Eminem Refuses to Collapse
Published Nov 16, 2013"Till the day that I drop, you'll never say that I'm not killing them," Marshall Mathers once rapped. "A plaque of platinum status is wack if I'm not the baddest." Despite his 100 million records sold (and counting) worldwide, making him best-selling musical artist of the 2000s, and despite his 13 Grammy Awards, his Oscar and arduous fame, Eminem has achieved Top 5 Dead or Alive ranking from heads who listen to music and don't just skim through it.
"I guarantee you that at least five labels out there went and signed a white boy because of Eminem, thinking they gonna get the same fame Em got. That's wack as hell," Mathers' best friend, Proof, told Pound magazine in 2001.
If duplicating Eminem's style — his Legoland-style gift for stacking rhymes on top of each other in intricate and creative ways; his ability to puke out the profound, offensive and hilarious, often in the course of a single verse or couplet — isn't tricky enough, duplicating his life would be impossible. From rags to riches, from lawsuit to rap beef, divorce to death, addiction to redemption, this abandoned son and fervent father has seen his share of life in his 40 years.
1972 to 1986
After 73 hours of labour that nearly kill his mother, Marshall Bruce Mathers III is born on October 17, 1972 in St. Joseph, Missouri. Marshall's parents are both in a go-nowhere band, Daddy Warbucks, before their relationship fails and Eminem's father bolts to California before he gets to know the baby. Mother and son bounce around Missouri and Michigan for years, usually living with family members, before settling in Warren, Michigan, when Marshall is 11.
Eminem's mother unsuccessfully sues the Roseville school district for not protecting her bullied son. Growing up in a predominately black, lower middle class neighbourhood, Mathers' imagination is fuelled by comic books and he begins to draw. At age nine, he is introduced to rap through Ice-T's "Reckless" from the Breakin' soundtrack, a gift from his uncle, Ronald Polkinghorn. Devastated when Uncle Ronnie commits suicide, Marshall skips the funeral and refusing to speak for days. According to Eminem, his mother suffers from Munchausen syndrome, causing her to repeatedly fake illness in to order draw sympathy and attention from him and others.
1987 to 1991
In 1987, Kim Scott meets a 15-year-old Marshall while he's rapping LL Cool J's "I'm Bad" shirtless on a table. A runaway, Kim moves in with the Mathers family; two years later, Kim and Marshall begin a long, tumultuous relationship. Alongside high school friend Mike "Manix" Ruby, Marshall begins rapping as "M&M," which soon becomes Eminem. After three years in Grade 9, Marshall drops out of Lincoln High School. He works several low-wage jobs to help support him and his mother. Along with fellow rapper Proof, Eminem freestyles at a nearby high school and at the open-mic events at local hotbed the Hip Hop Shop on West 7 Mile. Eminem's skills earn him respect of his black peers and audiences. He and Proof join forces with four other local MCs to form loose rap collective D12.
1992 to 1995
At age 20, Mathers is arrested for being involved in a drive-by shooting — with a paintball gun. Cooking and washing dishes at family restaurant Gilbert's Lodge for minimum wage, Eminem signs to FBT Productions, run by brothers Jeff and Mark Bass. He and Kim become parents but struggle financially to support baby Hailie Jade. The young family's home is burglarized more than once, and they are eventually evicted.
Eminem releases Infinite, a solo debut geared to earn radio play in Detroit. A tame and straightforward rap record, the 38-minute album is recorded in the Bass Brothers' studio, the Bassmint. Denaun (Mr.) Porter, who also spends time living with the Mathers family, produces the beats; Proof programs the drums; and Mathers stirs minor buzz for his lyrical dexterity. The record, released on indie Web Entertainment, sells no more than 1,000 copies locally before seeing a re-release in 2009 as a free download on ThisIs50.com. "I got a lot of feedback saying that I sounded like AZ. Infinite was me trying to figure out how I wanted my rap style to be, how I wanted to sound on the mic and present myself," Eminem would say in a 2008 press release. "I felt like Infinite was like a demo that just got pressed up." After Infinite fails to catch on, Mathers' dissatisfaction and abuse of drugs leads to a suicide attempt. Disappointed with his career's direction, Mathers creates the Slim Shady alter ego — a Mr. Hyde that allows him to spew his frustrations and say whatever he damn well pleases.
1997 to 1998
Living in a high-crime neighbourhood, in a mobile home with his mother, girlfriend Kim and their young daughter, Eminem is fired from Gilbert's. He records the eight-song Slim Shady EP. Eminem travels to L.A. to compete in the Rap Olympics, a national freestyle battle. He loses to Otherwize in the final, but the Interscope employees at the show send a tape of Em's rhymes to label CEO Jimmy Iovine. Iovine plays the tape for Dr. Dre, arguably the best hip-hop producer ever. "Find him. Now," Dre tells Iovine, according to Rolling Stone in 1999. The N.W.A icon and the broke white boy from Michigan begin working on a classic. "My Name Is," Eminem's goofy introduction to the mainstream, is recorded in an hour. "Just the Two of Us," The Slim Shady EP's ditty about killing Kim and riding off with their daughter, is reworked with toddler Hailie's vocals and becomes "'97 Bonnie & Clyde." In order to get Hailie into the studio, Mathers tells Scott he's taking her to Chuck E. Cheese's. "When she found out I used our daughter to write a song about killing her, she fucking blew. We had just got back together for a couple of weeks. Then I played her the song, and she bugged the fuck out," Eminem tells Rolling Stone. The Source features Eminem in its prestigious "Unsigned Hype" column.
The Slim Shady LP, Em's Aftermath debut, drops in February and instantly takes the world by the throat, setting up shop on the Billboard album charts for 100 weeks. Recorded at Studio 8 on 8 Mile Road in Ferndale, Michigan, and featuring production by Dr. Dre, the Bass Brothers and Em himself, the opus borrows and boosts The Slim Shady EP's best songs and adds gems such as "Guilty Conscience" and "Role Model."
Violent, hilarious and irreverent, the LP shoots to No. 1 in the States and ends up going platinum five times over. Created partly under the influence of ecstasy, it wins a Grammy for Best Rap Album. Eminem links up with fellow Detroit emcee Royce da 5'9" to form Bad Meets Evil. That summer Eminem replaces Cypress Hill and joins a pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas and Ice-T as rare rap acts on the Vans Warped Tour; he'd frequently double up and play hip-hop clubs later that night. During a gig in Hartford, Mathers slips on a puddle, falls ten feet off the stage and cracks his ribs.
His celebrity soars, but the backlash begins. Viewed by some as a misogynist and a bad influence, Eminem is slapped with multiple lawsuits. In September, Em's own mother, Deborah Nelson, files a $10 million slander lawsuit for her son's line, "I just found out my mom does more dope than I do," on "My Name Is." Marshall marries tortured soulmate Kim in June and creates his own imprint, Shady Records, under Aftermath before year's end. Original D12 member Bugz is killed prior to a concert. The year ends with an invigorated Dr. Dre releasing a classic of his own; an instant classic, Dre's 2001 features Eminem in a co-starring and ghostwriting role.
Led by single "The Real Slim Shady," The Marshall Mathers LP arrives in May and nearly goes double platinum in its first week, surpassing Britney Spears' ...Baby, One More Time as the fastest-selling solo album in American history. The record earns a diamond certification (ten million sold) and scores another Rap Album of the Year. A stroke of brilliance that sees Mathers tackling his unexpected fame and revealing a more personal side, the album is recorded in a 60-day creative binge with studio sessions stretching 20 hours long. Dre and Em handle the bulk of the production, with assists from the Bass brothers and Mark "The 45 King," who flips British singer Dido's "Thank You" to create crossover song "Stan" about a superfan gone psycho. The word "Stan" will remain hip-hop slang for obsessive fan a decade later.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation condemns Em's use of the word fag in "Criminal." Disgusted by Eminem's lyrics, Ontario Attorney General Jim Flaherty argues that the artist should be prevented from crossing into Canada to perform. Eminem sees a bouncer, John Guerrera, kissing his wife outside a Hard Rock Café and assaults him with either a fist or a pistol.
As a label head, Eminem signs Detroit's Obie Trice and his own group, D12, to Shady. "We all had individual careers. This is the all-star team, man. Every one of us was handpicked, and we've all been together for the past seven years," D12's Bizarre tells Pound in 2001. Eminem publishes a book of his lyrics, Angry Blonde, and lands a seven-episode series of animated shorts, The Slim Shady Show, for which he voices multiple characters. Kim attempts suicide by slitting her wrists. The couple files for divorce after Kim's second drunk-driving conviction. Em records a scorching posthumous duet with the Notorious B.I.G., "Dead Wrong."
With GLADD protesting outside Staples Center, Elton John joins the "homophobic" Mathers onstage at the Grammy Awards, and the two perform "Stan" together. Eminem tours heavily, joining Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's Up In Smoke Tour, the Family Values Tour with Limp Bizkit, and headlining the Anger Management Tour with Ludacris and Xzibit. Shady outshines Jay Z on his own album; Eminem's wordplay on The Blueprint's "Renegade," originally a Bad Meets Evil tune, furthers his respect among hip-hop diehards.
Eminem's mom's lawsuit finally settles; she is awarded $25,000, all but $1,600 of which goes to legal fees. DeAngelo Bailey, the school bully Eminem raps about in "Brain Damage," joins in on the fun, serving Eminem with a $1 million slander and invasion of privacy suit. The case gets dismissed by a rapping judge, who delivers her verdict in rhyme: "Bailey thinks he's entitled to some monetary gain/ Because Eminem used his name in vain." Eminem disses Everlast and Limp Bizkit, and is dealt one year's probation stemming from weapons charges incurred from an argument with an employee of Psychopathic Records, the Insane Clown Posse's label.
Six-man super-group D12 debuts with the R-rated Devil's Night, which goes double platinum. "It ain't a Marshall Mathers gig; it's our gig. Without a D12, there's not a Slim Shady," Proof tells Pound.
"He changes his mind a lot. He's a very unsure person," says D12's Bizarre in the same interview. "Being in a group with Em, you never know when something could happen. He's very scatterbrained. He'll take [music] home and be like, 'I don't like this song. Scratch it.' Everybody from his manager to Dr. Dre to the owner of Interscope will be like, 'Yo, that shit is hot.' He be like, 'Nah, I ain't feeling that.'"
Eminem cameos in the hip-hop comedy flick The Wash and begins work on his fourth studio LP.
The Eminem Show continues Mathers' critical and commercial winning streak, becoming the best-selling album of the year in the States. Another diamond seller, it's the third Eminem LP in four years to claim Best Rap Album honours. Mainly self-produced (with assists from Dre, Jeff Bass and Mr. Porter), Mathers tells VH1 it's his "best record so far." President George W. Bush, producer Jermaine Dupri, battle rapper Canibus, The Source magazine and dear old Mom are just a few targets Eminem takes down in a wide-ranging and whip-smart attack. A six-year-old Hailie joins her father for the decidedly un-PG "My Dad's Gone Crazy."
Jacques Loussier, a jazz pianist from France, sues Eminem for $10 million, arguing his music was jacked for "Kill You." Benzino, a co-owner of The Source, picks a feud with Eminem, releasing old freestyle tapes in which a teenage Em uses the n-word and questioning whether he's a racist on the cover of the magazine. Eminem responds with scathing dis tracks.
8 Mile, Curtis Hanson's feature film loosely based on Mathers' nascent rap career and broke beginnings, casts Eminem as a version of himself. The film is a success both critically and commercially, and Eminem wins an Oscar for Best Original Song with "Lose Yourself." The soundtrack, flooded by Eminem and his Shady/Aftermath cohorts, becomes the year's fifth-highest selling CD. Eminem signs the hottest act on the street, New York's 50 Cent, to his Shady roster, and produces "The Cross" for Nas.
2003 to 2004
Eminem and Dre are sued by Ronald Stein's 70-year-old widow for sampling his "Pigs Go Home" composition for 1999's "Guilty Conscience." In December, the U.S. Secret Service acknowledges that it looking into Eminem's threats to Bush on "We As Americans," where he raps, "I don't rap for dead presidents/ I'd rather see the president dead." Eminem executive-produces Obie Trice's debut, Cheers, which sells more than a million copies worldwide. More successful is the debut of 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin', which goes eight times platinum and features Eminem's vocals and production.
When Jay Z meets up with Eminem to record "Moment of Clarity" for The Black Album, he gives his friend a hug and realizes Em is wearing a bulletproof vest.
Recorded as he began to develop an addiction to prescription drugs, Eminem's fifth album, Encore, takes a step back lyrically and at the cash resister but still sells more than five million copies and becomes the first full-length to sell 10,000 digital copies in a week. "Mosh," one of the record's high points, targets President Bush a week before he goes for re-election. But the try-hard lead single/video "Just Lose It" irks Michael Jackson, the latest pop celebrity Eminem skewers. Stevie Wonder calls "bullshit," saying Eminem's shot at M.J. amounts to "kicking a man while he's down."
Though Encore receives three Grammy nominations, it's the first major Eminem release to not claim Best Rap Album, which goes to Kanye West's Late Registration. D12 World, the group's sophomore LP, debuts at the top of the charts despite mixed reviews. Single "How Come" is believed to touch on Eminem's fallout with Royce da 5'9".
Eminem writes a letter to Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur, asking if he can executive-produce an album for his departed idol. Produced almost entirely by Mathers, Loyal to the Game sells two million copies and remains the most cohesive of Pac's posthumous works. "He knows what needs to go where, what kick and drum and what bass line sounds fresh, what hook will sound fresher," Bizarre says. "He's a perfectionist."
Shade 45, an uncensored hip-hop station, debuts on Sirus XM Radio and features an all-star roster of well-known rap DJs.
2005 to 2006
Eminem releases Curtain Call, a chart-topping greatest-hits package anchored by new track "When I'm Gone" — which spells out his desire to withdraw from the limelight and spend more time with Hailie and his two adopted daughters, Whitney (Kim's child from a previous relationship) and Alaina (Kim's sister's child). Eminem ranks No. 58 in Bernard Goldberg's book of 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Exhausted and spun on sleeping pills, Mathers cancels the European leg of the Anger Management Tour and enters rehab. He takes a break from recording his own material and focuses on production. Shady Records drops a label compilation, Eminem Presents: The Re-Up, but promising Shady acts Cashis, Stat Quo and Bobby Creekwater never see their own albums hit shelves. Obie Trice's second album, Second Round's on Me, is executive-produced by Eminem, whose beats feature predominantly on the Top 10 CD.
Mathers remarries Kim; the couple re-divorces 11 weeks later but share custody of Hailie. Mathers' best friend, D12 group mate and hypeman Proof is shot and killed outside of a nightclub on 8 Mile Road after an altercation believed to have sparked over a game of pool. A shattered Mathers speaks at the funeral but grows increasingly reclusive and dependent on prescriptive medication. "I just went into such a dark place," he tells XXL in 2009. "And the more drugs I consumed, and it was all depressants I was taking, the more depressed I became, the more self-loathing I became."
2007 to 2008
Eminem buys Michigan's Effigy Studio and begins work on a new solo album but continues to struggle with writer's block. Ties with the Bass Brothers are cut. In December '07, he overdoses on methadone and is hospitalized. In 2008, Mathers begins a 12-step program to stomp out his addiction. He starts running on the treadmill excessively and gets sober in April. Elton John serves as a mentor during his recovery. An autobiography, The Way I Am, allows Mathers to detail his heartbreaks and addictions, his triumphs and trials. Debbie drops her own book, My Son Marshall, My Son Eminem, in which she accuses her son of lying about his childhood. Vibe magazine crowns Eminem the best rapper alive.
Five years after Encore and finally putting away the pills, Eminem begins writing with fervour. The long-awaited Relapse arrives — and with it the resurrection of Slim Shady, returning Eminem to his verbally dense and imaginative alter-ego, an id that thrives in dark beats and darker ideas. Murder, rape and molestation abound. Fuelled predominantly by Dr. Dre beats and dedicated to Proof, Relapse debuts at No. 1, goes double platinum en route to being the biggest-selling rap album of the year, and wins another Best Rap Album Grammy. Eminem tells The New York Times he's been sober since April 2008. The Refill, a seven-track EP of songs leftover from the Relapse sessions, arrives later that year. Eminem himself isn't thrilled with the project, admitting he used too many accents. "I don't think it's his best work, but then again..." Royce tells Exclaim! in 2009, "he set the bar so high. He's said the most incredible things and made the most incredible songs, I'm probably listening to it with biased ears."
Eminem bats clean-up on "Forever," a smash of the titans that features Drake, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Jay-Z calls it the posse cut of the year. Slaughterhouse make a cameo in the song's video, and the group is soon signed to rejuvenated Shady Records. Eminem argues with Ray Romano in the Judd Apatow comedy Funny People.
Originally planned as a sequel to Relapse, another No. 1 album, Recovery, arrives in June and finds the MC refreshed and introspective. Eminem opens himself up emotionally and collaboratively, using a range of talented producers, including Just Blaze, Havoc and Toronto's Boi-1da, who creates redemptive lead single "Not Afraid." Duets with Pink, Lil Wayne and Rihanna all stand out. The latter, "Love the Way You Lie," becomes Eminem's best-selling single yet. Porn star turned actress Sacha Grey stars as Eminem's love interest in a gripping video for "Spacebound." The LP wins yet another Best Rap Album Grammy and eventually tops four million sales domestically. Em shares a bill with Jay Z and sells out baseball stadiums at the Home & Home Tour. Eminem makes a cameo in the season finale for HBO's Entourage.
2011 to 2013
Twelve years after their first hook-up, Eminem and Royce da 5'9" drop an EP as Bad Meets Evil. Hell: The Sequel is a bonanza of wordplay. D12 drops a mixtape, but Eminem features on just one song. Eminem is reportedly offered the lead role in sci-fi blockbuster Elysium but turns it down; Matt Damon gets the gig. Again expanding his search for beats, Eminem breaks out the peroxide and enlists No ID, Scoop DeVille and Rick Rubin for November's The Marshall Mathers LP 2, led by Rubin's "Berzerk," a Def Jam-esque throwback that samples Billy Squire and Beastie Boys. "License to Ill played a big part for me," Mathers writes in his autobiography. "It was them being themselves that helped me figure out how to relax and be me. Made me feel like I could get up there and rock millions. That's what every rapper wants." Hailie is crowned homecoming queen at her Michigan high school.
The Slim Shady LP (1999)
As reverent as a date rape at a family picnic, Shady's introduction to the mainstream brilliantly and boldly offends casual listeners on a broad scale in a way rap hadn't since 2 Live Crew or N.W.A. A rejuvenated Dr. Dre oversees a bugged-out, smart-ass masterpiece. "Just Don't Give a Fuck" is a punch line clinic. The hopeless "Rock Bottom," however, is more Marshall than Slim: "Minimum wage got by adrenalin caged/ Full of venom and rage/ Especially when I'm engaged/ And my daughter's down to her last diaper." It's a hint at the biographical catharsis that will ensue.
The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Flows and production values are escalated for the peroxide poet's most punishing project. At once reckless and precise, playful and disgusting, "Kill You" sets the tone for the best musical response to fame/infamy ever. The three-dimensional, epistolary "Stan" and the defiant "The Way I Am" rival only each other for the best rap song about celebrity. And album cuts "Amityville" and "Bitch Please II" (a West coast gangsta party featuring Dre, Snoop, Xzibit and Nate Dogg) secure Em's spot as the funniest and catchiest battle-rap product.
The Eminem Show (2002)
Em goes three-for-three with his most radio-friendly effort yet. The Eminem Show spawns four top-15 singles while dismantling targets serious (racism, the Bush administration, Mom) and secondary (Canibus, Jermaine Dupri). Misogyny, homophobia and shock value take a backseat to some mature — but still venomous — writing on "Cleanin' Out My Closet," "White America" and "Till I Collapse." The silly showoff songs ("Square Dance," "Without Me") have never been catchier.