Released in 2009 on “Relapse”, “Deja Vu” that addresses Marshall’s addiction and the death of his closest friend, is arguably the most vulnerable and the most lyrically powerful track of Eminem’s career.
The story about this song was published on HotNewHipHop and provided a sympathetic analysis of the context that gave birth to the track where Marshall let himself to open up.
Describing “Relapse” as a horrorcore core album masterfully stitched by Dr. Dre, the author notices the contrast between the track in question and the macabre with which the album is bursting:
On “Deja Vu,” however, the curtain was pulled back and the mask was lifted. For the first time in what felt like years, fans were forced to confront the man beneath. The result was among the most vulnerable, and perhaps most impressively penned, tracks of Eminem’s career.
While subtle, Dre’s production on “Deja Vu” might stand as the album’s crowning musical achievement. Representing inner turmoil through the subtlety of a simple guitar riff, a slightly overdriven flip of Naughty By Nature’s “Yoke The Joker.” As far as percussion, Dre opts for a scaled-back, almost boom-bap kick-clap combo, delivered with the lethargy of a slow-burning dirge. The chorus is given additional urgency through a smothering organ, haunting in its progression; the perfect complement to Eminem’s vulnerability, the severity of which is reflected within his defeated diction.
There’s something highly personal about a collaboration of this nature, and it’s no wonder Em looked to his longtime friend and mentor to lay the foundation. Make no mistake, “Deja Vu” is a reflection of Eminem at his lowest point, only revisited through the lens of hindsight. Not only did it serve to provide longtime Shady Records loyalists with some much-needed answers, but it also provided a disturbing update. By his own admission, Eminem was on death’s door. In keeping with his fondness for gallows humor, the gravity of his situation was delivered in a cavalier fashion. “See me and you, we almost had the same outcome Heath/ cause that Christmas, you know the whole pneumonia thing? It was bologna, was it the methadone, ya think?” he raps, confirming the severe toll his long-rumored battle with addiction had nearly taken. And doing so as part of a ridiculously tight multisyllabic rhyme scheme, at that.
For Eminem it took years to be able to talk about the impact of Proof’s death. The tragic loss of the closest friend sent Marshall to the darkest places where he had no words to address his grief. However shockingly open and straightforward Em can be on topics that are taboo for many, he could not use his music as a coping mechanism. Until he could:
Aside from the never-meant-to-be released “Difficult,” “Deja Vu” marked the first time Eminem openly addressed his friend’s tragic death, with his first official tribute to come on Recovery’s “You’re Never Over.” The manner with which he does so is almost flippant, a testament to his fractured mental space at the time; few lyricists can capture a distinct moment like Eminem, who manages to reenact a personal low with hyper-detailed accuracy. While songs like “Stan” and “Bad Guy” reveal his depth as a storyteller, “Deja Vu” packs all the more punch given one simply reality: it’s a biopic, not a thriller.
Listen to “Deja Vu” below: