I’m very serious about my promise of a shorter newsletter this week. My letter on Venom will be shorter. I mean that.
However, in order to keep my promise, I’m taking some precautions. I don’t plan these newsletters, and sometimes weird fixations take me off on tangents. In the case of Homecoming, it was all the fascinating trivia of the Sony hack. In the case of Venom, I have to assume it would be Eminem’s song “Venom”, used in the movie’s credits. Also, possibly his song “Last One Standing” (feat. Polo. G and Mozzy), used in the credits of Venom: Let There Be Carnage. I’m concerned discussions of Eminem may break my brevity promises, so I’m taking action. This is a bonus newsletter all about Eminem’s contributions to the Venom song canon. I need to get this out of my system.
End-credits rap songs are a venerable cinematic tradition, as Slate explains here. Its heyday seems to have been in the 90s, where Will Smith cornered the market with raps for the first two Men in Black movies and something called Wild Wild West. He recently revived this for a rap remix of “Friend Like Me” for the live-action Aladdin, which I am listening to as I write this. Reader, it features DJ Khaled, whose first line is “Another one”. It is eccentric.
Eninem’s contributions aren’t even the only end credits raps for a Spider-Man movie. This particular tradition began with The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s “It’s On Again”, which teamed up Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar. It’s… okay. Kendrick’s part is great, but the transition to Keys’ parts are seriously awkward and feel like a completely different song which doesn’t remotely fit the film. Really, it’s about 20% of a rap.
(Tangent. Did you know that Johnny Marr of The Smiths contributed to The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s score? I did not.)
Later that same year, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would contribute “Elevate”, a posse cut headed up by Denzel Curry and Cordae. It’s an absolute banger, with the added bonus of movie-appropriate lyrics, in an album filled with surprisingly compelling raps about Spider-Man. I realise now that the Spider-Verse soundtrack is so brilliant that I could write a whole bonus newsletter on that. Let’s put a pin in that.
“Venom” falls somewhere in the middle of the two in terms of actual quality. It’s a catchy enough tune, and fits the end credits nicely. But that’s not why I am dedicating a bonus newsletter to it. No, reader. I am doing that because the lyrics of “Venom” are mesmerising.
Here, I’ll pick some out for you. Let us keep the most important question in mind here: did Eminem really know that he was recording a song for the 2018 film Venom?
I got a song filled with shit for the strong-willed
This is the first line. Statement of fucking intent.
When the world gives you a raw deal
Sets you off 'til you scream, "Piss off! Screw you!"
These are the next two lines! The specific choices of “piss off! screw you!”. I could write about every line of this song.
This medicine's screamin', "L-L-L-Let us in!"
L-L-L-Like a salad bowl, Edgar Allan Poe
When I heard these lyrics for the first time, my jaw dropped. Eminem, in his song for the film Venom, uses “Edgar Allan Poe” for his rhyme scheme. Stunning.
Mayo and went from Hellmann's and being rail thin
Filet-o-Fish, Scribble Jam, Rap Olympics '97 Freaknik
This is free association. This is stream-of-consciousness. This is Ulysses by James Joyce.
Venom, (I got that) adrenaline momentum
And I'm not knowin' when I'm
Oh! Wait! It seems as if Eminem has remembered what he is recording this song for. Bonus points for the rhyme of “Venom” and “When I’m”. Poetré.
My Mustang and the Jeep Wrangler grill
With the front smashed, much as my rear fender, assassin
Slim be a combination of an actual kamikaze and Gandhi (Gandhi)
I can’t even begin to parse out why he chose these lyrics for a song about Venom. Gandhi, twice. You might be saying “but it’s not about the film, it’s from the perspective of Venom!”. Okay. Why would he reference Gandhi twice? Have you seen Venom?
On this game will end, I'm loco
Became a Symbiote, so
My fangs are in your throat, ho
I am beginning to feel that Eminem’s references to Venom and its associated mythology are halfhearted and rudimentary gestures in a song that’s about something else. Not that I would accuse him, of course.
Ate shit 'til I can't taste it
Chased it with straight liquor
Then paint thinner, then drank 'til I faint
It’s worth asking at this point what Eminem thinks this song is about. Does he see Venom, and Venom, as a wider metaphor for addiction? It’s possible, but unclear, because Eminem consistently keeps reality at arm’s length here. Sure, he’s glugging liquor down, but it’s difficult to believe he would eat shit or drink paint thinner, so they’re best seen as metaphors for the loss of control that addiction brings. Possibly.
I'm the super villain Dad and Mom was losin' their marbles to
You marvel that? Eddie Brock is you
And I'm the suit, so call me—
See what I mean about Eminem’s incorporation of Venom references into the song? Technically, he’s right - Venom is sometimes referred to as a super-villain, and obviously Eddie Brock is his host. But the way they’re referenced doesn’t actually click with anything that they’re about. It’s as if Eminem was told to drop in references into a generally unrelated song and put them in at random where he struggled to find a good line.
No, wait, that’s clearly what happened.
They ain't gonna know what hit 'em
(W-W-When they get bit with the—)
To paraphrase modern philosopher Troy Barnes, when they hit bit with the what, Eminem? You didn’t finish!
It’s a remarkable piece of work, and 436 million Spotify listeners agree.
Here, check out the music video. It’s legitimately fun and creative, and has Eminem repeatedly miming devil’s horns.
Eminem would return to contribute to the sequel’s end-credits song, “Last One Standing”, but he’s only one of three here, with Polo G and Mozzy also tagging in. In terms of tunefulness, this is probably a nicer song, but it lacks the singular, auteurist insights of “Venom”. It’s just a pleasant, generic hip-hop tune, and that’s fine. It’s just that the franchise set a gold standard first time around, and you can’t take down the king.
Is “Venom” a good song? Not really. Is it singularly compelling and odd, a product of clashing intents and ideas that mixed into something undefinable? Hell yes. For that reason, it is a truly perfect accompaniment to Venom.
There. All out of my system. See you at the weekend.