Here Are Eminem & Ed Sheeran's 'River' Lyrics Decoded

Eminem made his highly anticipated return with his ninth studio album Friday (Dec. 15), Revival. One track that has served as a stand-out in its short time is the unlikely collaboration between him and Ed Sheeran. The genre blending song sees Sheeran tunefully singing the hook about his prior mistakes over production from Emile Haynie, who also produced on Kanye West's "Runaway."

The "Shape of You" artist detailed how the collab came about to Billboard: "I was traveling Australia and Russell Crowe has a house, this big farm. I get an email from Paul Rosenberg, Eminem’s manager, and he said, ‘We’re gonna start putting the album together, send any ideas.’" Sheeran admits he always wanted the opportunity to work with Eminem.

The 26-year-old continued, "So I used the studio at Russell’s house… played the drums on it, and then played the guitar, and then recorded the thing and wrote the chorus and did the piano on it, and then sent it off and then didn’t hear anything back. This was like March 2016."

It wasn't until Haynie alerted Ed more than a year later that Em had pieced verses together accompanied by his hook. Sheeran then invited Emile to come down to Mexico to finish up fine-tuning the record. Billboard attempts to decipher the elaborate lyrics to the nearly four minutes of Eminem tackling controversial talking points such as abortion, infidelity, failed relationships and more. 

Chorus (Ed Sheeran)

"I've been a liar, been a thief

Been a lover, been a cheat

All my sins need holy water, feel it washing over me

Well, little one, I don't want to admit to something

If all it's gonna cause is pain

Truth and my lies right now are falling like the rain

So let the river run."

The Divide artist lets fans in on the chorus being first created before Em's verses, setting the tone for the unforgiving record. Sheeran admits to his transgressions in the past. In the midst of the booming chorus the Suffolk, England native mentions the need for the religious "holy water" to absolve him of his sins and finally move past his one-time dark self.

Moving into the second half of Sheeran's contributions, the talented artist reflects on his pain implementing a simile comparing the tears running down his face to that of a river. The river could connect with the prior "holy water" mention, as the body of water is mentioned numerous times throughout the bible with significance. 

Verse 1 (Eminem)

"He's comin' home with his neck scratched, to catch flack

Sweat jackets and dress slacks, mismatched

On his breath's Jack, he's a sex addict

And she just wants to exact revenge and get back

It's a chess match, she's on his back like a jet-pack

She's kept track of all his Internet chats

And guess who just happens to be movin' on to the next

Actually, just shit on my last chick and she has what my ex lacks."

Shady continues the failed relationship foundation Sheeran laid with the opening chorus. The 45-year-old opens the fictional record rapping from the perspective of a man coming home in ill-assorted clothing to his girlfriend with his neck scratches -- indicating he had unapologetically been with another woman.

The Relapse artist continues with admitting he's addicted to sex and came home drunk with the smell of Jack Daniel's on his breath. He then compares his relationship to a game of chess, as each party involved strategically looks to gain the upper-hand. She continues to hawk him, watching every move and keeping track of all his texts and social media chatting habits.

"'Cause she loves danger, psychopath

And you don't fuck with no man's girl, even I know that

But she's devised some plan to stab him in the back

Knife in hand, says their relationship's hangin' by a strand

So she's been on the web lately

Says maybe she'll be my Gwen Stacy, to spite her man

And I know she's using me to try to play him, I don't care

Hi Suzanne, but I shoulda said 'Bye Suzanne'

After the first night, but tonight I am."

Em then delves into how his girl is psychotically addicted to dangerous situations. Shady cleverly refers to the "web" before comparing her to Gwen Stacy, who was the longtime lover of Peter Parker in the Spider-Man comics. Within the very next line the lyric savant uses "to spite her man," ingeniously as a double-entendre with Spider-Man.

Verse 2

"He found out, now she feels deserted and used

'Cause he left, so what? He did it first to her too

Now how am I supposed to tell this girl that we're through?

It's hard to find the words, I'm aloof, nervous, and Sue

Don't want this to hurt, but what you deserve is the truth

Don't take it personal, I just can't say this in person to you

So I revert to the studio, like hole-in-the-wall diners

Don't have to be reserved in a booth

I just feel like the person who I'm turning into's

Irreversible, I preyed on you like it's church at the pew

And now that I got you I don't want you

Took advantage in my thirst to pursue."

Eminem draws parallels to his broken marriage with Kim Mathers, relating how he would use the studio and random diners to get away from his problems at home and avoid addressing relationship issues. Shady acutely uses a homophone of "prey" and "pray" connecting religion into his thirst for infidelity, which goes against spiritual values. Marshall also mentions he is not happy with the person that he would be evolving into throughout the record.

"Why do I do this dirt that I do?

Get on my soapbox and preach, my sermon and speech

Detergent and bleach is burnin' the wound

'Cause now with her in the womb

We can't bring her in this world, shoulda knew

To use protection 'fore I bit into your forbidden fruit


Slim Shady questions his willingness to bring a child into his world through the toxic relationship he has with the mother-to-be, admitting he should've been more careful with using protection because there is no long-term future, after she found out he's been with other women. Em continues the religious theme on the verse mentioning a sermon and a soap box that would be used to preach his messages upon. The forbidden fruit relates back to the origins of Adam and Eve in the bible. 

Verse 3

"Always the bridesmaid, never “The bride, hey!”

Fuck can I say? If life was a highway

And deceit was an enclave, I'd be swerving in five lanes

Speeds at a high rate, like I'm slidin' on ice, maybe

That's why I may have came at you sideways

I can't keep my lies straight

But I made you terminate my baby

This love triangle left us in a wreck, tangled

What else can I say? It was fun for a while

Bet I really woulda loved your smile

Didn't really wanna abort, but fuck it

What's one more lie, to tell our unborn child?"

The "Renegade" artist metaphorically compares an unraveling life situation with his erratic driving ability, switching lanes at high speeds throughout the highway. He finishes off the record admitting an abortion through his shrewd wordplay, weighing a love triangle against a rectangle -- incorporating his mistress into the equation with the future child and the baby's mother. Shady annotates Sheeran's emotional chorus apologizing and admitting his faults before the harrowing song comes to a close.

Looking for more Ed Sheeran lyrics? Check out our comparison of the 'Perfect' Beyonce duet with the original, and then head on over to the 'Shape of You' lyrics. For more Eminem lyrics, check out our take on 'Walk on Water's meaning next.


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