Ten years ago today, Eminem came through with the lead single off his seventh studio album Recovery, the Boi-1da produced “Not Afraid.” Contextually, the song served as a major stylistic departure for Slim, especially in the afterglow of 2009’s twisted Relapse album. Produced near-entirely by Dr. Dre, Relapse found Em slipping into the skin of a heavily-accented serial killer; while his rhyming was arguably his technical best, many vocal fans quickly turned on the album, citing the macabre subject matter and Em’s cadence as two primary issues.
It’s clear that the criticism surrounding Relapse seemed to rattle Eminem, who had only recently made a return to rap after a long-fought battle with addiction. When “Not Afraid” first dropped, it became clear that he was taking his music in an entirely different direction. For the first time in his career, Em had sought production away from his camp, enlisting Drake’s go-to hitmaker in Boi-1da for a batch of beats. One of them happened to be “Not Afraid,” an anthem that openly addressed Em’s return to sound mental and physical health, all while setting a variety of new artistic habits in the process.
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For one, “Not Afraid” bucked the expected “goofy single” trope, last seen on Relapse’s “We Made You.” It also featured a decidedly more uplifting instrumental than fans were used to, especially following a relentless slew of Dr. Dre-produced horrorcore. Between the triumphant synth strings and Em’s equally inspirational lyrics, “Not Afraid” encapsulated a shifting outlook on both a musical and philosophical level — perhaps more so than any single from a major rap artist before it.
A decade removed from its initial release, “Not Afraid” has since become a staple in Em’s live set, often serving as the closer to his concerts. It has also gone diamond in the United States, a testament to Em’s loyal and widespread fanbase. Though a case can be made that “Not Afraid” moved him further away from the release of Relapse 2, a lost album that has found a renewed fanbase in recent years, its impact on the man behind it cannot be denied. Be sure to revisit the video below, and sound off — what do you think of “Not Afraid” in the greater context of Em’s career?