Yet another thing the President and I have in common, we both have used Eminem to get ourselves pumped before giving speeches.
Little known fact, when I used to compete in speech, I'd take a moment to find a isolated room or location and I'd listen to some music to get me in the right competition mindset.
Early rounds I'd pick something that would keep me chill and relaxed (Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West, Outkast, tons of ridiculous pop music), while out-rounds required something bigger.
Any of the Jacksons (Mike or Janet) and Dr. Dre (any West Coast shit really) would be called upon. But I specifically remember a day back in 2003 when I brought everyone into a room at our state tournament and gave them a short speech. At the end of the meeting, I decided to share my secret weapon.
In competitive speech, it's perfectly normal to see folks walking around with headphones in their ears, zoning out. Kinda like most major athletes, only us speech nerds don't jump up and shoot threes or go out and tackle anyone. We stand still, conveying energy while trying to also look as relaxed and in the moment as possible.
It's a fun game!
But the practice of picking the right song for the occasion is an art unto itself. Musical preference vastly differs from forensicator to forensicator, as one person's electronic party anthem is another person's showtune.
For me, for the better part of a year, Till I Collapse served as my personal song of choice. In speech, I always felt like an outsider doing things that felt closest to my personality and my heart. Being the subjectivity activity that it is (with judges who rank and prioritize things based on a number of random factors), the missing x-factor always seemed to be those who left it all in the round. That way, even if a judge didn't agree with your perspective, thesis or the content of your speech, they could at least respect the performance you were giving in the round.
And the lyrics of the song seemed to convey that very idea.
It all starts with a call to arms, a motivational speech that tells you getting tired is not an option. But then once the beat sets in and we get to the meat of the song, there's a message of resiliency and perseverance that transcends limitations. A rally cry that screams out, deny me all you want, but like it or not you're coming with me for ten minutes of your time.
But that's not all. Marshall Mathers also can give a fuck how you rank him. Em even takes a moment mid-song to shoot out other rappers that he thinks are better than him, explaining that he won't give a shit if you don't put him in the same company as them, he's going to make his own statement.
To the twenty-year-old Raf who hated the political subjectivity of an educational activity that occasionally overlooked some of the best speeches and performances just because they didn't fit a particular mold, this message always seemed to resonate. I didn't need to win every round (i.e. I didn't pick topics or pieces just to win), but I was damn sure going to make sure my voice would be heard.
As you advanced, rounds would get harder and the subjective things that made the difference between first and second place became so minuscule that having the right mentality became almost as important as the speech or interp you gave in the room.
So when I called my fellow speech competitors into the room that day, I took a risk revealing the music that made me get amped up. I was sharing a part of my personality with others and hoping the song that had helped me win rounds might also work for them.
When I saw them all nodding their heads in sync with the beat, I felt a great sense of pride. In that moment, I felt like a leader helping to do my part to inspire my team to think and dream bigger.
That year, we went on to win nationals, breaking some records along the way. I did well for myself, but I've always taken greater success in watching my team kill it.
I know there are a number of people who cite Lose Yourself (including the President) as the song that picks them up, but to me Till I Collapse we'll always hit harder and more aggressive (plus it has Nate Dogg for Christ's sakes).
Granted, it's more than ten years later and a number of UFC fighters and media have used the song ad nauseam (I'm not even sure the song would amp me up in the same way having seen so many people utilize it), but I'll always have an appreciation for what that song did for me all those years ago.
So while the President and I may differ on the particular Eminem song of choice, I can definitely relate to the way it made him feel before going out to give a speech (a speech that he crushed, btw).
And for just a moment, it brought back a slew of memories for a team full of people and a team I have never forgotten about.