Hey there! How are you? How was your weekend?
Brunch? Vacation? A wedding?
Funny you should ask....it was great. I binged watched Master of None on Netflix.
I rarely use Netflix these days, but when I heard Aziz Ansari had a new show, I thought I’d give it a try. One minute it’s Friday afternoon and I'm trying to remember my ex-girlfriend’s Netflix password and the next it’s Sunday night, I haven't seen the sun for two days and I'm all out of episodes (there’s no lonelier moment than when the void of finishing a show sets in). I couldn't help it, I was hooked. It’s an AMAZING show. I love how Aziz wrestles with trying to be a grown up but in an original and, of course, humorous way. It's not often you can make something so daunting so much fun. There’s so many great parts - the fact that Aziz's dad in the show is played by Aziz's actual dad, the whole “Parents” episode, the turtle in a briefcase - but as a rap nerd one moment jumped out at me. There is a scene in Episode 7, "Ladies and Gentlemen," were Dev (Aziz Ansari) and his buddy Arnold (Eric Wareheim) are existing a bathroom and they begin a debate that centers around Eminem’s multi-platinum selling single “Lose Yourself.” I don’t want to say it’s the greatest scene in TV history but….
AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! Now that they mention it.....wait....does "Lose Yourself" actually make any fucking sense? It looks like I know what I'm doing with the next few hours of my life, let's take this step by step and try to unravel this mess, starting with a breakdown of their conversation.
- In “Lose Yourself” (or “that 8 Mile song” according to Dev) Eminem raps, “There is no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer,” but as Dev so astutely points out, there is a movie (8 Mile), and there is a Mekhi Phifer.
- Arnold counters that Eminem is rapping from the perspective of Eminem in real life, the Eminem whose life is, indeed, not a movie.
- Dev discredits the argument by citing the “vomit on his sweater, mom’s spaghetti” line in the first verse, a clear reference to the movie that shows Eminem is rapping from the perspective of B. Rabbit, the character Eminem plays in 8 Mile.
- Arnold accuses Dev of being “ignorant” (low key the best part of the scene) and though he does concede there is a movie, he solves the conundrum by saying that the perspective switches in the song. In the first verse he’s rapping as B.Rabbit, and in the third verse he's Eminem, where there was no movie or Mekhi Phifer.
- Dev responds that even if the third verse is Eminem in real life, then Mekhi Phifer, the actor, does in fact exist in real life. Eminem knows him, they're friends. In fact, Eminem the real person has acted in a real movie this real song is about along with Mekhi Phifer, real human actor. And we're right back where we started.
The conversation ends there in favor of something relevant to the episode's central plot, but my mind was stuck in 8 Mile inception. I had never really thought about it, but “Lose Yourself” is devoid of any concept of time, space or consciousness. I'd listened to it 100 times, but now I had to figure the song out. Just what the fuck is up with “Lose Yourself”?
Now, the general issues Arnold and Dev raise are valid, but their facts are not exactly correct. For example, the first verse isn’t from Rabbit’s perspective, crucially it’s Eminem rapping about B. Rabbit.; “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy /There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti.” Though it’s pretty clear, just to make sure we are all on the same page, here’s Eminem’s own Genius annotation proving it.
The first verse is all about Jimmy Smith Jr. It’s me talking about Jimmy Smith Jr. — like, I’m not saying my sweater, I’m saying his. I’m trying to show you what his life is about.
So verse one is Em rapping about Rabbit. Simple enough, but the second verse is where things get weird. Here Eminem switches personas, going from “the world is mine for the taking" to “He goes home and barely knows his own daughter,” which is clearly about Eminem, not Rabbit, who isn't a star and doesn't have a daughter. So verse one is Eminem rapping about Rabbit, and verse two is Eminem rapping about himself, although he's confusingly referring to himself in the third person.
The third verse? That's where shit gets really weird, that's where Dev's confusion stems from and rightfully so. This third verse is some weird hybrid of Rabbit and Eminem. Take a look at the bars right before the line in question,
All the pain inside amplified by the / Fact that I can't get by with my 9 to 5 / And I can't provide the right type of life for my family / 'Cause man, these goddamn food stamps don't buy diapers
Since Jimmy and Eminem share similar struggles, it's hard to tell just who this is about. Both Eminem and Rabbit had pain inside, both Eminem and Rabbit worked shitty jobs, but only Eminem had to buy diapers, not Rabbit. So is this Eminem, or is it Rabbit fresh off a shift at Detroit New Stamping? Is the perspective switching line by line? Either way, the next line "there is no movie / there's no Mekhi Phifer" makes no sense.
If you assume it's written about Rabbit's life then you run the risk of being meta mind-fucked, because if there is no movie then techinally there is also no B. Rabbit. Rabbit doesn't know he is a character in a movie, but still, he lives in this world made by the movie. On the other hand, it doesn't quite make sense to say the verse is framed around Eminem because in Eminem's life, again, there is a movie and Mekhi Phifer does exist. He may not be Future Porter, but he definitely exsits. Mind fuck? Either way you frame it, "there is no movie / there's no Mekhi Phifer," doesn't make sense. Is there a way to differentiate perspectives and realities where sometimes spaghetti exists maybe and sometimes it doesn't? Let's ask Eminem.
Putting the name of the actor right there in the lead single was just about the rhymes. I had started with this syllable scheme — “somebody’s paying the pied piper” and “Mekhi Phifer” ended up fitting. That was all it was.
That was one of those songs where I remember telling Paul, “I don’t know how to write about someone else’s life.” Because the movie is not me, the movie is Jimmy Smith Jr. So I’m playing this character, but I have to make parallels between my life and his, in this song. I gotta figure out how to reach a medium. It would sound so corny if I was just rapping as Jimmy Smith Jr. How is that going to come from a real place?
If I’m telling you that my daughter doesn’t have diapers, I need this amount of money to pay my bills this month, and it’s some real shit I’m telling you, then you know that it’s just coming from me. That was the trick I had to figure out — how to make the rhyme sound like him, and then morph into me somehow, so you see the parallels between his struggles and mine.
So as it turns out, Eminem has no idea either. “Lose Yourself” really does make no fucking sense because Eminem sacrificed logic, reason and clarity in the name of great art. Dev and Arnold were noble in their effort to try and solve the mystery, but it was a hopeless mission from the very start. You have to chalk this one up to poetic license. In reality, Eminem needed a song that would take the movie over the top and didn’t focus too much on alternate realities, he wasn’t worried about making it clear who was real and what world we were in.
In many ways the movie works the same way. Jimmy is loosely based on Eminem in that they are both poor, white guys from Detroit who can rap, but it’s not a bio-pic or a documentary. “Lose Yourself” is just an extension of the narrative’s freedom. It’s always been blurry, but I’ve also always given Em a pass because I enjoy watching 8 Mile. Still, when you break it down, you can kind of see how crazy it really is.
When you have Eminem playing a character who is loosely based off Eminem but isn't Eminem some logical gaps are inevitable. To address Dev’s initial issue, he's right, but'll have to let it go, especially considering Dev's not an actual person either, he's a character played by Aziz Ansari who's reciting a script written by Harris Wittles.
So yes, I did just spend 1,000 words breaking down a Netflix show’s breakdown of an Eminem song. And yes, this is my job. I’m the hero you don't really want, but also the one you don't really need.
Answered: "Lose Yourself" doesn't make sense, but that's OK because it's still an awesome song.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. You can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.