Eminem is as close to a musical phenom as this generation will likely ever get. An insane poet with near-flawless delivery, his lyrics are a combination of self-awareness, honesty, and intelligence rarely found in equal levels. His no-punches-pulled attitude has given rise to a career filled with fame and fortune, pain and suffering, relapse and redemption, admiration and spite. With very few exceptions, every one of his verses is a display of a master of the craft, no matter the subject or target, or whether he’s rhyming on his own records or featured on a fellow emcee’s track.

For this piece, we’re nailing down Shady’s five most definitive bars — which is sort of like trying to find the shiniest piece of gold in a treasure box full of the stuff, but we took a stab at it anyway. In identifying the five bars that rise above the rest, normal criteria was scrapped in favor of picking the flows that best exemplify Em as a performer, person, and his persona. In some cases, we took liberties with the term “bar,” as Slim’s rhymes deserve a fuller context, resulting in a couple of “extended bars.” Fair? Maybe not. But then again, this is Eminem we’re talking about, and we’re not going to get on homie’s bad side by short-changing him.

Comedy: “My Name Is”

“Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee’s tits off / and smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kriss Kross.” The song that put Eminem on the map is line-for-line filled with lyrics that evoke an “I can’t believe he just said that” response. This bar — so intense it had to be completely re-written for the radio version — display’s Eminem’s uncanny knack for snarky dark comedy, and a bit of violence and anger. By degrading himself and celebrities, he proves no one is safe in Slim Shady’s world.

Dexterity: “The Way I Am”

“And it seems like the media immediately / points a finger at me / so I point one back at ‘em / but not the index or pinkie / or the ring or the thumb / it’s the one you put up / when you don’t give a fuck.” Hands down one of the best Eminem lyrics of all time, and certainly a set to remind us of who we are dealing with — go ahead and call him whatever you want, blame him for the problems of the misguided youth, and get angry when he won’t sign you an autograph, because Eminem is only going to respond by turning the mirror around on you and then (not so politely) telling you where to stick it. This bar epitomizes Eminem in its context, dexterity, technique, and intelligence.

Controversy: “The Warning”

“Call my bluff and I’ll release everything I got / including the voicemails before you blew your top / when me and Luis were tryin’ to stick two CDs in the same slot.” Eminem may be at his best when he is ripping someone to shreds. There are no shortage of diss raps out there from Shady, but he serves up something special for Mariah Carey in “The Warning.” Here we have the final set from the first rapid-fire verse, and Slim holds nothing back. Even after completely eviscerating Carey throughout the first parts of the song, he caps off with a threat, as well as a raunchy euphemism, and ties in another one Carey’s ex’s for extra slut-shaming. It’s something only Eminem could get away with, and while we’re all laughing, Carey and Nick Cannon probably thought twice about saying anything negative about Slim after he dropped this bomb. 

Intensity: “Till I Collapse” (f. Nate Dogg)

“I rap like I’m addicted to smack like I’m Kim Mathers.” This bar from the final verse of “‘Till I Collapse” is but one in a fan-favorite track loaded with gems and an anthemic hook. With this particular bar, we’re given an example of Shady’s troubled relationship with his ex-wife, and an analogy which equates creating music with a heroin addiction, all of which is Eminem’s answer to his critics, rivals, and personal struggles with being in the top-tier of the Rap game.

Alliteration: “Renegade” (Jay Z)

“Now who’s the King of these rude, ludicrous, lucrative lyrics / who could inherit the title, put the youth in hysterics.” One of the earliest high profile guest appearances for Eminem, he slays it on Jay Z’s track. The alliteration and flow from this bar is a fantastic example of Eminem’s technical talent. But the context laid out in just one line — in which he frames himself as an enemy to hypocritical parents, a media target, and blasts about the absurdity of a musician being the cause for the problems of the nation’s youth — illustrates how Eminem was incredibly self-aware even at the earlier part of his career.

Eminem’s skills with the pen and pad are always on display, and these are but five of his hardest bars. There are certainly plenty more to dissect and discuss, but for now, these are a shining example of why he is able to proclaim and demand in “Rap God,” that “we have nothing in common, poodle / I’m a Doberman / Pinch yourself in the arm and pay homage, pupil.”