzino, co-owner of The Source and his most high-profile foe to date. After catching shots from Zino’s “Pull Ya Skirt Up,” Em retaliated in full force with a blistering assault. Like “I Remember” and “Quitter” prior, “The Sauce” and it’s successor “Nail In The Coffin” followed a similar blueprint. Before the pure, unapologetic disrespect was to be unleashed, Eminem allowed himself space to set the stage, dismantling Benzino’s life’s work while calling his credibility into question. What makes “The Sauce” so brilliant is how it doubles as autobiographical, providing insight into Em’s journey from aspiring emcee to global superstar. For that reason, it stands as one of his most passionate songs to date, despite being a diss track.
NAIL IN THE COFFIN
There’s no disputing that “Nail In The Coffin” is the most scathing diss track Eminem has ever dropped. From the slow-burning tension of the beat to the absolutely venomous bars, the second of Em’s officially released Benzino disses was akin to a public execution. Nothing is off-limits, and as the track progresses, Em becomes hate personified. You can hear the disgust in every line, and by the time the song concludes, Eminem has left no stone unturned. There’s a reason that history has dubbed this “the end of Benzino,” thus transforming the name into a prophecy of sorts.
The unofficial cousin of the Benzino trilogy, “Bully” marks another interesting chapter of Em’s career. Originally rumored to have been intended for “Encore,” this haunting, melodic diss record was also part of the aforementioned Straight From The Lab leak. And while it never saw an official release, “Bully” has developed a rampant cult following. Though the bulk of the bars are reserved for Benzino, Em makes sure to acknowledge Ja Rule, Irv Gotti, and even Suge Knight. Like “The Sauce,” Em crafts “Bully” as a storyteller first, penning a cohesive narrative while retaining all the hate we’ve come to expect.
BUMP HEADS ft. G-Unit
Though Em never quite gave Ja Rule the same attention he reserved for Benzino, that’s not to say Jeff Atkins got off easy. For the most part, Ja and Irv were 50’s cross to bear, though Eminem was not about to let “Loose Change” go unpunished. For the purpose of this list, I was debating between “Bump Heads,” “Hail Mary,” and “Hailie’s Revenge,” which make up the trifecta of Em’s Ja Rule disses (unless we’re counting “Shit Hits The Fan” and “I’m Gone”, so maybe it’s a pentalogy?) And then there’s “Wanksta” freestyle...Shit, I digress. In the end, there’s something about “Bump Heads” that places it at the top; perhaps it’s Em’s devil may care demeanor or the fact he peppers personal anecdotes in to further contextualize his relationship. Either way, it’s never a dull moment when Em and G-Unit ride to war.
MY NAME w/ XZIBIT & NATE DOGG
Though it was relatively blink-and-you-missed-it, Eminem and Dr. Dre both briefly feuded with So-So Def producer Jermaine Dupri. The beef was acknowledged in three servings, including Eminem and Xzibit’s “Freestyle,” Em and Dre’s “Say What You Say,” and the best of the batch - Xzibit, Eminem, and Nate Dogg’s “My Name.” Though it never quite reached the same level as some of his prior beef, a fact Em himself dances around on “My Name,” he made sure to issue a stern warning to Dupri without dulling his blade. Implementing references to his own work (“Square Dance”) and that of his respected collaborator (Nas on “Ether”), Em’s second verse is a harsh reminder of what inevitably happens once the bear is poked. Plus, whenever Eminem and Xzibit get on a track together, it’s pure excellence.
“The Warning,” Eminem’s scathing diss track to Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, plays out like a restraining order on wax. Upon feeling disrespected by Mariah, with whom he had a former fling, hitting him with a dismissal, Em made her a mainstay in some of his more disrespectful Relapse raps. In response, Mariah clapped back with “Obsessed,” which would ultimately seal her fate. In terms of disrespect, “The Warning” ranks high on the scale, given Em is essentially penning the track as a vindictive ex-boyfriend with a rich history from which to draw. He even manages to use her own voice against her, leaving us with more questions than we have answers. Suffice it to say, Mariah Carey likely considered herself warned - is it no coincidence Nick Cannon recently took a few shots at Em?
The most recent of the bunch, Eminem's "Killshot" was quite possibly one of the most anticipated tracks in recent memory. After an unexpected beef between himself and Machine Gun Kelly kicked off in September 2018, many wondered how Em was going to respond to "Rap Devil." At this point, his reputation was long-built, prompting some neutral parties to (hyperbolically) fear for Gunner's career safety.
When Em dropped "Killshot," it served to silence the doubters for a brief moment, confirming that the legends were indeed true. And while Em's full-fledged Machine Gun Kelly diss was certainly a brutal affair, it marked a curious deviation from the others. Not everyone declared Em to be the unanimous victor, with some placing "Rap Devil" a cut above. Regardless of where you stand, however, "Killshot" is everything we've come to expect from an Eminem diss track: brutal, technically savage, and forever void of apologies.