“I catch flak for saying you’re ranked up there with Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas,” laughed Redman, during a 2015 phone conversation with Eminem. “People tried to give me flak, and I’m like nah you crazy, that’s my dude.” Eminem made sure to return the favor, doubling down on a claim he famously made on “Till I Collapse.” “It’s like I said publically,” praised Slim, in full Stan mode. “You’re one of my favorites of all time. That’s never going to change.” That exchange, which took place fifteen years removed from their first and only rapped collaboration “Off The Wall,” speaks to the dynamic between Slim Shady and Reggie Noble. One of mutual respect and genuine fandom, with the former having drawn no shortage of stylistic influence from the latter.
It’s unfair to say there would be no Eminem without Redman. But it’s very possible that Em’s zany style and punchline-heavy delivery would be vastly altered without the New Jersey legend’s formative work. Between early-nineties albums like Whut? Thee Album, Dare Iz A Darkside, and Muddy Waters, Redman carved out a niche as one of the game’s most dynamic and darkly comedic lyricists. Elements that would come to manifest themselves in Em’s post-Infinite stylings, when he was linked up with a crew of New Jersey emcees called The Outsidaz, made up of Young Zee, Pacewon and more. It’s no surprise that Reggie’s signature style came to impact Eminem’s own, and before long, the pair were in the process of connecting for their first official collaboration “Off The Wall.”
The circumstances were admittedly curious; who’d have thought it would be The Nutty Professor 2 that would bring them together? As Redman tells it, he actually linked with Eminem in Detroit, where the pair proceeded to brainstorm the song in real-time. A far cry from the common practice of today, Redman explains to VLADTV that artists of that era were forced to unite in real life out of sheer necessity. “You go to that person’s studio and you’ll sit down and create,” he explains. “We’d sit there and create. That was how our era ran.” At the time of its creation, Em was in the midst of his mainstream arrival, coming off the successful Slim Shady LP and steadily putting in work on Dr. Dre’s 2001. Redman had recently come off a collaborative album with Method Man, the classic Blackout. Two lyricists at different stages of their respective careers, though cut from a similar stylistic cloth. As such, “Off The Wall” exudes healthy competition from start to finish, with neither party willing to give the slightest ground.
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The bouncy instrumental arrives courtesy of Erick Sermon, marking the first collaboration between Em and the EPMD producer. Thematically, Em sets the tone within the opening lines, dragging things into his own wheelhouse with references to the pop starlets du-jour. One thing that immediately stands out are his multisyllabic schemes, effortlessly leaping from “terrorist” to “therapist” to “hair-up-his” in an impressive technical display. “Got a habit of holding Tylenol in his hands, till it melts in his fuckin’ palms and dissolves in his glands,” spits Em, encapsulating the drug-addled yet shockingly eloquent Slim Shady spirit. Never one to be outclassed, Redman ably grabs the baton and picks up where Em left off. Though his style is more grounded by realism, his keen eye for supernatural imagery and outlandish acts of violence keep him closer to bad than evil -- but on the darker side of the morality spectrum all the same.
“My barrel hang out the Camaro, aimed at the nose of them holes it's hard to breathe from,” warns Red, his flow ridiculously honed. “Flash the gat, your town, bogart it, your wallet, your chain the main target / Beef is like cold engine -- don't start it, bust in the air and hit an airplane pilot.” Inverting the first half’s structure, Em picks up where Redman leaves off for the second half; the camaraderie is made all the more evident through the structure, as it’s clear Em’s first line was designed to springboard off Red’s last. An upgrade on his first, Em goes so far as to develop a sense of worldbuilding, bringing the rascally Stan into the fold. “Probably got a fanatic waiting upstairs, in the attic with an automatic calling me up there,” raps Em, showcasing the compound syllables he often mentions. “My man Stan, with a gat in his hand, staking my house out in a tan, tinted sedan.”
Though it came from an unlikely source, which is to say, a film in which Eddie Murphy donned a fat suit and played eight roles, “Off The Wall” remains historic in a sense. As the lone rapped collaboration between Slim and Red, two of the best lyricists of our time, it’s no wonder both parties still hold the song in high regard. Curiously, Em and Redman never linked up for a second-go, though Em did produce the spooky “I See Dead People” for Reggie Noble back in 2003. In truth, their styles have changed so much since “Off The Wall” it’s hard to tell what a modern-day collaboration would sound like. Yet it feels like an inevitability that Slim Shady and Reggie Noble will go head to head once more, if only to remind the masses that they’re still putting in work.