Eminem is one of today's most controversial music artists. The explicit lyrics to his songs shock and disgust many people, but he isn't the aggressive, homophobic thug some people assume him to be. The Guardian has praised Eminem as a brilliant poet, and he has shown a more down-to-earth character in interviews. If you look past the vulgar language of his songs, you'll see a complex, multifaceted human being.
Winding Road to Success
Marshall Bruce Mathers III was born on October 17, 1972 in St. Joseph, Missouri and spent most of his childhood moving between Kansas City, Missouri and Detroit, Michigan, his current hometown. The constant moving from place to place made him unpopular in school. Marshall and his mother, Debbie, finally settled in the east side of Detroit when he was twelve years old.
At school, Marshall was frequently bullied, as depicted in his song Brain Damage which mentions an occasion where one such bullying episode resulted in his unconsciousness. Marshall retreated into the comfort zone of his love for rap music. Influenced by rap artists such as LL Cool J, 2pac, Dr. Dre, and N. W. A, he began to develop his own style, battle-rapping with other aspiring rappers. He soon gained the reputation of a quick-thinking and sharp-witted freestyler.
Struggles and First Album
The appearance of a blue-eyed white boy on the predominantly black rap scene was met by much criticism. On several occasions, Marshall was booed off stage before he could even open his mouth. His persistence paid off, though, as people began to realize he was more talented than many full-fledged rappers. He released Infinite, his first album, through a local independent record label but was devastated when it tanked, receiving comments that he sounded too much like rappers Nas and AZ.
Development of Alter Ego
Although Marshall usually performs under his rap name of Eminem, derived from his initials M and M, there's a darker character behind many of his songs. Slim Shady is his foul-mouthed, womanizing, mother-hating alter ego. Slim Shady blatantly rants about drug abuse, promiscuity, sexual preferences, and politics, as well as Marshall's childhood and personal life. For Marshall, Slim Shady is a means by which he can release his anger in a non-violent manner, and this alter ego turned out to be a primary mover and shaker in Marshall's spectacular success as a rapper.
The Slim Shady LP and Superstardom
Marshall continued battle-rapping at various venues, winning second place in the annual Rap Olympics and Freestyle Performer of the Year Award at the 1997 Wake Up Show. These successes encouraged Marshall to make another album, The Slim Shady LP, for which he developed his dark alter ego, Slim Shady, to let out his anger, frustration, and a decidedly warped sense of humor. The infamous Dr. Dre, president of Aftermath Entertainment, caught wind of Marshall's new album and signed him immediately. The two worked on the album, and its official release in 1999 caused a tidal wave of public attention. Marshall had finally hit the big time.
- Content and Style - On The Slim Shady LP, Eminem's alter ego announces, in explicit language, that God sent him to rile up the world. No topic is taboo, whether murder or drug use, and he keeps his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek, peppering his raps with jokes and insults. He raps about his struggles with self-esteem, living hand-to-mouth, and the challenges of being a white guy breaking into rap.
- Critical Reception - When it was released, The Slim Shady LP debuted at the number three slot on the Billboard 200. The album scored a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and sold an astonishing three million copies. My Name Is, one of the album's best-known songs, reached number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance.
Ever since his career took off in 1999, Eminem, or Em as he's called by his fans, has remained an indomitable presence on the rap scene. With every album he has released, he's had his say on a wide variety of issues both private and public, and his personal life has remained a strong influence on his work.
Marshall Mathers LP
Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP in May 2000. After the success of The Slim Shady LP in 1999, Eminem could rap proudly about not being broke anymore. The album, ranked number seven by Rolling Stone on their list of the 100 best albums of the 2000s, propelled the rapper even higher into the stratosphere of both fame and notoriety.
- Content and Style - In The Marshall Mathers LP, Em focuses on the challenges of fame and fortune, as well as the controversies that arose in response to his explicit lyrics. He raps about his difficult childhood and his turbulent relationship with his wife, Kim. He also takes swipes at his critics. In Stan, one of the album's best-known songs, a disturbed fan can't tell the difference between the real-life Marshall and his alter ego Slim and commits a horrific act. The Los Angeles Times praised the track for its superb storytelling.
- Critical Reception - The Marshall Mathers LP was a smash hit out of the starting gate. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and broke all previous records for first-week album sales for a solo artist, selling 1.7 million copies the week following its release. The Marshall Mathers LP eventually became one of the few albums to earn Diamond certification from the RIAA, selling more than ten million copies. The Real Slim Shady became a huge crossover hit song, reaching number four on the Hot 100 and number eleven on the R&B chart.
The Eminem Show
Released in 2002, The Eminem Show kept the rapper's star high. The album, which features even more autobiographical angst than The Marshall Mathers LP, was praised by Slant Magazine for presenting a "more mature Eminem." The wide range of emotions and experience explored by the songs are all the more potent for being delivered with Em's fiercely articulate rapping prowess.
- Content and Style - Em took an active role in production for The Eminem Show, and he incorporated a classic rock influence into his rap sound. He fused hip hop with 1970s-inspired guitar melodies, even using samples of classic rock tunes like Dream On by Aerosmith and We Will Rock You by Queen. Eminem still delights in pushing people's buttons with his lyrics on this album. He reveals more about his upbringing, his motivations, and his heart, especially in Cleanin' Out My Closet, where he expresses anger about his painful upbringing and vows to do better by his daughter and give her the life he never had.
- Critical Reception - The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 284,000 copies in a single weekend. In time, it surpassed the ten million mark, making Eminem one of the few artists to have two Diamond-certified albums. The album received rave reviews, with NME praising it for being the rapper's boldest, most consistent album yet and Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic calling Eminem the "gold standard for pop music." Complex Magazine listed The Eminem Show among its choices for rap albums that deserve classic status.
After releasing The Eminem Show, the rapper took a brief hiatus during which he starred in a semi-autobiographical film, 8 Mile. In 2004, he released Encore as a follow-up album to The Eminem Show. Like the three albums that preceded it, Encore was a spectacular success, especially commercially. Reviews were a mixed bag but tended toward the positive end.
- Content and Style - On his previous albums, Em rapped a great deal about intensely personal subjects, such as his childhood, his love for his daughter, and his tumultuous relationship with his daughter's mother, Kim. You'll find these themes on Encore, but many of the songs deal with Eminem's continuing struggles with fame and ongoing controversies about his lyrics. He waxes political on Mosh, criticizing then-President Bush, and on Like Toy Soldiers, he addresses a violent rap feud. The production on Encore is more sparse, relying on keyboard loops and simple beats.
- Critical Reception - Encore debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 710,000 copies in only four days. Ultimately, the album earned Quadruple Platinum certification from the RIAA. Critically, though, the album wasn't as much of a success as its predecessors. Pitchfork Magazine called Encore a "transitional record." In a review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called it "staid and spartan." Robert Christgau of Rolling Stone wrote that while Encore isn't a masterpiece like The Marshall Mathers LP, the album is still an excellent effort and that Em's music "never feels old."
After the release of Encore, Eminem went through five years of dark and troubled times. He took an extended break from music and became a recluse. During this time, he remarried Kim, the mother of his daughter, but the marriage lasted only eleven weeks before a second divorce. Proof, Eminem's best friend, was shot and killed outside a nightclub. As a result, Em suffered from writer's block, addiction to prescription sleep medicines, and depression before pulling himself together again, getting clean, and releasing Relapse in 2009.
- Content and Style - Eminem's alter ego, Slim Shady, returns to the spotlight on this album, which mixes very dark material with Em's twisted comic genius. Layered over sparse, strong beats, Eminem raps about his descent into depression and drug addiction, often expressing himself with horrorcore serial killer imagery, but the track Beautiful, which Billboard called a "lyrical showcase," is a notable, poignant departure. As on his other albums, Em's storytelling is larger than life.
- Critical Reception - Relapse debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 and sold 608,000 copies during its first week. It went on to earn Double Platinum certification from the RIAA. Reviews for the album were mixed, with Robert Christgau writing for NPR that Relapse is over the top in its horror imagery. NME chided the album for being a "joyless return" to the music scene. Rob Sheffield, though, writing for Rolling Stone, called the album "painful and honest," likening it to Richard Pryor's Live on the Sunset Strip.
Eminem originally intended his follow-up album to Relapse to be called Relapse 2, but as he worked on the music with Dr. Dre, he realized something very different was coming together, so he named the album Recovery. Indeed, it seems the album was both a recovery of his career and his spirit, and Em enjoyed more of an emotional connection with his music again. Unlike Relapse, which focuses on the darkness he endured, Recovery is about encouraging other people who are experiencing tough times to keep their heads up.
- Content and Style - In Recovery, Slim Shady takes a back seat to Marshall Mathers, who explores a variety of themes in the songs on the album. His moods run the gamut from hope to melancholy to anger, but overall, the listener gets a sense that Em has made progress in mastering his demons. In Not Afraid, released as a single, Em offers strength and hope to people who are suffering with depression. Musically, the songs tend to feature introspective minor keys, but his sense of the comic is alive and well.
- Critical Reception - Released in 2010, Recovery debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 741,000 copies in one week. The singles Love the Way You Lie and Not Afraid debuted at number one on the Digital Sales chart with 338,000 and 379,000 downloads respectively, and both songs received Digital Single Diamond Awards for having over ten million sales. Recovery was a tremendous critical success, as well, winning a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and two Billboard Music Awards for Top Rap Album and Top Billboard 200 Album.
Marshall Mathers LP 2
Eminem's intent for the Marshall Mathers LP 2 was to revisit the feeling of the original Marshall Mathers LP and bring to it a fresh take. On this record, Em's dexterity with rhymes takes center stage. Christopher R. Weingarten of Spin Magazine writes that this single record features more rhymes than many other rappers create in an entire career.
- Content and Style - On the Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem revisits both his younger self and style, as well as 1980s rapping. He also brings in a younger rapper, Kendrick Lamar, as a guest on Love Game, and the song comes across like a rap competition. The most obvious point that both Marshall Mathers LPs have in common is their intensely personal nature, and as ever, Eminem's raps are filled with gusto. Berserk, the lead single from the album, celebrates old school rap and debuted at number two on the Hot 100.
- Critical Reception - The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 792,000 copies the first week after its release in 2013, and it ultimately earned Double Platinum status. In 2015, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. The album received generally good reviews, with USA Today calling it a return to the brilliance of the original Marshall Mathers LP. Time Magazine praised Rap God, one of the singles from the album, calling it "divine."
Other Musical Activities
In addition to putting in a great deal of studio time, Eminem has stayed busy with other music-related projects throughout the years. Whether collaborating with other music artists, releasing collections of his greatest hits, or getting his music out there in other creative ways, Em's passion for rap is plain to see.
Collaborations With Other Artists
Eminem has collaborated with a number of other artists, whether those within his own scope of Aftermath and Shady Records, such as Obie Trice, or those outside his circle, such as Dido. There are a number of memorable songs Eminem has recorded with other artists.
- Bad Meets Evil - Bad Meets Evil is a collaborative duo made up of Eminem and Royce da 5'9″. Their album, Hell the Sequel, was certified Gold by the RIAA in 2011, and their song Lighters, featuring Bruno Mars, was certified Double Platinum in 2012.
- 50 Cent - Eminem has worked on a number of projects with the rapper 50 Cent, including the songs You Don't Know, Bump Heads, Love Me, Jimmy Crack Corn, and The Conspiracy (Freestyle).
- Rihanna - Rihanna teamed up with Eminem on two songs that became smash hits: Love the Way You Lie from Em's album Recovery and The Monster from his album The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
- Nicki Minaj - Em appeared as a guest of Nicki Minaj for Roman's Revenge, a song on her 2010 album Pink Friday, which was her debut. For the song, their alter egos, Slim Shady and Roman, get together and collude.
- Jay-Z - Eminem and Jay-Z have been regular collaborators over the years. Some of the projects they have worked on include Renegade from Jay-Z's album The Blueprint and Moment of Clarity from Jay-Z's The Black Album. The two rappers have also toured together.
- Dido - One of Em's most famous songs, Stan, came about as the result of a collaboration between the rapper and British pop artist Dido. The song, which is about an obsessed fan who can't tell the difference between a famous rapper and his alter ego, ranks number two on Complex Magazine's list of the 100 best Eminem songs.
- Obie Trice - Rapper Obie Trice has worked with Eminem on a number of projects, including the songs We're Back, Cry Now (Shady Remix), and Love Me. Trice was signed to Eminem's Shady Records before leaving in 2008, but the two have remained friends and collaborators.
- Lil Wayne - Eminem appeared as a guest on Lil Wayne's song Drop the World from the album Rebirth. The song became a crossover hit, peaking at number eighteen on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2014, the song was certified Quadruple Platinum by the RIAA.
Eminem has released several compilation albums such as box sets and greatest hits records. These include The Singles, released in 2004, Curtain Call: The Hits, released in 2005, Eminem Presents: The Re-Up, released in 2006, Shady XV, released in 2014, and The Vinyl LPs, released in 2015. Curtain Call was the most successful of these compilations, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 on its release and spending an astonishing 350 weeks on the chart.
Eminem has also made his mark as a film star. In 8 Mile, released in 2002, Em plays B-Rabbit, an aspiring young rapper from a troubled home who is determined to make it big. The soundtrack for the film included the smash hit Lose Yourself, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, making Em the first rapper to win an Oscar.
In addition to releasing his pent-up aggression, Eminem raps about politics, today's methods of bringing up children, problems facing the music industry, and social issues. He frequently addresses the controversies generated by his lyrics, a theme not-so-delicately reflected in his song, Just Don't Give A F***. Many people take his music at face value, failing to see the deeper messages under the surface of his blatant lyrical style. His millions of fans worldwide, however, see him as a poetic genius who expresses himself on many issues in a manner that demands attention. Eminem's numerous awards, Quadruple Platinum record sales, and constantly growing fan base prove that his words strike a chord with many.
Through his music, Eminem has bared his heart and soul with regard to his dysfunctional family of origin and the family he created as an adult. His deep, complex feelings give his fans much to consider in understanding both the man and his music.
Hailie Jade Mathers
Eminem's daughter, Hailie Jade, is undoubtedly the love of his life, as portrayed in Hailie's Song and Mockingbird, both of which appear on The Eminem Show. The subject of his daughter has often been raised in various interviews conducted by the media, and Em's heartfelt emotions are plain to see, both in his song lyrics and in the interviews. Eminem also adopted Alaina Mathers, Kim's niece, and Whitney Mathers, Kim's daughter by another man. In addition, he took care of Nate, his younger half-brother who also became a rapper.
Kim Scott Mathers
Eminem and his wife, Kim, have had too many break-ups and make-ups to mention here, many of which have been the focal point of Slim's rants in hits as 97 Bonnie and Clyde and Kim. Despite all the turmoil, there seems to be an undeniable bond between the two of them and despite their troubles, they strive to put their mutual commitment to their daughter at the forefront.
The tumultuous relationship between Em and his mother, Debbie, has been at the forefront of his career, whether in the form of lyrical attacks against her or the $10 million lawsuit that she filed against him in response. The true nature of their relationship is largely unknown, but many of his earlier songs, like My Name Is, portray Debbie as having been irresponsible and drugged up. In the song Headlights, though, from The Marshall Mathers LP 2, he forgives her and tells her she's still beautiful to him because she's his mother.
An Enduring Rap Phenomenon
While Eminem has a decidedly unconventional approach to his music, the messages he portrays are heartfelt. Under his tough, in-your-face surface, Em seems to be like any other regular guy, with strong morals and an undying love for his daughter. Though his life was tainted by his troubled childhood, rap became his primary means of release and expression, and the heart and soul he has put into his work over the years guarantees his lasting legacy in the music industry.