Eminem’s “Criminal” Lyrics Meaning
According to Eminem, “Criminal” was designed to be a rehashed version of his very-first single, “Just Don’t Give a F***“, a piece that very much guided his artistry thereafter. In that song, in full Slim Shady form, the vocalist proceeds to relay a number of potentially off-putting lyrics in the name of presenting himself as a psycho. But during the intro of this particular piece, he clarifies that such is not to be taken literally. Rather as implied, Em seems to derive some type of artistic joy out of making, for lack of a better term, weaker-minded individuals squirmish.
To illustrate that he still doesn’t give AF, the vocalist commences the first verse by liberally throwing around a number of terms that may be considered “homophobic”, including the F-word itself. Granted, this song came out back in 2000. But even then, a movement had already begun in the mainstream to make criticism of homosexuals politically-incorrect. But here, the rapper lets it be known straight-up that he ‘hates f-gs’.
Shady then goes on to insinuate that the reason some people are so intimidated by him is due to his masculinity. Or reading deeper between the lines, what he’s putting forth is that the world isn’t ready for such an influential rapper as himself who attacks the system so forthrightly. And in tying all of the above together, he makes fun of the murder of fashion mogul Gianni Versace, who was a known homosexual.
The bulk of the rest of the first verse is used to illustrate that there’s no hope for Eminem, not even through religious intervention.
And concerning religion, the vocalist alludes to how the leaders of such institutions often have issues themselves. In the process, he also drops a couple of bars which some more-conservative listeners may deem sacrilegious. But in closing out the verse, he once again implies that this is all part of his shtick, if you will. Or viewed from a different angle, it’s not his fault that the masses have taken a liking to the character of Slim Shady.
I’m a Criminal
Then concerning his acceptance of being “a criminal”, as forcefully put forth in the chorus, what Eminem is doing once again is making fun of those who get offended by his music. That is to say that some people actually regard his words as being against the law, if you will. But since Slim is indeed “a criminal” at heart, he has no consideration for their sensibilities.
The second verse begins with Eminem implying that he inherited this “crazy” mentality from his mom, who was a hardcore drug addict. Moreover, being devoid of proper parental guidance while growing up didn’t help matters any, nor did the vocalist eventually developing an affinity for alcohol himself.
Then what is further implied is that at one point he looked up to “the president” as a genuine role model. At that time, said individual would have been Bill Clinton. But after that sex scandal Bill got into with Monica Lewinsky’s, there “went” the last shreds of Marshall’s morality. So what is being holistically insinuated is that he doesn’t think too highly of religious leaders nor politicians.
And none of this may particularly sound funny, but as designed there is a comedic element to it all. Eminem verifies this by threatening to kill his regular collaborator and label boss, Dr. Dre, at the end of the verse, further buttressing the idea that he is indeed “a criminal”.
Following the verse, there’s a skit in which Shady takes on the role of a murderous bank robber. Perhaps at this juncture the obvious should be pointed out, Eminem is not a musician for everyone. He specializes in dark, violent humor – a ploy which, by the way, has made him millions of dollars via the mainstream music industry.
And yes, grabbing that artistic mantle as he did took a lot of guts, as Em himself notes in the third verse. And the thesis sentiment of this track may be that he doesn’t care about upsetting people through his lyrics. But premise-wise, the intended point seems to be that Eminem is in fact an artist, and all of the kooky, offensive sh*t that he raps about does indeed sell. But that said, he closes out the final verse by also noting that if he weren’t a rapper, he’d rather be “a… rapist in a… mask”.
When did Eminem release “Criminal”?
This song is from “The Marshall Mathers LP”, Eminem’s second studio album, which Aftermath and Interscope put out on 23 May 2000. By the looks of things, “Criminal” was never issued as a single. However, it still managed to go gold (via the RIAA) in 2022.
NOTE: In all, 5 singles were used to support Em’s “The Marshall Mathers LP”. Some of these notable singles include:
Eminem wrote and produced this song with Jeff and Mark Bass, aka the Bass Brothers, who were amongst his regular behind-the-scenes’ collaborators back around the turn of the century.
Ed Sheeran loves “Criminal”!
In 2016, Ed Sheeran showed that he is quite familiar with “Criminal”.