“Rock Bottom” by Eminem
Most professional rappers have their come-up stories. These are the bars or sometimes entire songs which harp back to their pre-fame days, where even keeping food on the table could have proven to be a challenge. Also considering that most of them tend to come from the ‘hood, these tunes likewise center on the narrator being compelled to commit crime to get by.
Well in Eminem’s case, all things considered his story doesn’t really read like he was a gangbanger or drug dealer or anything like that. Indeed unlike most famous rappers, Mathers was a committed family man even prior to blowing up. In fact it was said reality, of him having a daughter to feed, which served as one of his main inspirations not to give up on his professional pursuits.
Content of the Lyrics of “Rock Bottom”
Now it has been noted that Eminem does not necessarily utilize his controversial Slim Shady persona on this song. The lyrics of this track are more straight-up biographical. But that does not mean “Rock Bottom” is completely devoid of sarcasm. For instance, in the intro, the rapper dedicates to track to the well-to-do who “have no idea what it’s like to be broke ass f–k”.
And in making such a comment, he is not only throwing jabs at those whose lives have been spared from economic hardship. But that sentiment also establishes the fact that whereas he may be chillin’ now, such was not always the case.
In normal Slim Shady fashion though, he does establish almost from the jump that he is a drug user and fantasizes about gun violence. However, in this case he isn’t doing so just for the hell of it or to illustrate that he’s crazy. Rather it leads to his character being established as “a nervous wreck”.
And he is in such a state because he is a responsible father who has an infant daughter to take care of yet is relegated to working for minimum wage.
Meanwhile he sees “ballers”, i.e. dudes that have made via entertainment or illicit activity, chillin’. And he dreams of one day enjoying a comparable amount of wealth and relaxation. But at the same time, he clearly understands that life isn’t all about money. That is to say that he knows in his pursuit of riches, he cannot allow himself to be blinded by the allure.
At the beginning of the second verse, we are shown just how destitute the vocalist truly is. He’s “hungry and malnourished”, living in an “unfurnished” home with no heat. And remember that Eminem is from Detroit, where it tends to get hella cold.
But arguably worse than his physical standing is his mental and social state. He is not only “discouraged” but also stuck in a cycle of “working dead-end jobs with lame pay”.
So it’s like on top of his poverty, dude does not perceive any way to achieve upward social mobility whatsoever. And just to note how serious the situation was, this was also the juncture in Marshall Mathers’ life where he reportedly attempted suicide.
The lyrics of the latter half of the second verse are uncharacteristically ambiguous as far as Eminem is concerned. But it appears that the rapper is at least considering doing something less than legal in order to improve his lot. Indeed such thought processes are natural, so to speak, when a person does not perceive any way to overcome economic hardship.
And along those lines, the vocalist does let it be known that he is in a setting where poverty and depression are the norm.
In the third verse, Em has clearly decided to in fact take up a life of crime. Doing so isn’t really in his heart, but rather “it’s the evil” which formed him into such a being. And this is not only the evil of poverty but also of lust, i.e. being seduced by the prospect of “money… women… fortune and fame”.
So it’s like even though he’s well aware of the seductive power of riches, all factors considered he gives in to it anyway. And overall the passage is indicative of him no longer giving a f–k and doing what he has to do to take care of himself and his seed.
And whereas Eminem raps about using “glocks” and such to achieve this goal, that does not mean such wording should be taken literally. In fact there doesn’t seem to be any information from his pre-fame days pointing to Marshall truly being a thug or getting in trouble with the law like that, unless you consider drive-by with a paintball gun a serious crime.
Em embraces his Dark Side
Yes, at the time he wrote this song he may have been seriously considering becoming a bad boy. But we can further postulate that the said references are actually more metaphorical than physically literal. They do in fact refer to him embracing the dark side.
But more specifically, they reflect the moment when Marshall Mathers began transforming into Slim Shady. Indeed Em himself states that “it’s the evil that made (him)… shady”.
So as a result of trying to overcome economic hardship, artistically he developed the habit of throwing fear, politeness, etiquette and political correctness out the window. He then proceeded to embrace lyrics with more shock value. For at the end of the day, even though the latter may be taking the low road so to speak, it does generate controversy, and controversy generates income.
But more importantly is the fact that these naughty words which he spits are what people like to hear. And maybe the old Marshall Mathers, not wanting to cross that moralistic line, would have reserved himself. But as far as Slim Shady is concerned, he doesn’t give AF so long as his music sells. And this is a sentiment Eminem has explicitly expressed in some other tracks.
For at one point in life, as the chorus indicates, this dude who would later become the top-selling rapper in history did in fact hit “rock bottom”. His living predicament got so bad that it felt as if he could not go any lower.
And being down there at the bottom with fatherly responsibilities, looking up at others who are making it, nearly drove him mad. And he knows that this is a frustration which many others experience also. In fact the lyrics of this song, once again in their ambiguity, could be applied to the life story of many individuals.
Facts about “Rock Bottom”
Eminem wrote this song alongside the Bass Brothers, who also produced the track.
The Bass Brothers (Mark Bass and Jeff Bass) are individuals that have been with Eminem since the early going, i.e. when he put together his first album, “Infinite” (1996).
In fact the lyrics of this track aren’t a case of Eminem reminiscing on his earlier days. Rather he wrote them the same year “Infinite” came out, when he was still a starving artist.
His musical career wasn’t viable enough at the time for him to make a living, so he worked as a cook at some joint called Gilbert’s Lodge. And as he explained the story, he was fired from that job “five days before Christmas”, with Christmas also being the (first) birthday of his daughter.
At that particular time he had “$40 to get her something”. And it was upon that frustration that he penned “Rock Bottom” and eventually went on to develop the character known as Slim Shady.
This particular song is from Eminem’s second album, known as “The Slim Shady LP”. It came out with the project on 23 February 1999. It was upon said album that Eminem became a music star with its second single, “My Name Is”, being his breakthrough song.
This track samples a song called “Summertime” (1968) by Big Brother and the Holding Company, a band from the 1960s who by the way are still active in the 21st century.