Today, season two of Aziz Ansari’s acclaimed comedy Master of None finally hits Netflix, 18 months after the show premiered. To celebrate the occasion, we’re revisiting one of the best subtle-yet-mindblowing moments from the show’s first season.
Episode six, ‘Nashville’, begins with Dev (Ansari) and Arnold (Eric Wareheim) walking down a mirrored hallway when they stumble upon one of the greatest epistemological quandaries of our time: does Eminem’s Academy Award-winning song ‘Lose Yourself’ from 8 Mile actually make any fucking sense at all?
Here’s the scene to jog your memory:
TL;DW? Let’s quickly break it down:
- The line which confuses Dev is: “There is no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer.” He’s confused because there is a movie – and a Mekhi Phifer.
- Arnold says that the song is about Eminem (not B-Rabbit, the film character), meaning there’s no movie or Phifer.
- Dev points out that the “mom’s spaghetti” line refers to B-Rabbit, who goes on stage with a spaghetti stain on his shirt during the film, so it can’t all be about Eminem.
- Arnold clarifies that the verses are different: one verse is from the perspective of B-Rabbit, one is from Eminem.
- Dev later realises that even if the final verse is from Eminem, Mekhi Phifer still definitely does exist, so the line – and thus the entire song – still makes no sense.
Head exploding a bit right now? Yeah, we feel you.
Luckily, Eminem himself took to lyrics annotation website genius.com to explain what the hell it all means.
“The first verse is all about Jimmy Smith Jr. It’s me talking about Jimmy Smith Jr.—like, I’m not saying my sweater, I’m saying his. I’m trying to show you what his life is about.”
Okay, that explains verse one (though it means Dev and Arnold’s argument is wrong – they argue the first verse is by B-Rabbit, but it’s actually about him: “There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti…” “Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked…“
This one’s easy. It’s Eminem talking about himself. “He goes home and barely knows his own daughter” clearly refers to Eminem; B-Rabbit doesn’t have a daughter.
Here’s where shit really hits the syntactical fan.
Like verse two, most of it’s about Eminem, but it’s here that we arrive at the line that sparked it all: “It’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer”.
So, is it about B-Rabbit? Is it about Eminem? Are we IRL or the 8 Mile universe? Is this an epistemological Schroedinger’s Cat quandary, or is Eminem just messing with our heads?
Mercifully, Eminem commented on the specific words in question:
“Putting the name of the actor right there in the lead single was just about the rhymes. I had started with this syllable scheme — “somebody’s paying the pied piper” and “Mekhi Phifer” ended up fitting. That was all it was.”
Are you kidding me, Eminem? Did you seriously put that little thought into this?
You, one of the cleverest and most intricate lyricists in history, accidentally created an existential identity crisis for no reason other than one word – and not just any word, but the name of an actor in a film about a guy loosely based on yourself – rhymed with another?
Goddamn it, Eminem. Goddamn it. That is without doubt one of the least satisfying explanations in history.
To recap what we’ve learned today: a fictional character loosely based on Aziz Ansari stumbled on an accidental identity crisis concerning a fictional character loosely based on Eminem, within an Eminem song written about both Eminem and the character loosely based on Eminem, simultaneously. As to whether or not Mekhi Phifer exists, it turns out there’s no real answer and it doesn’t even matter anyway, because the only reason he was mentioned in the song at all, was because his name fucking rhymes with “pied piper”.
I’m glad we cleared that up. Fingers crossed we’ll be solving more philosophical debates in season two.