Breaking down the bars of Eminem's latest 11-minute freestyle 'Kick Off'
A year after his controversial freestyle at the BET Awards, Slim Shady is back with yet another verbose spitfire extravaganza.
Eminem has been on a roll this year and it doesn't look like the legendary emcee has any plans of slowing down. After his 2017 album 'Revival' received mixed responses, Slim Shady hit back with a surprise album earlier in September. Aptly titled 'Kamikaze', the album was a direct response to the criticism he received following the album, with tracks like 'The Ringer' and 'Not Alike' lashing out at several people in the music industry including Joe Budden, Lil Yachty, DJ Akademiks, and of course, Machine Gun Kelly.
After Em called out MGK on the album highlight 'Not Alike', the two were locked in an interesting rap beef that ultimately fizzled after Eminem's final reply in the form of 'Killshot'. Now, two months after the buzz died, Eminem's at it again, this time returning with a sprawling 11-minute freestyle rap called 'Kick Off'. Em's latest offering was recorded at the Shelter at St. Andrew’s in Detroit. Its accompanying visuals see Slim Shady in a dimly lit room surrounded by kegs, donned in a white hoodie, spitting bars at the camera, reminiscent of his BET Award freestyle jab at Donald Trump last year.
The track arrives on the heels of Eminem's battle-rap comedy film 'Bodied', and as usual, namedrops a long list of people including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and even Laci Peterson, who was killed by husband Scott Peterson in 2002.
“I’ve always looked at battle rap as competition or war,” Em says at the beginning of the freestyle video posted on his Twitter. “And the main objective is to destroy. Completely f**king obliterate your opponent by saying anything and everything, whatever the f**k you can, to get a reaction from the crowd. So nothing’s off limits.”
The warning is well placed at the intro because Em lays some controversial lines in the middle of his flow. Lines like "Tryin' to scrape up enough courage and strength to get up / It's impossible like rapin' a sl*t / We stay butt-naked and f**k..." might come across as dicey, but in the larger web of meaning that Eminem masterfully spins, land pretty safely.
Of the many, many ingeniously worded bars and double (sometimes triple) entendres, let's take a look at some of the choicest and most intense verses that Em drops in true Shady style on 'Kick Off':
“Squashed in-between a brainwashing machine/Like an Islamic regime, a jihadist extreme radical/Suicide bomber that’s seeing/Ariana Grande sing her last song of the evening/And as the audience from the damn concert is leaving/Detonates the device strapped to his abdominal region/I’m not gonna finish that, for obvious reasons”
Probably one of the most hair-raising bars on the track, Eminem uses shock value to explain his thought process to his listeners through a strange but oddly understandable metaphor. Just before sliding into this verse, Em confesses that he has no redeeming qualities and the positive thoughts he has are usually altered by evil. He goes on to say he was brainwashed and draws a parallel to the suicide bomber who detonated the bomb outside Manchester Arena while the crowd was exiting an Ariana Grande concert in 2017.
Eminem has mentioned Islam numerous times in his recent music, including a particularly controversial line off the titular single of 'Kamikaze', and doesn't hesitate to bring up the subject again. The last line is a particularly nice touch on this verse.
In the likelihood of Em adding an inevitably contentious, emotionally-fuelled line to finish the rhyme, he instead states “I’m not gonna finish that for obvious reasons.” This follows the recent backlash the rapper faced when using a homophobic slur against Tyler, The Creator on his 2018 Kamikaze track 'Fall,' which he ultimately had to apologize for.
"Get a million writers inside of a room combined in it/ Try to get every idea of every possible line to spit / Every punchline, every combination that rhymes with it/ Bitch, a whole team can't see me, there's no I's in it"
A callout to rappers who employ a whole team to produced market researched lyrics instead of shooting straight from the heart. Em is disgusted by the idea of the art form being reduced to such a cheap state and has some choice words to express this. The genius of the lyric lands in the punchline. Eminem plays on the common phrase “There’s No I In Team." He flips the phrase’s meaning by using the homophone “eye.” A whole team can’t see him with no "eyes". In addition, Em claims that the hypothetical team would fail because he himself is not in the team, and what he can squeeze out as a one-man team is better than what any other team can produce.
The release of BODIED has me feeling nostalgic about battle rap so I headed down to my old stomping grounds, Hit the link for 10+ minutes of it 🔊 “Kick Off" (Freestyle) - https://t.co/gR49ti7sVI pic.twitter.com/GzSmYlmaaW— Marshall Mathers (@Eminem) December 1, 2018
“And mention me in your raps if it makes you a buck/Or helps you rake in the duckets, I want payment in pub/'Cause I ain't tryna get in your bars like I'm waiting the club/But if you put me in your lines, I'm takin' a cut”
This is a clear warning to the likes of MGK who dare to take a dig at a legend like Eminem just to inflate their own popularity. Em dares them to go ahead and make a reference to him on their verses but warns that as a repercussion, he will not let it go for free and come back to reap what's due. Notice the wordplay in these lines.
“Pub” here refers to a published work. Meaning that although he does not incite the diss directed at him, he will be “takin' a cut”, or claiming his share from the profit the rapper earns. Also, “to cut a line” has several meanings. In addition to referring to moving past people in front of you, and the obvious drug reference, notice that Em says “cut” right before the first verse ends - “Cut” being what movie directors say at the end of a scene. It's a fine instance of the many layers of meaning that Eminem packs into his brevity.
“I can't even give a ‘yeah’ or a ‘woo’ when you rap in the booth/Not even a ‘nah’ or a ‘boo’/Cause even though I'm allergic to the crap that you spew/When I'm 'bout to break out, I don't mean get a rash from it too/Cause when I say I have allergies, I actually do/But that's just an analogy, I've never had a reaction to you”
Not for the first time, Eminem takes a shot at the new trend of 'mumble rap', using the ad libs the proponents of the genre use to describe how they can't inspire a reaction from him when they enter the booth. Again, it's a topic he addressed on 'Kamikaze' too. This time around, he likens their raps to allergy-inducing substances and runs with the metaphor, saying that they couldn't even give him the reactionary equivalent of a rash because that's how terrible their rapping skills are.
"Since the day Dre gave me beats, I was made elite/ That's basically what makes me me/ Creating stink, 'til these tats are fading ink/ Who's the greatest? Think we're still debating, wink/ ADD, and better put out an APB/ 'Cause it'll take LAPD and me layin' in the street /For you to see Shady beat"
A very clever pat on his own back, Eminem recalls his early days and his rise to fame. Em admits that he is the greatest rapper of all time and accepts all the plaudits but with a touch of humility by giving a shout out to his mentor Dr. Dre, who helped launch his career with the release of his debut 'The Slim Shady LP'. When he says "gave me beats", there's an obvious reference to Dre's line of headphones.
There is a double entendre on “made elite”, which can also be heard as “made a lit”, meaning that Dre lit the fire Eminem needed to take his career to new heights. The verse ends with a nice touch. Em states that the only way he would ever face defeat would be at the hands of an armed force with a significant history of police brutality, like the LAPD. He even invokes their treatment of Rodney King in 1991 to put the point across.