“Why be a king when you can be a God?” That’s the question Eminem posed yesterday on “Rap God,” the 6-minute lyrical pipe-bomb of a track from his upcoming album, the Marshall Mathers LP 2. It’s a provocative question. Immediately, some wondered if Em was taking aim at his Interscope label-mate Kendrick Lamar, who famously made his own aggressive claim of rap game dominance earlier this year on his “Control” verse, but in many ways what Eminem was doing on this track was more complicated than that.
Like Kendrick, Eminem named names, but he wasn’t going after his contemporaries. Instead of doing what Kendrick did—threatening to (lyrically) murder all his rap rivals—Eminem was placing himself in a historical lineage, imagining his own rap Mt. Rushmore and placing his own bleached blonde head right in there. He was staging a rap mythology session, remaking his own version of Clash Of The Titans and releasing the krakken. Even though reactions on social media were somewhat mixed, there’s no denying it was an event.
So, what about the names he did name? Was he paying tribute or throwing shots? To decipher Eminem’s barrage of references on the undeniably dense and complicated track, we’ve offered up a list of the rap gods Eminem was name-checking on his incendiary track and tried to figure out what Em was trying to say with each reference and allusion. Bow down. –Dan Jackson