‘Hi kids, do you like violence, wanna see me stick nine-inch nails through each one of my eyelids, wanna copy me and do exactly as I did, try ‘cid, and get fucked up more than my life is?’ Little did he know, but this question would catapult Eminem, and his alter-ego, Slim Shady into a global phenomenon. Idolised by millions across the world, his lyrics would see him attacked by politicians, celebrities and the parents of his fans. (alike)
Born Marshall Mathers, his music inspired an entire generation of kids, but what he encouraged them to do is still up for debate. Twenty years on from his debut album, everyone knows his name, most know his music, but his lyrical content hasn’t aged as well as the loyalty of his fanbase. Nowadays, a songwriter would find it impossible to repeat the lyrics of the classic Slim Shady persona. Yet, Eminem’s legacy survives. In 2018, Marshall Mathers released his tenth studio album without warning, sending shockwaves around the world.
Eminem was born in Missouri, to a 15-year-old mother and a father he claims he’s never met. As a child, Eminem and his single mother, Debbie, lived in various houses throughout the American Midwest before settling in Detroit, Michigan. This constant moving around coupled with a childhood spent as a victim of teenage bullies, left a young Eminem shut off, and feeling like an outsider. However, he found a friend in his uncle Ronnie who introduced the young Marshall to hip-hop.
In his music, Debbies portrayed as a less than adequate mother, who popped pills and abused a young Marshall and his half-brother. However, the struggling single mum allowed a teenage runaway to seek refuge in their home, a young girl with blonde hair and fiery attitude that had a teenage Marshall smitten. This runaway would become another focal point of Eminem’s music, and his wife, twice.
The name Eminem evolved from an earlier stage name taken from Marshall’s initials, M&M when he performed with a local rapper known as Manix. However, there was one local MC who helped Eminem become one of the greatest rappers in the world; Proof. Proof sneaked Eminem into Osbourn High School where the pair hustled the other students in lunchroom battle raps. The predominantly black crowd refused to believe they could lose to a white MC, and bet against Eminem. Their ignorance was Proof’s gain.
Infinite and Battle Rap
Eminem built his entire brand off techniques he learned through underground rap battles in Detroit. Wordplay, punchlines and tongue in cheek lyrics comprise the majority of Eminem’s work. During this time, the battle rapper also held down various jobs, mostly as a short-order cook. However, his debut album Infinite gave Marshall hope of a better life for him and his new daughter, Hailie, born a few months earlier.
Infinite lacked the battle-rap lyrics that would make Marshall Mathers a star. However, the rhyme schemes of a legend began to shine along with concept type songs that would later give us songs like Lose Yourself and Stan. in these earlier days we got songs like Tonite and Maxine.
Infinite’s opening four lines.
My pen and paper cause a chain reaction
To get your brain relaxing’, the zany acting maniac in action
A Brainiac in fact, son, you mainly lack attraction
You look insanely wack with just a fraction of my track spun
The problem was this album did nothing. Critics shun the record, and it never sold more than a thousand copies. Listeners thought Eminem sounded like New York rappers AZ and Nas. Critics stood by their past biases. White men can’t rap.
The Rise of Slim Shady
Viewing himself as a failure, Eminem fell into a deep depression after the release of Infinite. Proof encouraged him to join a group of MCs’ and came up with the idea that each member should develop an alter-ego. The group would become to be known as D12. Eminem would choose the moniker Slim Shady, an outlet for the rage and frustration the young Marshall felt.
In Guts Over Fear, released in 2015, he raps, ‘and the crazy part is, as soon as I stopped saying a gave a fuck, haters started to appreciate my art.’ The song charts Eminem’s journey from aspiring rapper to a rapper who sold out stadiums and created ‘Shady Mania.’ The line in question harks back to a darker time for Eminem when he first began working on music under the Slim Shady name.
The first release to carry this moniker, and a project deemed he’s last option owing to his new responsibilities as a father, was the Slim Shady EP. An eight-track tape in which half of the songs would go on to feature on his major-label debut LP. The EP wasn’t a raging success, and physical copies remain elusive, but it earned Eminem recognition in the Sources ‘Unsigned Hype’ column and a chance to impress one of the greatest producers in Hip-Hop history.
Eminem competed in the 98 rap Olympics in LA but left the venue dejected after placing second. Impressed by his performance, a young man asked Eminem for a copy and he tossed one at him, unaware that he was talking to an Interscope intern.
The Slim Shady LP, executively produced by Dr Dre, introduced the world to an underground character filled with hate and anger. On Songs like Role Models, he asked kids, how many want to grow up to be just like him and made it cool to be the outsider. On Rock Bottom, he gave a voice to all who felt ignored when he showed what it looked like to live with depression.
That’s rock bottom when this life makes you mad enough to kill
That’s rock bottom when you want something bad enough to steal
That’s rock bottom when you feel like you’ve had it up to here
‘Cause you mad enough to scream, but you’re sad enough to tear
The singles on this album didn’t delve inside the man behind the character and led to critics assuming this man was the evil image of the demon he portrayed. My Name is, introduced the world to violent drug-fuelled lyrics told in a humorous tone while guilty conscience showed a lack of concern for what is right or wrong. In the song, Eminem plays the devil on the shoulder, while Dre provides the opposite opinion. However, at the end of the song, Shady convinces Dre to encourage the subject to commit a heinous crime. Proof, that negativity can impact everyone regardless of who we are.
The album proved controversial, but Eminem finished the album with reference to a song a few tracks earlier the final listing, and the first promotional single Eminem released in which he’s seen without his trademark bleached blonde hair. Eminem insisted we shouldn’t take his lyrics seriously, he even says so on ‘I’m Shady,’ but Eminem finishes off the album with a warning to anyone who criticises his lyrical content, he still doesn’t give a fuck.
The Slim Shady LP went platinum, but Eminem’s next two albums would shatter records worldwide, and catapult Eminem into a god-like figure for millions of people around the world. He would go onto win an Oscar for ‘best original song’ with Lose Yourself, where he charted the struggles of performing. The song was a huge success and written while filming his blockbuster semi-autobiographical film, 8 Mile. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t know what ‘Mom’s spaghetti’ means.
However, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ released a year after his major-label debut album proved the most controversial of all his works. The album featured a return of the Slim Shady persona, but the material grew darker, and his writing felt more personal, hence the Albums’ title. The first single, The Real Slim Shady, provided comic relief and promised a return to form for the successful rapper, but the following singles highlighted the darker side of Shady’s character.
On The Way I Am, Eminem vented frustration towards the fans and media who wouldn’t let him live his regular life, and goes as far as telling them that he sometimes wishes he would ‘die or get fired.’ In response to critics and label executives, he says he doesn’t think he’ll ever top what ‘My Name Is,’ but both singles and this album proved Eminem could beat his already colossal success.
Eminem faced persecution from anti-hate groups such as GLAAD who refused to understand the world Eminem came from, where shock value won battles. Public interest groups accused him of hating women and encouraging violence towards them after he murdered Kim for the second time. However, Eminem addresses these allegations on Stan, a story about an obsessed fan who worships the character he plays. Stan ends up driving his pregnant wife off a bridge after the rapper doesn’t respond to his numerous letters. Eminem then raps, that his ‘clowning’ with his lyrics, and warns the obsessed fan against taking his songs seriously.
‘But don’t blame me when little Eric jumps off the terrace, you should’ve been watching him; apparently you ain’t parents,’ Eminem says on Who Knew after telling parents that his job is to entertain and not to parent their kids. Later in the song, Eminem compares his violent music, filled with drug references, and offensive language to the movies and real world. ‘And last week I seen a Schwarzenegger movie where his shooting all sorts of motherfuckers with an Uzi, I see these two little kids up in front row screaming go, with their 17-year-old uncle, I’m like guidance, ain’t they got the same mums and dads who got mad when I asked if they like violence?’
Eminem used his music to confront his demons and lashed out when he felt attacked. He didn’t lash out in magazines and portrayed himself as a goofy caricature, but when Marshall felt attacked, he wrote down how he felt and gave the world a lyrical masterpiece that swept across the globe. Achieving diamond certification, and selling 1.7 million copies in a week, a feat he would only match on his third album, The Eminem Show.
The Eminem Show
The Marshall Mathers LP ended with a lyrical onslaught attacking all those who felt Eminem’s music should face censorship, and he labelled himself a criminal. The intro track to The Eminem Show resumed this position with White America, but a more mature Marshall Mathers used well-written poetry to address his critics as opposed to his typical tongue in cheek humour. On White America, he calls out America’s history of racism and suggests his lyrics have only become a problem because of the white audience he managed to reach.
On this album, Eminem addressed a ten-million-dollar lawsuit by his mother on Cleaning out My Closet and showed his vulnerability by singing an ode to his daughter, Hailie. He also showed off his ability to rap seriously and still created great music while maintaining an air of light-heartedness.
He caused controversy by openly discussing an alleged affair with Mariah Carey, but he also called out rap figures such as Cannibus and Jermaine Dupri. He also made jokes about Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and techno musician Moby, a throwback to earlier Eminem who poked fun at celebrities and famous figures such as Britney Spears and Cristina Aguilera.
The ‘Slim Shady LP’ showed Marshall’s humorous side and the ability to have fun while dressing up as a woman in his rap videos, while the ‘Marshall Mathers LP’ showed us a darker side to Marshall Mathers psyche. ‘The Eminem Show’ introduced us to Eminem, the serious rapper, and with every album, each personality wove into each other to help create a sound that was unique to the man himself. The humanised rapper. With three platinum albums, an Oscar-winning song and movie, Eminem wasn’t on top of his game, but the world, and he let us all know how much he hated this new life.
I love my fans but no one ever puts a grasp on the fact
That I sacrificed everything I had
I never dreamed I’d get to the level that I’m at
This is wack, this is more than I ever could of asked
Everywhere I go, a hat, a sweater, hood or mask
What about math? how come I wasn’t never good at that
It’s like the boy in a bubble who never could adapt I’m trapped
If I could go back, I never would of rapped
I sold my soul to the devil, I’ll never get it back
I just want to leave this game with level head intact
Say Goodbye to Hollywood.
In 2005, Eminem released Curtain Call, a greatest hits album, calling time on his rap career. The record featured a new track entitled When I’m Gone, where Eminem urged fans not to cry for him ‘when I’m gone,’ he’ll always look down on them from heaven. The song didn’t speak about Eminem’s potential death but symbolised the end of his alter-ego, Slim Shady, in favour of leading a healthy family life. The song detailed his issues with being away from home while on tour and his decline into prescription drug use told through the eyes of his daughter, Hailie.
A year later, his best friend and the man who helped create the legend that is Slim Shady was shot and killed in Detroit. Proof’s death shocked Eminem. Not only did it affect he’s mental health, but he’s drug use accelerated as he struggled to cope with the loss of someone who had always been there for him.
On Christmas Eve 2007, Eminem was found unconscious in his bathroom. After rushing the rapper to hospital, doctors managed to revive him, although Eminem says he was less than two hours from death. In 2008, he checked himself into rehab. A year later, the giant of Hip-Hop would resurrect his alter-ego with another Dr Dre produced album. Now, clean, soba and nearly forty, the album was ironically named, Relapse.
The New Eminem
Eminem would shrug off his first release since cleaning up his act. Until his seventh studio album, Eminem released funny, satirical type singles but on Not Afraid, his first lead single to break the typical Eminem style he rapped, ‘the last two albums didn’t count, Encore (2004) I was on drugs, Relapse (2009) I was flushing them out.’ This lyric suggests Eminem wasn’t content with making the music that made him a star and preferred to represent his current life.
Relapse has grown on fans over time, although at the time of its release, critics slated it as being too immature for a rapper nearing forty years of age. However, this album boasts some of the best rhyme schemes ever crafted by Marshall Mathers, even if he doesn’t say much for most of the project. The album opens with a serial killer fairy-tale, then a satirical attack on his mother, followed by a fictional story of child abuse. The album, while humorous, lacked the anger or the emotional lyricism that compiled his earlier works.
Soon as my flow starts
I compose art like the ghost of Mozart
Even though they all say that they’re real
I know that most aren’t
Stay Wide Awake
Eminem scrapped plans for a Relapse 2 and opted to release his second album within a year titled Recovery. The lead single, Not Afraid, debuted at number one. The album featured a new sound, a more commercial pop fuelled album, although the lyrical quality remained. Eminem reached new heights with features from Rihanna, on Love the Way You Lie, he approached his dysfunctional marriage more maturely.
Eminem raps about his disappearance from the limelight and the challenges he overcame during his break from music. He has a song dedicated to Proof and numerous songs that discuss his love for Hip-Hop but how much the industry has stolen from him. Almost Famous details his come up, but 25 to Life lists everything he gave up reaching the height of his fame. Overall, the album received positive reviews, but some fans missed the old style of Slim Shady. Not the jest-filled lyrics of Relapse, or the deeply personal songs of Recovery, but the angry young blonde who aimed his hate-scorched words at everyone, and everything.
At the BET awards in 2017, Eminem resurfaced with a freestyle attacking the newly elected Donald Trump. In the freestyle Eminem drew a line in a sand and told supporters that anyone who was a fan of his, and supporter of trump, must choose between the two of them. ‘and if you can’t decide, who you like more, and you’re split, on who you should stand besides, I’ll do it for you with this,’ and he stuck his signature middle finger up at the camera.
A year later, Revival finally dropped to mass scorn. The fans who once made Eminem one of the highest-selling artists of the year whenever he released new music, didn’t take to the album. Possibly because he called them out in his freestyle a year earlier, or maybe because they didn’t like the album. However, the album still went to number one and sold more copies in its first week then any other album released that year.
On the second track, Eminem asked his fans if they still believed. The list of critics grew, and fellow rappers and fans alike began answering the question for him, no. The album struggled to capture the same heights as previous projects, but many fans stuck by him and appreciated the apology to his ex-wife Kim, and his reflection on his near-fatal overdose.
The problem with this album was its lack of individual identity. It felt as though Eminem tried to cram every previous record onto one CD. The fallout continued. Commentators discussed his legacy as though one lousy record could destroy his entire career. Some made it personal. Some used the backlash to attack his previous works. The wheels came off, and everyone who never had the space to say something negative about one of the greatest of a generation, suddenly found a voice. But Eminem built his name snapping back at critics.
Is Slim Shady Back?
Eminem attacked everyone on the Chloraseptic remix released in January 2018, in response to the negative critique of his album. One of the criticisms of Revival was of the new ‘woke’ Eminem. Who wants to hear a woke Eminem, the man who built his brand on offending everyone? But Eminem asked in response, ‘what the fuck have I woke to?’ However, he captured the attention of die-hard fans when he promised to return.
I just add it to the fuel in my rocket pack
‘Til I’m ready to respond, then I’ma launch it at ’em
Idiotic from the fuckin’ embryonic sac
To the body bag, I’ll be back
And when I am, I’ll be at your fuckin’ throat like—
Eminem went on to receive positive reviews for his verses on features such as Caterpillar, by Royce Da 5’9” where he attacked mumble rappers. These two verses showed the capability of Eminem to deliver high-speed content filled poems despite ageing and now approaching fifty.
Then, out of nowhere, Eminem returned with his rage-filled tenth studio album, Kamikaze. The album took shots at an enormous list of doubters and detractors. On The Ringer, he attacks so-called mumble rappers and the media for stoking the flames of the backlash. From bar one, he explains what he wants to achieve with the album.
Let me explain, just how to make greatness
Straight out the gate, im about to break it down
Aint no mistakes allowed, but make no mistake
Im about to rape the alphabet, might raise some brows.
Eminem then went on to label himself the greatest, and possibly the best to ever do it. On the Greatest, he told his critics that if they keep pushing him, he’ll rewind time and remind everyone what he did to his past enemies. But in this song Eminem explains why his album was received so harshly, and in his own words, so unfairly when he raps ‘the bar for me when I rap isn’t fair, but guess that’s the standard I’m held to, but if something like that doesn’t tell ya, you see a bar to high when platinum sales are looked at as failure, then you better take it back to the shelter and hamburger helper, cause dammit I’m still the greatest in the world.’
The irony of this track is significant because, despite the success, awards and records he’d broken, it was the first time, Eminem openly called himself one of the best. The man who called himself a Rap God, usually remained shy of claiming the crown seriously. However, the negative reviews of Revival set Eminem on edge. Eminem asked fellow rappers what gave them the right to criticise him, when he said, ‘like a wedding bell, you’ve gotta be diamond to even climb in the ring, (with him.)’ The diamond Hip Hop club is a tiny circle indeed.
I done said a lotta things in my day, I admit it
This is payback in a way, I regret it that I did it
I done won a couple Grammys, but I sold my soul to get ’em
Wasn’t in it for the trophies, just the fuckin’ recognition
Fuck’s the difference?
I’m that cracker, bend the law, fuck the rules
Man I used to risk it all, now I got too much to lose
I been eatin’ long enough, man my stomach should be full
I just ate, lick the plate, my buffet, lucky me
Lucky you, Eminem.
The album wasn’t without fault, and critics still found a way to dismiss the rapper. The album went to number one, and fans and rappers alike praised the album. However, critics continued to doubt the relevance of Eminem, but Eminem’s history proves one thing, he raps better when his ‘backs against the wall.’ Rumours continue to surface about new albums, but Eminem said on Fall when he lashed out at every rapper and commentator who attacked him, ‘well you wanted Shady, you got him.’