Unless you were born into the lineage of a Rothschild or Kardashian, there’s a part of you that relates to grinding toward a goal, defying the odds and writing your own underdog story. From birth, there are obstacles challenging us at every turn, road blocks attempting to halt our prosperity and success, and there are few current superstars who went through more hardships and misfortunes in their journey to rap-stardom than Eminem. I believe those hapless events fueled his biggest hit, "Lose Yourself."
Everyone and their baby’s mother knows "Lose Yourself"; it’s practically the universal theme song for underdogs. The song has accumulated a number of accolades since its 2002 release: winning Grammys for Best Male Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Song, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song (the first rap song in Oscar history to do so) and a valiant 12-week run at #1 in the United States and Australia, resulting in 6x platinum status worldwide. A song with this much impact and history doesn’t happen every day in hip-hop.
So like everyone else, I was surprised when it was announced that the “final version” wasn’t the “original,” and that the original would be an exclusive track on Eminem’s Shady XV compilation album. In fact, it was a version so exclusive, even Eminem doesn’t remember recording it. Now, I previously didn't care about any new Eminem, but something this historic got my blood pumping again. How could it not? This demo of "Lose Yourself" is like uncovering a relic that will allows us to appreciate the finished transformation. This is a rare glimpse into the creative process of Eminem and Dr.Dre, I wouldn’t be a rap nerd if I didn’t dissect the song like an archeologist would do a T-Rez skeleton.
So I pressed play, knowing how the final incarnation sounds, taking mental notes of all the changes like an adult returning to his childhood cul-de-sac. I first noticed the mood-setting piano keys at the beginning are missing, as the familiar, mid-tempo guitar loop fills your ears. Marshall’s verse starts with:
“If I was froze inside of a moment/ If I could capture time inside a capsule/hourglass full of sand in the palm of my hand that passes through it/ if I could grasp it and control what happens to it/ then I could trap it so no more time elapses through it/ if raps could do it/ maybe I can tap into/Then I could try to channel it through Cadillacs and Buicks."
I immediately understood why he doesn’t remember recording this; he’s obviously high on magic mushrooms. Instead of mom’s spaghetti and sweaty palms, we get time-manipulation. The polysyllabic flow and cadence matches the accustomed edition, minus the bone chilling aggression. He doesn’t sound bad, the verse is solid by all standards. I see why this would excite Dre, but then the hook begins and my mind starts to change:
“Lose yourself in the music, the moment, we own it, we won’t ever let it go, you better move yourself, because tomorrow’s ass can wait, there is no time, to sit there and procrastinate, you better..”
It shares the basic skeleton with the final, but obviously “procrastinate” would’ve made it difficult to become a “hit” single. There isn't a song in history that was a successful hit with procrastinate in the chorus. Em is attempting to motivate, put that fire under your bum, but it comes off as painfully corny. The second verse has strong wordplay, it fills me with nostalgia to hear him back in this form, but still falls short of the Holy Grail.
“Cause when we descend together, we begin to move as one/In perfect unison just like the moon and sun/Illuminate the room and humans soon become aluminum/Rhythmically in sync, if you'll excuse the pun.”
If you place both versions of "Lose Yourself" next to each other, you’ll notice they’re fraternal twins. One grew up to be a full grown, astounding single, while the other is malnourished and never left their parents' basement. With Eminem on the set of 8 Mile at the time, getting into the role of B-Rabbit with the concept buried somewhere in his head, it allowed him to expand the idea of losing yourself in the moment and inspired his masterpiece. Much like how Slim Shady is an extension of his personality, B-Rabbit represents that struggling artist with his back against the wall. That passion and the incredible imagery is what sparked the widespread acclaim of "Lose Yourself."
“He's so mad but he won'/Give up that easy nope, he won't have it/He knows, his whole back's to these ropes/It don't matter, he's dope/He knows that, but he's broke/He's so stagnant, he knows/When he goes back to this mobile home, that's when it's/Back to the lab again yo this whole rhapsody/He better go capture this moment and hope it don't pass him.”
I hope artists and fans hear this demo and understand that not every song is gold the moment it's recorded. You just don’t wake up and shit greatness every morning of your career. The best of the best will scrap the bad and build upon the good ideas until it becomes something magnificent. That dusty drum loop alone is a stick figure, but sandwiched between a captivating piano, lovely strings, and powerful drums it's the Mona Lisa. He still rhymes about using rap to reach the masses that connects us, but a good message doesn’t pack a strong enough punch. It needed frustration, aggression, and a relatable desire to overcome failure. That kind of voice will have your listeners lost in a song for over a decade. This powerful single, from one of raps greatest gladiators will always be treasured.
Kudos to Em for the title, there truly isn’t a phrase more fitting for the effect this song has on listeners.
(By Yoh, aka The Hakuhō Shō of Rap Blogging, aka @Yoh31.)