Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” Lyrics Meaning

As with any classic Eminem track, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” is well-structured, and its narrative easy-to-follow. So we are able to definitively analyzes the ideas which Slim Shady is putting forth in each paragraph.

Verse 1

In the first verse, the rapper illustrates how he is often perceived as the bad guy due to things that he says on record. But he appears to be more than willing to accept this title, as he is not the type to hold his tongue. Indeed he’s about to show the world even more that he doesn’t give AF so to speak, as on this track he is going after his own mother.

Verse 2

Meanwhile the sentimental connection between the end of the first verse and the beginning of the second is that Eminem became this way, i.e. a bad a*s, via his upbringing. And in explaining this to the audience he goes all the way to his baby years, before he even had conscious memory. And what he notes in that regard is his father abandoning him and his mother while he was still in the cradle. Of course his dad doing so has Shady emotionally-charged, in a negative sort of way, even to this very day. But he is also using his associated anger as rationale to never abandon his own child. 

Indeed even though he knows that he has and will make mistakes along the way in terms of raising his own family, Eminem is committed to being “man enough to face them” as opposed to running away like his own dad. And in proving this point, he references a recent incident he got into with the law which basically was the fault of his wife, Kim.  And overall, the tumultuous circumstances which define his familial life are what he refers to as “The Eminem Show”.

Chorus and Verse 3

In the chorus, the rapper apologizes to his mother for undoubtedly hurting her feelings on this track. The irony or sarcasm of that statement has been pointed out by some analysts. In other words, Em’s concern for his mother’s emotions does not prevent him from still tearing into her in the third verse. And apparently the things that he says about her is stuff that he needed to get off his chest. That’s the notion which the title of the track implies. 

And ultimately, it’s easy to ascertain how he knew this song would hurt her even before he put it out, because in said verse he does get quite personal, revealing personal matters that basically only the two of them would know. For instance, he implies that his mom was addicted to “prescription pills”. She also played cruel mental games on him, as in ‘making him to believe he was sick’ when in actuality ‘he wasn’t’. He also insinuates that the family growing up in poverty was her fault. And most offensively, the rapper refers to his mother straight-up as a “selfish b**ch” who is unable, even at the family’s detriment, to admit her own faults. 

Moreover the listener is easily able to conclude that the two of them had their fair share of issues, including Eminem’s mother once wishing him dead. 

So at the end of the day the audience walks away knowing, if nothing else, that Slim Shady’s family life was full of strife and challenges while he was growing up.  And being that Eminem, especially back in those days, held nothing back when it came to dropping records, he felt that the industry was also the appropriate venue to finally release all of this frustration that he has been holding in for basically his entire life.

Writing Credits

“Cleanin’ Out My Closet” was written and produced by Eminem alongside Jeff Bass.

Going back to Slim Shady’s mention of the “I’d like to welcome y’all to The Eminem Show” in the second verse, that was actually the original phrase he came up with upon which this entire song was based.

When did “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” come out?

This track was released on the 26th of May 2002 as part of Slim’s fourth album, “The Eminem Show”. This project was put out by Interscope Records, Aftermath Entertainment and Eminem’s own Shady Records.

Although it would appear that Eminem is completely unhinged in “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”, he did practice some restraint in terms of the tune. That is to say that this song was actually meant to be featured on the rapper’s 2002 semi-autobiographical film, “8 Mile”. But Shady opted not to use it as he felt that it did indeed hit too close to home.

A Major Hit

Cleanin’ Out My Closet is recognized as one of Eminem’s greatest or in the very least most-memorable songs. It charted in a variety of countries and in the course of doing so achieved a 4 on the UK Singles Charts and a 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. And in the latter case, it has also been certified double-Platinum in the United States.

Does “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” sound like “Renegade”?

Hip-hop veteran DJ Green Lantern once told a story in which he may have unintentionally offended Eminem by saying that “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” sounded like another Slim Shady classic, 2001’s “Renegade“.

Eminem’s uncle Ronnie who killed himself

Ronald Dean Polkingharn, widely known as Ronnie, was the uncle of Eminem and his grandmother Betty’s sixth child. Although they were uncle and nephew, Ronnie was only two months older. They therefore grew up as best friends or more like brothers who spent a lot of time together as kids.

Eminem has referenced him as the person who introduced him to rap, breakdancing and hip-hop, having bought the ‘Breakin’ album for him in 1981. He has also mentioned that he was his closest family member and best friend.

They two remained extremely close and often recorded rap tapes together until Eminem and his mother moved to Detroit. They however spent time together whenever he and his mom visited Missouri. On December 13, 1991, Eminem was given the tragic news that Ronnie had committed suicide. The news according to the rapper shocked him so much that instead of attending the funeral, he isolated himself more and listened to his late friend’s tapes.

Eminem has since worn Ronnie’s dog tag around his neck and tattooed the statement “R.I.P Ronnie” on his upper left shoulder to remember his late uncle. He has often referenced Ronnie in songs such as “Stan” and “Cleaning Out My Closet”.

Eminem’s mother’s reaction to “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”

“Cleanin’ Out My Closet” is a vent song targeted at Em’s mother Debbie Mathers, criticizing her for the way she brought him up.

The song strongly lashes out at his mother for her bad parenting while clearly stating that he was not dissing her for recognition. The rapper even went to the extent of wishing her dead.

Debbi Mathers who earlier recorded a demo titled Set the Record Straight, has always insisted that the image her son has portrayed is not true. In her book titled My Son Marshall, My Son Eminem, she asserted that she had always been supportive of Marshall’s career. She explained that initially she did not mind when her son started accusing her of bad parenting for the sake of his career. However, she realized that her biggest mistake as a mother was to give him everything he wanted. According to Debbie, she was always trying to make up for the absence of his father. Debbie expressed her heartbreak concerning the ‘alcoholic pill-popping mother’ image Eminem created in the media particularly through Cleanin’ Out My Closet.

For the record it must be noted that Eminem did eventually apologize to his mother in another song. He did so on a 2013 track entitled “Headlights which was featured on his “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” album.

The Abandonment of Eminem by his father

Eminem’s estranged relationship with his father Marshall Bruce Mathers Jr. has been widely discussed particularly after his contradictory response in an open letter, and his subsequent death which seemed to have occurred before the two could fix their bond.

As Eminem openly raps in his 1999 hit track “My Name Is” as well as “Cleaning Out My Closet”, it is easy to deduce that the famous rapper’s father who worked as a musician and construction worker abandoned his son during infancy. The late Bruce, who married the rapper’s mother, Debbie Mathers, when he was 22 and she was 15 years, is alleged to have left his family when Eminem was just two years.

In an open letter to Eminem, published in The Mirror, 2001; Bruce would give his conflicting side of the story. In his story, he claimed to have desperately sought to find his son, while accusing Debbie of keeping his son away and portraying him as a bad parent. Apparently, he returned from work one day to find that his wife had left with his 16 to 17month-old-son, and searched frantically for them. He revealed that he was later served with divorce papers from Debbie but was never given the opportunity to see his family again.

Although Eminem expressed that he had written several letters to his dad when he was younger but always got a ‘back to sender’ return, his father claimed in the open letter that he had received no such letter from his son. His wish, as published to his superstar son, was to meet him and let him know that he’s always loved him. Sadly, this never happened as Eminem had no desire to see him. Bruce passed away at age 67, from a heart attack in 2019.

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