He won't have it, he knows his whole back's to these ropes
The term, "back's to these ropes," refers to the ropes of a boxing ring, which isn’t the only connection Eminem’s film 8 Mile shares with Rocky, the famous boxing movie.
Of all the underdog stories that 8 Mile takes inspiration from, it follows the Rocky paradigm the closest. Rocky is a 1976 movie written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. The title character, Rocky Balboa, is a small time debt collector for a local mob boss and an amateur boxer. When an opponent unexpectedly drops out of a match, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed hears about Rocky and likes his nickname, "The Italian Stallion," so he requests a match on this basis alone.
Rocky's resources as a poor and underrated local boxer can't compare to those of an elite athlete like Apollo Creed: Rocky chases chickens to build his speed, he uses slabs of meat as punching bags at the local meat packing plant, and he trains in a decrepit gym with deteriorating equipment. Apollo doesn't take the fight seriously at first, but he soon realizes he got more than he bargained for.
In 8 Mile, Eminem plays Jimmy Smith, Jr., who goes by the rap name of B. Rabbit. Rabbit's environmental conditions in the Detroit area are similar to Rocky's, who hails from Philadelphia. Rabbit lives in a trailer park with his mother (who happens to be dating one of Rabbit's old high school classmates), he works at a metal pressing plant, he drives a broken down jalopy that dies on a daily basis, he roams a neighborhood rife with crack houses, and in one of the first scene of the film, he suffers though a humiliating bout of stage fright in front of the hip-hop community from which he's trying to gain acceptance.
Both Rabbit and Rocky reach varying degrees of personal success, and despite their mounting adversity, the key to rising above it all turns out to be pure heart.
Coast to coast shows, he's known as the globetrotter
The Harlem Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team based in Chicago known for incorporating comedy, tricks and stunts, and theatrical flair into their playing style.
Eminem's body of work is like a Charles Dickens novel: there are a ton of ideas and characters that frequently cross paths, collide, and suddenly become essential to the plot. Mix in some flows that are more like James Joyce's stream of consciousness style and it can get confusing really fast.
On record, Eminem frequently refers to himself as Eminem (the rapper), Slim Shady (an insane, drug-addled alter ego), and Marshall Mathers (his real name, often used when speaking about deeply personal issues). It's no surprise that his group D12 (The Dirty Dozen) had only six members, each claiming to have split personalities (hence the dozen). Add to that Em's introduction of individuals from his real life: Ronnie Nelson, an uncle, who committed suicide and left Em devastated at age 17; Debbie, his mother, who Em often accuses of abuse during his formative years; Kim, Em's ex-wife who is often the target of homicidal fantasies; and Hailie, his daughter, who is the only object of true affection in any of his lyrics.
Given his commentaries on fame, it would seem that Eminem (the rapper) is caught in an unending cycle; his fame largely rests on his rapping ability and enthusiasm for brutal honesty. This honesty draws largely from the characters Eminem has created and real individuals from his life experience, but the more he reveals personal details, the more his fame and success grow, thereby distancing himself from the individuals and experiences that brought him stardom.
In this section of the song, Em demonstrates a bit of irony with his success; like his character in 8 Mile, rap music is the only avenue available to escape his conditions, but in reality, the fame that Eminem had achieved by 2002 had created great rifts in his personal relationships, and the demands of recording and touring frequently took him away from his young daughter. At this point in the song, Em is no longer talking about B. Rabbit, but about his own personal misgivings about the price of fame—he can come alive on stage and travel the world, but he ends up isolated from the one person he set out to provide for, his daughter. The "show" that he was forced to put on for his fans started to become more and more theatrical, so the comparison to the Harlem Globetrotters is apt.
I been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage
But I kept rhyming and stepped, writin' the next cipher
Best believe somebody's paying the Pied Piper
Revenge is a dish best served cold—Old Klingon Proverb.
Okay, so that's not a Klingon proverb. The phrase actually first appeared in an 1841 French novel called Mathilde. While the story of the underdog is often framed as a character reaching his full potential, overcoming personal anxieties, or simply as good standing up to evil, though, let's be honest: sometimes it's just about revenge. In this section of the song, Em slips in a sliver of honesty about his motivations.
Just like his 8 Mile character, Eminem took part in plenty of underground rap battles and contests and was often beaten and laughed off stage, either because of an off night or the color of his skin (it took a long time for the polished Eminem we see now to find his style). Here Em references the darker side of achieving success against the odds. When he mentions how he "kept rhyming and stepped, writin’ the next cipher, / Best believe somebody's paying the Pied Piper," we can imagine that all the naysayers and nonbelievers are getting their just desserts in witnessing Eminem's now incredibly successful career.
As an aside, Em's reference to the Pied Piper is a direct nod to bloodthirsty revenge. The legend of the Pied Piper seems to have its origin in some real event in 14th-century Germany. In the traditional literature, the German town of Hamelin is overrun with rats, and just when it seems like there is no solution to the problem, a mysterious man dressed in motley—or pied, which means very colorful, like a court jester—shows up and brokers a deal with the townspeople to lead the rats away by playing his magical flute. The townspeople agree to the deal and the Pied Piper leads the rats to water, drowning them.
However, when he returns, the townspeople refuse to pay the fee and run him off. The Piper, vowing revenge, returns to the town while the adults are in a church service and uses his flute to lead the town's children to the same fate as the rats. Lesson to take away: if you know a wannabe rapper or a moderately talented flautist, just be nice to them.
I cannot grow old in Salem's Lot
Due to age-related changes in the larynx, the pitch of a man's voice can become higher in his late 50s and on—probably not the best news for a rapper.
Eminem's reference to Salem's Lot is another sign of his ability to weave in and out of character and jump between real and fantasy worlds. Em is here directly referencing 'Salem's Lot, a 1975 horror novel by Stephen King. It was Stephen King's second published novel, and it solidified his status as a superstar horror writer.
The novel takes place in the town of Salem, Maine, and follows Ben Mears, a writer who has returned to his childhood town to write about Marsten House, an abandoned mansion that was once home to a notorious 1930s gangster. What Mears finds however, is that Kurt Barlow, a vampire who wastes no time turning the inhabitants of the town into the undead, now owns the mansion. Stephen King has said that he was inspired to write the book after reading Bram Stoker's Dracula and wondering how it would play out if a Dracula figure showed up in modern day America. In essence, Salem's Lot is King's retelling of the classic vampire tale.
So, what does that have to do with rapping in Detroit? For Eminem, the idea of the vampire as a drain is relevant to the story of "Lose Yourself." In 8 Mile, Eminem's character is surrounded by friends and family members who are essentially emotional and mental vampires: his mother, who doesn't want to face their trailer-park reality; Wink, his neighborhood friend, who's planning on using Jimmy to get ahead; the Free World, a rival rap group who use Jimmy's on-stage failure to tear down his confidence.
In essence, Eminem is rapping about the pitfalls and distractions of an environment like the Detroit neighborhood depicted in 8 Mile as a place where dreams are drained and emptied of their lifeblood.