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Who is the Best Lyricist of our Generation?

Let me start by saying that this is a debate. I want people to make a case for a particular performer, but I hope that everyone has their own opinion on this. First, let’s define what we are talking about by ‘lyricist.’ This is a person that writes and performs. We are judging them based on their ability to both write the words they are saying/singing and then performing those words in an expressive manner.

My case will be for Eminem. Over the better part of a decade, Eminem has been writing and performing some of the most memorable and best songs in the rap genre. I make the argument that rap is often the most expressive of all genres as far as lyrics go. Even as recent as his collaboration with Lil Wayne and Kanye West on Drake’s song “Forever,” Eminem’s rap stands out more than any of the others. Here’s an excerpt from that song:

We can make them look like bozo’s,
He’s wondering if he should spit this slow,
Fuck no go for broke,
His cup just runneth over oh no
He aint had a buzz like this since the last time that he overdosed,
They’ve been waiting patiently for Pinnochio to poke his nose,

I firmly believe that although Eminem is rapping about rape, killing, drugs, and overdose, his lyrical quality and rhyming ability make him the outright winner in this contest. His method for blending words together is incredible, and his ability to jam so many words into such a small place is astonishing. You could argue that this would make his performances seemed rushed. This is not true. He is simply able to sing (and enunciate) at a record speed.

Taking a look back at his older songs gives you a broader perspective on what he sings about. Although his latest album “Relapse” was generally based on overcoming addiction, his earlier works covered deep, emotional topics such as a failed relationship with his father and the troubled relation between Eminem, Kim, and their daughter Haile: songs like “Stan,” “Mockingbird,” and “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.”

Another favorite lyrical run comes in the song “The Real Slim Shady.” This song, like many of Eminem’s, does a great job of making fun of everyone from Carson Daly to Will Smith. He has a knack for making fun of people and staying topical but all the while being very witty. Here’s an excerpt from the song:

You think I give a damn about a Grammy?
Half of you critics can’t even stomach me, let alone stand me
“But Slim, what if you win, wouldn’t it be weird?”
Why? So you guys could just lie to get me here?
So you can, sit me here next to Britney Spears?
Shit, Christina Aguilera better switch me chairs
So I can sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst
And hear ‘em argue over who she gave head to first

Finally we arrive at “Loose Yourself.” The theme song to the 2002′ movie “8 Mile.” The movie is an autobiography (embellished for screen of course), and this song was the one that hooked everyone in. Unlike many of his other hit singles, this song was simple, very dark, and mysterious. After the brief piano riff, a now-infamous electric guitar comes in. Eminem leads out of the intro with:

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out

This song has become one of his biggest hits and is a song that inspires people to do great things.

There it is. That’s my argument. Eminem is the best lyricist of our generation. Now it’s your turn. Do you agree with me? Do you think I’m crazy? Who do you think is the best lyricist of our generation?

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18 Legacy Comments

  • Comment by Elizabeth posted February 05, 2010 at 11:33

    It depends on how you define “our generation.” The songwriter/lyricist that immediately came to my mind was Sting … but one could easily argue that he represents the previous generation. But his lyrics are an artform, no question.

    I do agree that one of the reasons Eminem has stood the test of time (rather than being a flash in the pan artist with the real slim shady) is because his lyrics go deep and hit on many topics that define this generation. Detroit represent! ;)

    But even though these bands aren’t high on the radar right now, one of the things that has drawn me to As Tall As Lions (check out “You Can’t Take It With You”), Kaddisfly (check out “Set Sail The Prairie”), and Paper Route (check out “Absence”) are their beautifully written lyrics that evoke a wondrous landscape and can be very thought provoking.

  • Comment by Jeremy posted February 05, 2010 at 11:46

    Regina Spektor, without a doubt is definitely near the top.

    From her track “Bartender”
    “Come on bartender
    Won’t you be more tender
    Give me two shots of whiskey
    And a beer chaser
    Love will be the death of me
    Love is so fickle
    Cause it starts with a flood
    And it ends with a trickle”

    From her track “Wallet”
    “I found a wallet,
    I found a wallet
    Inside were pictures of your small family
    You were so young, your hair dark brown
    You had been born in 1953
    Your winter birthday was stamped on the plastic
    Of a license so recently expired
    I was so tired as I walked through my door
    I let all the contents of your wallet on the floor”

    There’s “Us.”

    “We wear our scarves just like a noose
    But not ’cause we want eternal sleep
    And though our parts are slightly used
    New ones are slave labor you can keep”

    And finally, “Hero.”

    “Power to the people
    We don’t want it
    We want pleasure
    And the T.V.s try to rape us
    And I guess that they’re succeeding
    Now we’re going to these meetings
    But we’re not doin’ any meetin’
    And we’re trying to be faithful but we’re cheatin’, cheatin’, cheatin’”

    She has such a knack for writing clever and real lyrics, ranging from whimsical (“Bartender”) to heart-wrenching (“Hero”).

  • Comment by Christian posted February 05, 2010 at 12:45

    No doubt Eminem is one of the best of our generation. His lyrics are filled with emotion and what some may consider, “poetry.” However two names come to mind regarding the best of our generation: Corey Taylor and Zack de la Rocha. Zack was the frontman of Rage Against the Machine and Corey Taylor is frontman of both Slipknot and Stone Sour. Taylor will get my vote as best.

    Taylor’s lyrics range from death, hate and destruction to love and beauty. You may not appreciate this comparison, but like Shakespeare, Taylor has found a way with words to connect to people of any generation. They may not like the instrumental aspect of his music but his lyrics are relevant and timeless.

    Think of “Sillyworld”from Stone Sour (lyrics below), very very powerful message written in a very simple way and especially relevant to us now…

    “Freedom’s just a word today
    Freedom’s just a word
    When someone takes your word away
    It’s seldom ever heard

    So take you sentence full of things
    You’re not supposed to say
    Carry on but don’t write it down
    Or you’ll be gone”

    Want something a little more targeted to the soul? How about “Through the Glass”? It was a hit on the radio and wonderfully written.

    Tapping into Taylor’s more bitter side, the poem “Omega” (off of Stone Sour’s self titled album) is a masterpiece. You can read it here..

    Now a quick look from Slipknot…
    “Snuff” from All Hope is Gone, very powerful stuff:

    “Bury all your secrets in my skin
    Come away with innocence and leave me with my sins
    The air around me still feels like a cage
    And love is just a camouflage for what resembles rage again”

    “Wait and Bleed” from self titled album, again very powerful, poetic stuff:

    “I’ve felt the hate rise up in me
    Kneel down and clear the stone of leaves
    I wander out where you can’t see
    Inside my shell I wait and bleed”

    Corey Taylor has my vote. nEminem, I’ll give you top 5.

  • Comment by Greg posted February 05, 2010 at 18:36

    Eminem wins in my book because he has such an eloquence to his chaos. Having said that, two personal favorite lyricists of mine would be Tom Kalnoky of Streetlight Manifesto and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. Kalnoky’s lyrics always tell a story; though mostly tragic all of his songs are beautiful. Brock’s lyrics are a little bit out there but still amazing, he is in every right a poet.

    “Flipping through the paper today
    Looking for a specific page
    Don’t want to find her full name followed by dates
    Cause when I left her alone she made a sound like a moan
    “Your known by everyone for everything you’ve done”
    Fuck buying flowers for grave,
    I’d rather buy you a oneway non-stop to anywhere
    Find anyone, do anything, forget and start again, love
    She said she won’t go, it hurts to much, to stand by
    You’ve got to stop and draw a line
    Everyone here has to choose a side, tonight,
    The moment of truth is haunting you
    Don’t forget your family regardless of what you choose to do
    You can’t decide, and they’re all screaming “why won’t you?”
    I’ll start the engine, but I can’t take this ride for you
    I’ll draw your bath and I’ll load your gun
    But I hope so bad that you’ll bathe and hunt”
    ~ Streetlight Manifesto: A Better Place, A Better Time

    “Talking shit about a pretty sunset
    Blanketing opinions that i’ll probably reget soon
    Changed my mind so much I cant even trust it
    My mind changed me so much I cant even trust myself”
    ~ Modest Mouse: Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset

  • Comment by Greg posted February 05, 2010 at 18:36

    oooo and Anthony Keidis. hes a god with lyrics. ;)

  • Comment by Ken posted February 05, 2010 at 18:43

    It’s hard to make a case because this is all subjective, but I do love the fact that guys like Chad Grey from Mudvayne, David Draiman from Distrubed, and Maynard James Keenan from Tool make their fans think a little bit about what they are hearing. It’s not just there, like a blunt instrument beating you over the head. James Hetfield, on the other hand, can do that as well as take what you think is an obvious subject (Fade To Black/suicide) and texture it so it’s not “oh this is a suicide song”, and you go “maybe it’s about finding strength through the song via tragedy”.

  • Comment by Ed posted February 18, 2010 at 23:59

    No doubt in my mind it is Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. Very underrated and pretty much unknown to a lot of people, but his lyrics are amazing.

    We are nowhere and it’s now

    If you hate the taste of wine
    Why do you drink it till you’re blind?
    And if you swear that there’s no truth and who cares
    How come you say it like you’re right?
    Why are you scared to dream of God
    When it’s salvation that you want?
    You see stars that clear have been dead for years
    But the idea just lives on…

    At the bottom of everything:

    While my mother waters plants
    My father loads his guns
    He says death will give us back to God
    Just like this setting sun is returned to this lonesome ocean

    And then they splashed into the deep blue sea
    It was a wonderful splash

    We must blend into the choir
    Sing as static with the whole
    We must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul
    And in this endless race for property and privilege to be won
    We must run, we must run, we must run

    That’s my own personal opinion though I guess

  • Comment by The Lone Shooter posted September 10, 2010 at 12:44

    When I see lists like this, I truly get depressed. I see eminem on the top of a lot of theses lists but..the guy is just a jack hole. Lists like these really remind me just how out of touch I am with the idiot masses. Is he really the best we can think of? Listen, I can’t stand country music very much but if anyone actually just red Garth Brooks lyrics as ….lets say an actual book of poems…then maybe we can see lyrics as an art form and not just think a lyricist is great because it’s in our genre of music we like. If you put Eminems lyrics next to Ben Gibbards lyrics (singer for Death Cab for Cutie, especially the song Styrofoam Plates) then eminems words would sound like an angry immature high school baby.

    I do agree with ED about Conor Oberst. They kid for how young he is lyrically is amazing.

  • Comment by Holden posted September 12, 2010 at 21:31

    I’ll admit, Eminem is the only rap artists I truly like, and part of that is his ability to write great lyrics. However, I would say that the best lyricist of our generation is Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service, etc. What makes him great is how he so easily dissect certain meanings from things right in front of your eyes, and then release so much emotion in simple sentiments that really anyone could have written.

    For example


    I need you so much closer
    I need you so much closer

    Those six words are so few, but dig down so deeply.

    Another example of his wisdom is from “What Sarah Said”

    Love is watching someone die
    So who’s gonna watch you die?

    It says so little, but at the same time it evokes all of this analysis. When you look further, the meaning is so much less grim, and such a true, if sorrowful inquiry.

    However, if I had to pick a runner-up, it would be Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

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  • Comment by Joe Kiley posted December 09, 2010 at 21:14

    The winner is the rapper Canibus without a doubt in my mind. hes the most gifted, intelligent lyricist of out generation, perhaps of all time. I know e hasn’t been too popular/heard of after he fell out of the limelight in about ’99, but hes been consistently releasing top-notch and thought provoking material. without a doubt the most advance artist in hip-hop lyrically.

    “Yea, ayo Mother Earth absorbs the blood I bleed
    Hip-Hop is my blood – I believe
    That I am not free, and neither are you
    The only time I feel free is when I’m rhyming in the booth
    The Lion on the loose is not a reckless recluse
    But really a dictator with his neck in a noose
    For war crimes; Hardcore rhymes from a warped mind
    That enjoyed the dark matter in the void before time
    The innocent murmured, murmured because they worshipped him
    They let the serpent in but it never occurred to them
    They deity regards emcees like me
    Piously, check the degree, see if it’s me
    On planet Earth I design mankind’s rebirth
    A marvel of water and rock salt from a verse
    The Moon, the Sun and the Stars
    I am who you are, together, we all form God
    I laugh at the creation of it, the explanation of it
    Not the original but man’s imitation of it
    They took Hip-Hop and changed the subject
    Then I brought Hip-Hop back and made you love it
    Through deterrence, detention and prevention
    Never write the wrong sentence
    If I ever said it I meant it
    The insatiable, inescapable regiment
    What’s the weight? Add four more plates, I bench it
    Skinny-ass nigga, grab your neck with a pen-grip
    Bend it through telepathic suggestion
    I rap so serious, the vocal myriad
    Occurred intermittently over protracted periods
    Rap ’til you get delirious, wack niggaz get furious
    Keep dissin’ me, your girl’s gettin’ curious
    Darth Vader on the cross-fader releasin’ the raw data
    This is called hard jaw-breaker labour
    When I see you I’ma battle you, then tackle you
    Then grapple you, then probably snap you in two
    Yo, ain’t that the truth?, outside the booth
    Air combat maneuvers without no computer
    Space wings that cause pings MOTHAFUCKA!!!
    We gon’ dogfight above cloud cover
    High in the friendly skies, where unfriendlies
    Where frendlies and unfrendlies die
    You and I race to the Sun, I just got back
    The race is done, ages have ended and ages have begun
    Cognisance saturation, I am the one
    Tell me where chain-gun Germaine came from?
    Dara-I-Suf, the river of caves
    My ribcage look like miniature shim blades
    When I bathe in the waters below
    Still waters run deep, King Cthulhu told me so
    Magna-dome under Yellowstone inside the bowels of the Earth
    I’ma show you the power of the verse
    ‘Cause man cannot establish dominance over man
    Indefinitely; man only respects God’s energy
    Telluric energy, drawn from the bowels of the Earth
    I’ma show you the power of the verse
    Telluric energy, drawn from the bowels of the Earth
    I’ma show you the power of the verse”

  • Comment by quinn posted December 28, 2010 at 16:13

    isaac brock

    thom yorke

    anthony kiedis

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  • Comment by david posted May 31, 2011 at 17:24

    Honestly people are just posting lyricist who are very mainstream. yes eminem is a very talented lyricist, there is no doubt. For example though, Atmosphere, is a rapper who is a much better lyricist then eminem, the lyrics are more true and creative and they really just blow your mind listening to them a lot. If your arguing straigh up about lyrics then you cant ignore people who are a little less popular.
    I would say Maynard james keeneen from tool is also one of the best, lyrics are much deeper then anyone in rock these days. Much more poetic and intense then anyone. If you disagree, then you clearly just havent listened to some of his lyrics or understood them. songs like Vicarious, stinkfist, 10,0000 days pt. 2. The list goes on

  • Comment by lauren geist posted August 03, 2011 at 06:42

    Iam used to being a dreamer invisable to the world I have lived this with intentions.I made a wish to be heard far and wide and make someone out there realize that there is someone who would put material things aside to make a difference if it could secretly reach my exscectations of the sky .While finding this to be superhuman through my double life as the unknown hero and me just a lost girl with no direction,my other side. Now I no longer see her at all in my reflection shes gone so I have to come forword as me the manifested invisable hero I spent years writing to the world to be ,this is the story of she. Unknown girl that has talented lyrics Iam coming forword LOL I tend to be a lil lazy or lacks I can relate to eminem on a level of respect in his honesty n sence and I get a kick out the fact that theres someone out there who is as moody as Iam Dreams come true I dont think I should anylonger proof. I see that wishes come true Iam the angel of the world that I prayed to god to become hope my jobs never done

  • Comment by lauren geist posted August 03, 2011 at 12:11

    in curious corners of a beautiful mind trouble criss crossed each others sights in deceptions and lyes to one another like any others story in life one wealthy or one poor deaf and blind. pains still done its job just fine which claimed it steak in my petty penny kinda life .But what you have yet to realize is that a life looked at as less fortunate has done me just fine,when it all comes together for gods chance to mend.Ill be left with a heart and soul enriched eventually strong solid just devine I know In my soul Ive done enough right to die soul in flight and sewn back to life sorry if i cant spell that great