Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song. In this post we present one cover for each of Eminem’s five diamond singles.
In Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop he provides some background on why covers by and of rappers are so hard to come by:
“The likely explanation for the dearth of covers in rap is that rap’s audience and rappers themselves wish to propagate the belief– and sometimes the illusion– that a rapper is delivering his or her own words, that we are hearing directly from the mind behind the voice. This is a fundamental tenet of rap authenticity, partly the product of acculturated belief and partly the product of the fact that rapping, as a means of vocalization that’s close to speech, carries with it the same presumption as speech: that speakers speak for themselves.”
Despite this, we have talked about Eminem on this blog before, from banjo to mashup cover, from an old-school T-Swift interpretation to a take on the controversial “Kim”, and many more. Perhaps this is because he inspires others to speak period, if not for themselves per se. In this same book that interprets rap lyrics as literature, Bradley gives some context about what makes Eminem’s approach to rap so novel:
“It’s easy to spot rap’s true lyrical innovators because not only will they likely be rapping about different things from everyone else, they’ll be using different words to do it. Eminem, for instance, had to conceive a bunch of new rhyming words to describe the experiences of a working-class white kid from a trailer park in Detroit who rises to superstardom. Who else would think to rhyme “public housing systems” with “victim of Munchausen syndrome”?
Rappers have slowly made their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (if rappers are poets, why not also be rockers). Jay-Z’s turn came last year, and The Notorious B.I.G.’s turn came the year before. This year Eminem takes his place among legends. This time around we try to find covers that haven’t previously been showcased on this blog, and in honor of Eminem’s induction, we find covers of each of his five diamond-level singles.
Water From Your Eyes – Lose Yourself (Eminem cover)
If this song is not Eminem’s most iconic song, it certainly is a very recognizable one. It featured in 8 Mile, where Eminem made his acting debut playing a role that mirrored much of his own back story. The song even became the first hip hop song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. This cover kicks off Somebody Else’s Songs, a cover album that plays on the band’s previous album of originals, Somebody Else’s Song. Grunge guitar opens, and the monotone spoken word sets up the story. The entire cover remains straight-faced, never slipping into a tongue-in-cheek mocking. In fact, the delivery is one of controlled rage. The verses clip along, no different than a passionate spoken word expressing hopes and dreams that are just trying to rise above the stifling of inevitable obstacles. The indie-duo trying to break out themselves shows that this song’s message is eternally relatable. Someone is always striving for that one life-changing opportunity.
Best Bar: How could I not choose “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy / There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti”?
C. Ray – Crack a Bottle (Eminem, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent cover)
This song is the encore to “Encore” which first brought Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent together in 2004. Slim Shady is up to his more stereotypically rap-themed lyrics in this song: sex, alcohol, and cool cars. In the spirit of cocky Slim Shady, this cover comes from a cover album of raps titled with the sing-song taunt “Anything You Can Do…” with the ellipsis leaving the implication of “I can do better”. You have to admire the confidence and the ambition of C. Ray taking on all three parts, trying to top three rap legends.
Best Bar: This one is hard to choose because the lyrics are more in-your-face Slim Shady bravado than serious-themed Eminem poetics. Let’s go with this pair of rhyming duos. “If I could fit the words, it’s picture perfect, works every time / Every verse, every line, as simple as nursery rhymes / It’s elementary, the elephants have entered the room / I venture to say we’re the center of attention, it’s true”.
RESE – Not Afraid (Eminem cover)
This song was the lead single off an album that was initially supposed to be a sequel to Relapse. It’s hard to not see this plan as an homage to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint and follow-up album The Blueprint 2 as these were Jay-Z’s sixth and seventh studio albums respectively, matching the same timeline of Eminem’s. However, Eminem decided to go in a different direction, even self-deprecatingly referring to the previous album in this song, and released Recovery instead. At least this theme implies a more positive outcome than a second relapse. This cover keeps it simple; the piano provides the minimal guide rail to a rap with a touch of melody. The lyrics and rhythm of these particular verses show the importance and value of enunciation. We want to catch every piece of encouragement and tough love Eminem spits at us.
Best Bar: “I’ma be what I set out to be, without a doubt, undoubtedly / And all those who look down on me, I’m tearin’ down your balcony”
ENISA – Love the Way You Lie (Eminem and Rihanna cover)
Before hearing this song, you might never picture Rihanna and Eminem collaborating, but “Love the Way You Lie” was such a smash that it inspired a part two (on Rihanna’s album Loud, this time from the female point of view). The original demo of part two of the song with Skylar Grey, who co-wrote the two songs, on vocals sometimes even gets labelled as part three of the story. The raw story of domestic violence provides an emotional canvas for other artists to paint on with their cover versions. Here, ENISA takes on both parts, adding some melody to the rap sections. This approach is equally powerful on both sides of the story, and even with a more singing-focused cover, the rhythm of the verses remain. Smooth parts followed by choppy bits that speed up the tempo mirror the ebb and flow of an argument, the escalation of emotion, and evoke the potential for that argument to turn into violence.
Best Bar: “Now you get to watch her leave out the window / Guess that’s why they call it window pane”
AHMIR and Ali Brustofski – The Monster (Eminem and Rihanna cover)
Rihanna and Eminem really know how to make a hit while also taking on heavy themes (this time about the consequences of fame). This is their fourth and last (so far) collaboration, but with Rihanna gearing up for a Super Bowl halftime performance and with breaking news about a new single for the next Black Panther soundtrack maybe another collaboration is not too far away.
This version starts out like its going to be a run-of-the-mill a cappella approach to the song, but with the start of the first verse, we see that there will be some legitimate rapping involved as well. The members of AHMIR trade off Eminem verses while the rest support with background “ooh”s and “da-da”s. Those sounds do not actually seem out of place though. The original uses strategic “ooh”s and even some yodels in the rap part itself as punctuation and, maybe I’m over-analyzing, the almost bird call extended “ooh”s after “well, that’s nothing” provide a subtle callback to Eminem’s “Mockingbird” that also is a confessional of sorts, this time about the pre-fame struggle. Meanwhile, Ali Brustofski provides the powerful and repeating refrain, reminding us of the monster we just can’t escape.
Best Bar: “‘Cause all I wanted to do’s be the Bruce Lee of loose leaf / Abused ink, used it as a tool when I blew steam”