Eminem and Beyonce crashed Taylor Swift’s Reputation party on Friday (Nov. 10) with the release of their colossal collaboration “Walk on Water.” The Rick Rubin-produced track serves as the first single off Eminem’s forthcoming album, Revival. And on it, rather than knife his way through the track with his brash, animalistic delivery, Em enters a reflective state and addresses his insecurities regarding fame and his current standing in hip-hop.
With Beyonce anchoring the chorus with an empowering hook about superstars being merely mortals, Em candidly explains why despite his bevy of accolades, he still manages to freeze up every time he hits the studio.
Take a look at the lyrics for “Walk on Water” decoded.
“Why, are expectations so high?
Is it the bar I set?
My arms, I stretch, but I can’t reach
A far cry from it, or it’s in my grasp, but as
Soon as I grab, squeeze
I lose my grip like the flying trapeze”
From the onset, the self-proclaimed “Rap God” conveys his struggles with living up to the expectations placed on him by his ravenous fan-base. Despite being an astute wordsmith, the constant pressure of delivering an immaculate verse every time out is depleting Em’s energy. While he’s always up for the challenge, the fear of buckling under pressure and scripting an insipid verse plagues his mind.
“Knowing that no matter what bars I come with
You’re gonna hark, gripe, and that’s a hard Vicodin to swallow
So I scrap these, as pressure increases, like khakis
I feel the ice cracking, because..”
For Em, he feels like no matter how poignant his verses are, somehow, fans will be quick to attack him and call him out, fueling his insecurities even more. Here, he also cleverly plays off the classic adage, “Bitter pill to swallow ” by replacing it with Vicodin, a drug he has famously rapped about in the past.
“It’s the curse of the standard
That the first of the Mathers disc set
Always in search of the verse that I haven’t spit yet
Will this step just be another misstep
To tarnish whatever the legacy, love or respect I’ve garnered?
The rhyme has to be perfect, the delivery flawless
And it always feels like I’m hitting the mark
‘Tll I go sit in the car, listen, and pick it apart
Like, “This shit is garbage.”
Once again, Em’s dubious thought process is causing him to second guess not only his skill-set, but his revered legacy. After penning dozens of jaw-dropping verses, Em ponders whether he can continue to outdo himself. Because he’s so adept at stringing together double and triple entendres, fans are accustomed to his style of raps. This forces himself to question verses that he would normally deem good as lackluster.
“But if you bitches are trying to strip me of my confidence
I’m not God-sent
Nas, Rakim, Pac, B.I.G., James Todd Smith, and I’m not Prince, so…”
Though Em is already viewed as a legend, his glaring insecurity about his standing in hip-hop is on display again, as towards the end of his verse, he lets his fans know that he’s not “God-set” and that he’s nowhere near his peers, which includes Nas, Rakim, 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G. or LL Cool J.
“It’s true, I’m a Rubik’s, a beautiful mess
At times juvenile, yes, I goof and I jest
A flawed human, I guess
But I’m doing my best to not ruin your ex-
pectations and meet ’em, but first, the “Speedom” verse
Now, Big Sean, he’s going too fast
Is he gonna shout or curse out his mom?
There was a time I had the world by the balls, eating out my palm
Every album, song I was spazzin’ the fuck out on
And now I’m getting clowned and frowned on
But the only one who’s looking down on that matters now’s Deshaun
Am I lucky to be around this long?”
Em’s biggest criticism stems from his recent guest appearances. In 2015, he joined forces with Tech N9ne for “Speedom” and in 2016, he assisted Big Sean on his I Decided standout “No Favors.” Though Em pummeled each track with fury, the comments ate away at his spirits, making him wonder if father time was creeping up at his front door. As for Deshaun, Em is referring to his old friend and former hype-man Proof, who was tragically killed at a Detroit nightclub in 2006.
“The crowds are gone
And it’s time to wash out the blonde
Sales decline, the curtains drawn
They’re closing the set, I’m still poking my head out from behind
And everyone who has doubt, remind
Now take your best rhyme, outdo it, now do it a thousand times
Now let ’em tell ya the world no longer cares or gives a fuck about your rhymes
And as I grow outta sight, outta mind, I might go outta mine
‘Cause how do I, ever let this mic go without a fight
When I made a fuckin’ tightrope outta twine?
But when I do fall from these heights, though I’ll be fine
I won’t pout or cry or spiral down or whine
But I’ll decide if it’s my final bow this time around ’cause…”
As Em’s verse winds down, he enters a reflective state where he visualizes his fans no longer being interested in his music and him being forced to call his career over. For many artists, they struggle with the concept of calling it quits and after nearly 20 years in the game, Em refuses to succumb to his fears. Instead of bidding adieu to the genre he helped build, Shady lets it be known that he’ll have the final say on his curtain call.