Meaning Behind the Suburban Rap Hit “Loser” by Beck

And my time is a piece of wax
falling on a termite
That’s choking on the splinters.

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Is there anything more ’90s? The acoustic slide guitar hits; the heavy hip-hop drums. Then Beck’s poetic, crafted yet somehow stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

And my time is a piece of wax
falling on a termite
That’s choking on the splinters.

But what is the story behind the song? And where did the now-52-year-old Beck come from?

KNDD and Marco Collins

Originally, the song was the second single ever released by Beck. The song began getting airplay on commercial stations, particularly on KNDD in Seattle with Hall of Fame DJ Marco Collins and on KROQ in LA. For the Los Angeles rooming house-born Beck, it was a breakthrough. His indie label that put out the song, Bong Load Custom Records, sold out of copies. The song then spread like wildfire, leading the songwriter to sign a contract with Geffen. It came out on Beck’s debut LP, Mellow Gold.

Coffee Houses

As a young struggling musician, Beck was homeless, both while living in New York City and LA. He worked low-paying jobs (like “alphabetizing the pornography section” in video stores) and gigged when he could.

“I’d be banging away on a Son House tune and the whole audience would be talking, so maybe out of desperation or boredom, or the audience’s boredom, I’d make up these ridiculous songs just to see if people were listening,” the artist said in 1997 to Entertainment Weekly. “‘Loser’ was an extension of that.”

Big Break and Bong Load

Tom Rothrock of the indie label Bong Load was interested in working with Beck. He introduced the artist to record producer Carl Stephenson and it was at Stephenson’s house where Beck wrote “Loser.” He’d said, though, that while the song was written there spontaneously, he’d had the concept for years.

“I don’t think I would have been able to go in and do ‘Loser’ in a six-hour shot without having been somewhat prepared,” he said to Elle in 1999. “It was accidental, but it was something that I’d been working toward for a long time.”

Six Hours

Stephenson made the beat for the song, looping a bit of Beck’s guitar playing, adding the drum track sample (from Johnny Jenkins’ cover of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”), his own sitar playing and some more samples. Beck wrote a rap for the song and tried his best to emulate bombastic voiced lyricist Chuck D of Public Enemy.

When he heard the song played back at first, he thought of himself as a horrible rapper. Hence the chorus: I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me.

In total, the song took six hours.

“I’d realized that a lot of what folk music is about taking a tradition and reflecting your own time,” Beck said in 1998 of the final result, and the influence of folk music, the blues and rap on his sound. I knew my folk music would take off, if I put hip-hop beats behind it.”

The song then launched a career that has led to 14 albums and countless hits. But it was Beck’s wordplay and willingness to self-deprecate that made him an instant star.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

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