It’s the reason why Drake lied about the Warriors and the fish in your uncle's story gets bigger every time he tells it. Reality can be boring. If a rapper wants to tell a story, one that will keep the listener interested from start to finish, they have to take some poetic license. Spend your time truly trying to separate the fact from the fiction and you'll end up pulling your hair out...or working for a rap blog.
Storytelling is an art, and (almost) no one is better at it then Eminem. Exhibit A: “Stan.”
The critically-acclaimed song is undoubtedly one of the most heralded storytelling examples in all of hip-hop - I mean, it coined the term "stan" - and I can’t think of a better song to exemplify what I mean. "Stan" is interesting because of the way it so intricately weaves reality and fiction. Eminem writes from his own perspective, as Eminem in real life, as well as the character “Stan,” who is dating Dido, but for the sake of the music video isn’t Dido.
Just last night I was listening to “Stan” for no specific reason and one line in particular jumped out at me. I somehow never really gave it much thought before, but for whatever reason it finally hit my conscious brain and I became obsessed with figuring out if it was real.
“I even got the underground shit that you did with Skam/I got a room full of your posters and your pictures, man/I like the shit you did with Rawkus too, that shit was phat”
Hold up. Are those real songs that really exist? I’ve heard “Stan” approximately one billion times, and I know I’ve said “that shit was phat” out loud, but I never stopped to think about those specific songs. I guess I wrote them off as fictional records made up to illustrate Stan's stan-ness, but while the story may be fiction, those songs are most definitely real.
As it turns out, Skam is a Miami based artist who, in addition to rapping, also does a lot of cover art. In fact, he is the creative mind behind the Slim Shady LP art as well as Tribe’s Beats Rhymes and Lifeand Dizzy Wright’s Golden Age. In an interview with HiphopDX (about another underground Eminem song), DJ Sincere talked about how Skam and Em came together for two tracks that would eventually be known as “that undergound shit.”
"Skam (mentioned on the Eminem song 'Stan') had met Eminem thru his manager Paul Rosenberg and gave P-Love his demo maybe in mid November….Skam always spoke about how dope Eminem was and thanks to him and Shabaam Sahdeeq (who along with DJ Spinna and a few other underground emcees: A.L (All Lyrics), Kwest, and Skam were recording a few songs with Shabaam for his single on Rawkus records) had hooked up Em to come to our show the night before to come thru on Tuesday.”
Shabaam Shadeeq recruited A.L, Kwest, Skam and Em for "Five Star General," but it wasn't the only song Skam and Em had together. There was also "3hree6ix5five," which was released in 1998. Written on the record is "Eminem appears courtesy of WEB Entertainment," which if you remember from this pre-fame Eminem press release, was the production company Eminem was signed to before meeting Paul Rosenberg. As for the record itself, it sounds exactly as you'd imagine. A rough, yet magnetic Eminem spitting some bars that are as ridiculous as they are gruesome. I love the way Skam and Em's find a vocal balance against one other.
A year later, Eminem would go on to record "Any Man," a record which would appear on Rawkus' Soundbombing II alongside cuts from Common, Pete Rock, Pharoahe Monch, and Dilated Peoples. Slim Shady might be one of the most popular artists on the planet, but in the early stages of his career he was indeed firmly planted in the underground.
So how about that shit that Stan calls "phat"?
There's one more song Stan mentions, only it's a lot more popular than an obscure track from a pre-Y2K Rawkus Records compilation album.
It's this one...
You know the song by Phil Collins "In the Air of the Night"
Hold up (again). Stan clearly means "In the Air Tonight," You know, the song Ray Lewis used to dance to. The one that Mike Tyson sang in The Hangover. It's a pretty famous tune...which is exactly why this one caught me off guard. The title is "In the Air Tonight," not "In the Air of the Night."
Back to square one, is this part of the story or reality? Is Eminem doing this on purpose, making Stan seem more crazy, erratic, and intoxicated by screwing up the name of the song or does Eminem, the actual Eminem, actually think it's "In the Air of the Night"? I assume someone would have told him if he unintentionally got the song title wrong, but maybe it just slipped through the cracks.
Tragically, Eminem has never commented on this ultra-crucial topic, nor has he responded to my super official request for information, so while we can definitely prove that some phat underground shit with Skam and Rakwus exists, his Phil Collins' knowledge remains in question.
Real or fake, fantasy or reality, this is what makes "Stan" such an amazing track. Now excuse me while I track down Eminem to ask him about the Phil Collins thing, writing him over and over until I either get the answers I'm looking for or I end up driving off a bridge.