Eminem’s "The Way I Am"
Track 7 of Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2000) marked a turning point for the artist. Up until here (both on his previous album and on the six tracks preceeding on this album), Em used a motormouth flow, cramped and always playing catch-up with the beat. His lines often ended with a punchline and a pause. He was the addled baby of Masta Ace and Pharoahe Monch.
With “The Way I Am,” Em does a test-run on the flow he will use for much of his next album. It’s slower, it marches over the track in a way fascists would be proud of, and it’s constant. This is the beginning of Em’s obsession with beat-riding. It’s almost scary, and the end results — “Renegades” off of Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” and “Lose Yourself” off of the 8 Mile soundtrack — are disgustingly perfect.
What I remember most about first hearing this song was how different it was. Up until “The Way I Am,” Em was certainly darkly humorous and almost horror-core, but here he actually became slightly disturbing. I remember my first vocal response to the friend who played this track for me was, “Damn. He’s angry.”
There are ominous chimes in the background and for the first time Em projects his voice powerfully and convincingly without traces of helium. But more than that is the absence of the stutter-stop. His multi-syllable rhymes are stretched out over the beat like a gag over a mouth. The interneal rhyme schemes keep ticking as if they’re keeping time. On “The Way I Am”, Eminem’s verbal assault just keeps coming and never fucking lets up.
And it’s not just the new powerhouse delivery, it’s also how the song is mapped out. When it comes time for him to take a breath his voice smartly echoes in the background. As a result, from when we first hear his voice to the last, there is not a bar on this track (save the chorus) where we are allowed any break from the onslaught of Eminem. Even when he needs to pause, his voice comes back in to sucker punch us.
It’s subtle but it works, and it’s Em’s most successfully angry track. Unlike his scathing Benzino diss tracks or even on the devastating “Kim”, on “The Way I Am,” Em’s anger isn’t conveyed just by the disgusting stuff he’s saying or how loudly — it’s how he’s saying them and how he constructs something bigger out of it.