30. Rap God (2013)
Eminem illustrates all the cadences he has mastered over the years, channelling flows from influences such as Tech N9ne and Big Pun like an exorcist summoning spirits, and moving through an impressive 1,560 words in just six minutes. Some critics have dismissed this as empty “rappity rap”, but the fact a 41-year-old still cared this much about his craft deserves our respect.
29. Same Song & Dance (2009)
Although Marshall Mathers has repeatedly trashed 2009’s Relapse in interviews, the record, which is a nightmarish ode to horrorcore rap, has aged well – particularly this dread-inducing tale of a stalker who lynches Lindsay Lohan. Critics hated the creepy accent, which sounds like the bastard child of Borat and the Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willie, but by embodying such a ludicrous pastiche of a serial killer, Em enjoyed a much-needed dose of escapism at a time where his private life was starting to unravel.
28. The Ringer (2018)
Just like Jay-Z’s similarly misguided DOA (Death of Autotune), The Ringer is a track from a veteran unhappy with the direction rap is headed. Mocking the supposed cliches of mumble rap, Em is essentially an angry old man shouting at a (Sound)cloud. But after years of disappointing albums plagued with turgid stadium pop, it was just exciting to hear Eminem sound so fired up again – he makes for a very convincing Victor Meldrew.
27. Don’t Front (2013)
On this overlooked B-side, Eminem tears through the thunderous boom-bap of Black Moon’s classic street-corner drama, I Got Cha Opin. This is that rare museum exhibit that doesn’t bore you to tears, with Em giving his fans a nostalgic serotonin boost after a duo of truly awful albums: Recovery, and The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
26. It’s OK (1996)
Much of Eminem’s forgotten 1996 debut, Infinite, is spent trying to imitate the multi-syllabic flow of Kool G Rap over beats that sound like cheap rip-offs from Nas’s Illmatic. But the playful nocturnal funk of It’s OK, which is littered with enthusiastic ad-libs from best friend Proof, results in the record’s most inspired rapping, as an introspective Em uncharacteristically discusses finding God.
25. Till I Collapse (2002)
This shot of cathartic rage is still wildly inspiring, even if its appearance on every video game trailer sponsored by Mountain Dew might have diluted its impact a little. It was also fun to hear Nate Dogg sounding so emo and getting a chance to croon about something other than being a horny stoner.
24. Stay Wide Awake (2009)
With synths that appear to scream out in pain, this is one of Dr Dre’s weirdest concoctions. The songwriting may be the byproduct of a recluse spending his days writing raps amid Jeffrey Dahmer YouTube documentary binges, but Eminem mostly succeeds in trying to replicate the unhinged tone of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and that’s impressive. Tyler, the Creator said this had “the best flow ever”.
23. Drug Ballad (2000)
On Drug Ballad, Eminem is high as a kite, resiliently throwing jabs from beyond the clouds and refusing to come back down. The funky thrusts of bass replicate the energy of a horny, if incredibly tacky, spring-break party in the nu-metal era. It’s a window into a simpler, trashier time, where sniffing glue while playing with a Rubik’s Cube was somehow considered an attractive personality trait.
22. Brain Damage (1999)
Turning his childhood traumas into whimsical entertainment, Eminem transitions from being bullied into being the bully, and his nutty turn of phrase and dark recollections of a Detroit high school where even the principal joins in with the beatings are frequently hilarious. Few artists can find light in such a dark setting and this song, released just a few months before the Columbine massacre, presciently hints at American schools dangerously abandoning their outcasts.
21. Role Model (1999)
With jokes about the alleged OJ murders and Lauryn Hill’s mythical hatred of white men, this is Eminem starting to realise his power as a cultural provocateur. The fact he bluntly erases his predecessor (“I saw Vanilla Ice and ripped out his blonde dreads”) also feels significant, with the Detroit native reshaping the idea of the ascendant white rapper.
20. Without Me (2002)
With a mischievous beat that sounds as if it was crafted by Dr Dre rhythmically squeezing a bunch of clowns’ noses, this is a continuation of the silly pop theatrics of The Real Slim Shady and My Name Is. When Eminem claimed rap would be empty without him around, it was hard to disagree.
19. Cleanin’ Out My Closet (2002)
A bit like watching a white trash family drama unravel on the Jerry Springer show, this intensely autobiographical song works because Eminem isn’t afraid to operate from a place of weakness. Em also shares his mission statement as an artist, rapping: “Give ’em hell for as long as I’m breathing”.
18. Scary Movies (1999)
Eminem has always made an artform out of killing people and his absurdist pledge to “Throw you down a flight of stairs / Then I’ll throw you back up them” is undeniably hilarious. Scary Movies is a reminder of a time when Em wasn’t just a great rapper, but a great comedian, too.
17. The Way I Am (2000)
As good as The Slim Shady LP was, it was a bit too heavy on dick jokes, and this highlight from its follow-up showcases clearer artistic growth. A haunting meditation on fame, it’s a paranoid, inward-looking tale of being so famous that you get followed to the bathroom.
16. Hellbound (2000)
Rapping over regal music from beat-’em-up game Soulcalibur, Em’s promise to “fuck the planet until it spins on a broken axis” projects a larger-than-life confidence. Eminem slashes through the beat like a katana sword, writing the hyper-animated blueprint that Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj would later follow.
15. Jay-Z – Renegade (feat Eminem) (2001)
Originally an Eminem collaboration with frenemy Royce Da 5’9”, Em’s potent critique of middle America proves he was one step ahead of his broadsheet critics. He is operating at the height of his powers, with verses so vivid that Nas even taunted Jay-Z with the barb: “And Eminem murdered you on your own shit.”
14. If I Had (1999)
Em has rarely sounded this dejected, with the artist wondering what he must sacrifice in order to make a million dollars. When he would rap about his personal life later on in his career there was too much syrupy sentimentality and self-pity, but here (where he recalls earning $5.55 an hour) Eminem has never sounded so relatable.
13. Superman (2002)
The kind of song that might get an artist cancelled today, Superman is a twisted take on the love bops Nelly and Ja Rule were routinely pumping out. Endlessly catchy, it’s the closest Em has come to a club banger, and his problematic Lothario dazzles rather than disgusts because he dares you to take him seriously.
12. I’m Back (2000)
Not all of Dre’s beats on the Marshall Mathers LP have aged that well, but I’m Back remains truly compelling theme music for a comic-book villain. Eminem fans the flames by threatening to murder Columbine bullies; at this point, he genuinely felt like pop culture’s most provocative son.
11. Guilty Conscience (1999)
Playing into media claims that rap music was leading young people astray, rarely has a mainstream rap single been so conceptual, as Em and Dre play the two conflicting sides of the male conscience. Em tells Dre – who assaulted TV host Dee Barnes in 1991 – he’s in no position to lecture someone else on how to treat a woman. It’s still bold.
10. Deja Vu (2009)
This is a three-dimensional account of what it’s like to be a person with the kind of privilege that might fuel a drug addiction. Em recounts being in an ambulance after an overdose, but the fact he does so while joking about his fears of suffering a cliched death like Elvis makes for an endearing listen.
9. White America (2002)
Aware that he was every parent’s worst nightmare, Eminem dissects his cultural influence with real precision. Screaming his vocals from the very back of his throat, he also grapples with his white privilege, acknowledging: “If I was black, I would’ve sold half.” White America showed rappers they could be rock stars, too – punk rappers such as Slowthai and Denzel Curry will have learned a lot from this.
8. Remember Me? (2000)
Designed to be blasted out of a car in a dingy alleyway at 1am, this abrasive shot of horrorcore is as raw as an exposed nerve ending. Each verse is more unhinged than the last, with Eminem fully embracing his growing mythology as rap’s “angry blonde”.
7. My Name Is (1999)
You couldn’t make these kind of jokes today, but back in 1999, this subversive doozy really felt like Slim Shady was breaking through MTV’s glass ceiling. Em played the role of pop culture’s Dennis the Menace ever so well, mocking the misguided idea that rappers should be considered role models over a catchy Labi Siffre sample.
6. Square Dance (2002)
Eminem is too self-aware to create truly transcendent moments, but this experimental banger is the closest he ever got to crafting one. Tapping into post-9/11 paranoia, Em plays the role of the demented ringmaster, bringing you into his garish circus with aplomb. It is basically the rap version of Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite!
5. Lose Yourself (2002)
This is the Rocky theme song reimagined for millennials, with Eminem at his most inspirational while forcing you to empathise with the plight of the working class. It’s rare that a whole generation knows the lyrics to a rap song, but Lose Yourself is more than worthy of that honour (even if Marty disagrees).
4. Kim (2000)
Arguably the darkest song to ever appear on a diamond-selling album, the murderous chaos of Kim powerfully reflects a misguided lovesick rage. Em switches between male and female voices with an unsettling schizophrenic power, with the bittersweet chorus also strangely enchanting. This broke new ground for storytelling rap, and made your mum lock away your copy of The Marshall Mathers LP in a safe, for ever.
3. Dr Dre – Forgot About Dre (feat Eminem) (1999)
This track perfected the juxtaposition between Dr Dre as the world-weary OG and Eminem as his deranged apprentice. Rapping like a cartoon rottweiler, Em chomps his way through the beat in a way that is linguistically dizzying. As far as perfect producer and rapper dynamics go, this remains the one to beat.
2. The Real Slim Shady (2000)
If MTV had become a little safe and too draped in shiny suits by 2000, this was Eminem attempting to liberate it from its excesses and give pop culture’s trashier icons (Will Smith, Fred Durst) a much-needed spanking. This was a single so big that it opened up hip-hop to the suburbs and made millions of white teenagers dye their hair blond.
1. Stan (2000)
Six-minute epics about crazy fans who drown their pregnant girlfriends don’t usually top the pop charts, but Stan’s storytelling was so vivid and claustrophobic that it grabbed you by the neck and forced you to get into the back of that car. This shifted the pop paradigm completely and gave a face (and name) to the kind of toxic fan culture that would later multiply with the explosion of social media. As far as rap storytelling goes, it is unlikely Stan will ever be bettered. This is Eminem’s Stairway to Heaven, and the fact he could even make Dido sound bearable is testament to just how good he used to be.