And not only because he scored the second most nominations of the year, with an impressive total of seven. Or because it marks the fifteenth anniversary since his first VMA win, when he took home the 1999 VMA for Best New Artist and owned the stage with performances of “My Name Is” and “Guilty Conscience.” Or that he’s got 12 total VMAs to the name Marshall Mathers.
What’s especially incredible about Em’s nods this year is that they’re for three different videos — the most ever for him, since he usually has one or two that dominate — and that those three videos show his broad range as an artist.
And while “The Monster,” “Rap God” and “Berzerk” are distinct in many ways — sonically, visually and stylistically — they share one common thread, and it’s a trait that has made Marshall one of the most revered MCs of all time, and one that he particularly stressed on November’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2: astounding lyricism.
As much as we love tracks like “Not Afraid,” “Love the Way You Lie” and “We Made You” — the last three videos he scored nominations for, dating back to 2009 — there’s something about this year’s crop that just feels special.
First, there was “Berzerk,” released in late August as the lead single for the album. It reinforced (for, like, the millionth time), that Slim Shady plays by no rules but his own. The Rick Rubin-produced song had a retro feel, sampling two songs from the Beastie Boys‘ 1986 debut album, and employing a boom-bap style that rarely works in the mainstream today.
But it did work, of course, because it’s Em, and his rhymes are still sharper than the knife he raps about maiming people with.
The video harped on the same principles: a boombox, bright colors, a concrete cityscape. Shot in Brooklyn, the Syndrome-directed clip also brought us cameos from Kendrick Lamar, Slaughterhouse and Em’s Detroit brethren, Kid Rock.
Then came “Rap God.” It showed that, actually, he doesn’t play by his own rules; he has no rules. Which gave us Eminem at his silliest.
Not his Dressing Up In Weird Outfits, Making Fun Of Celebrities In His Old Videos silliest. More like, “Holy sh–, did you hear what he just did for the last six minutes” kinda silliest.
Incredibly, for a dude who built a career on dizzying, acrobatic wordplay (among quite a few other things), Eminem’s lyrical opus very well may have come nearly two decades into it. “Rap God” pulls no punches, but lands all of them. Basically any literary device you learned about in elementary school — metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, alliteration, hyperbole — he uses expertly.
Just like they needed to be, the visuals allowed the lyrics to shine, offering impressive effects without distracting from Em’s lyrical fortitude.
And you may have heard of “The Monster,” the ubiquitous smash that reached #1 on charts across the globe all while not sacrificing — you guessed it — impeccable lyricism.
Neither a pure boast like “Rap God” nor a single that finds Em recalling his underground roots like “Berzerk,” the Rihanna-assisted hit found the Detroit native in another of his finest elements: Offering unfiltered honesty about his life, delivered through neatly-packed and intricately rapped rhymes.
With the help of recreations of some of Em’s career highlights and hit records, the Rich Lee-directed video bolsters the message of the song, as the rap legend takes a trip down memory lane and examines his extensive fame and its resulting ills.
If ever there was a year that reminded us where Eminem’s landed — and where he’s managed to stay — this was it.