Friday, 24 July 2009
10:07:04 PM (GMT)
Another biography, didn't write it
In a few short months, Eminem has gone from being one of the most heralded emcees in
independent hip-hop to one of the most provocative, controversial rappers in
contemporary pop music. The overnight success of his debut album, The Slim Shady LP,
literally rocked the rap world, making him one of the biggest music success stories
of 1999. But Eminem is more than the latest rap artist to blow up. He's spent the
last several years paying his dues, and his lyrics, which cover topics such as
poverty and single parenthood, reflect a rough upbringing. His unlikely acceptance by
the pop mainstream has made some wonder how his popularity will affect the future of
Before he had the world singing along to "My Name Is �," he was Marshall Mathers, a
poor kid growing up in Warren, Mich. "It's like the real, stereotypical, trailer
park, white trash," Eminem told Rap Pages earlier this year. As a child, he and his
mother moved constantly, staying at relatives' homes in places as disparate as Warren
and Kansas City, Mo. As a result, Marshall found it difficult to make friends, and he
retreated into his comic books and television. "I didn't really start opening up
until eighth grade, going into ninth," he said.
When Mathers was 12, his mother finally settled down on the east side of Detroit.
There, he attended Lincoln Junior High School and Osbourne High School, hanging out
with friends and listening to artists like LL Cool J and the 2 Live Crew. He battled
against other rappers at his high school, and quickly gained a reputation as a nimble
rhymer. But his penchant for skipping school led him to fail the ninth grade. After
dropping out of high school, he held down several odd jobs, while continuing to work
on his craft. "I tried to go back to school five years ago," he said, "but I couldn't
do it. I just wanted to rap and be a star one day."
Mathers rapped in several groups such as Basement Productions, the New Jacks, and
Sole Intent, before deciding to go solo. In 1997, he released an album, Infinite,
through a local company called FBT Productions; it was met with derision from the
local hip-hop community. "I was getting a lot of feedback saying I sounded like Nas
or Jay-Z," he admitted. Despite the criticism, Eminem continued to promote himself
through shows and appearances at radio stations and freestyle competitions across the
nation. His perseverance garnered him a notice in the Source's influential "Unsigned
Hype" column. Later that year, he won the 1997 Wake Up Show Freestyle Performer of
the Year from L.A. DJs Sway and Tech, and earned second place in Rap Sheet magazine's
"Rap Olympics," an annual freestyle rap competition.
In 1998, Eminem put out The Slim Shady EP, which contained the original version of
"Just Don't Give A �" "Slim Shady is the evil side of me, the sarcastic,
foul-mouthed side of me," he said during an interview with the Source. The EP made
him an underground star, and Eminem was invited to appear on underground MC Shabaam
Sahdeeq's "Five Star Generals" single, Kid Rock's Devil Without a Cause, and other
rap releases. At the end of the year, Eminem put out a popular 12-inch, "Nuttin' to
Do/ Scary Movies," with fellow Detroit rapper Royce the 5'9".
Meanwhile, a copy of The Slim Shady EP made its way into the hands of Dr. Dre, the
legendary creator of The Chronic and N.W.A., and current president of Aftermath
Entertainment. Dr. Dre quickly signed Eminem to his label, and the two began
preparing The Slim Shady EP for a full-fledged release, adding songs like "My Name Is
�" and "Guity Conscience." Early in 1999, Eminem made the world take notice with
his charismatic video for "My Name Is �" parodying everyone from Marilyn Manson to
the President of the United States. Shortly afterward, The Slim Shady LP debuted at
No. 3 on the Billboard Album Chart. Its sensationalistic depiction of rampant drug
use, rape, sex, and violence horrified some; equally disturbing was Eminem's various
four-letter-word insults directed at his mother and songs like "'97 Bonnie and
Clyde," where Eminem fantasized about killing the mother of his child.
In defense, Eminem claimed that he was just speaking his mind. "I do feel like I'm
coming from a standpoint where people don't realize there are a lot of poor white
people," he explained in the Source. "Rap music kept my mind off all the bulls--t I
had to go through." His cynical take on life struck a chord with millions of rap
fans, and drove The Slim Shady LP to double-platinum-plus sales. He began to tour,
including a solo jaunt with the Beatnuts and Mixmaster Mike.
While most in the hip-hop community greeted Eminem with open arms, others took a more
cautious approach, wondering why rock stations across the country who never played
rap music added "My Name Is �" to their playlists. Was it because Eminem was the
first "legitimate" white rapper to gain widespread popularity? "I'm white in a music
started by black people. I'm not ignorant to the culture and I'm not trying to take
anything away from the culture," he said in his defense. "But no one has a choice
where they grew up or what color they are. If you're a rich kid or a ghetto kid you
have no control over your circumstance. The only control you have is to get out of
your situation or stay in it."
Throughout the year, Eminem has continued to record for other artists, making
appearances on Sway and Tech's This or That compilation, DJ Spinna's Heavy Beats Vol.
1, Missy Elliott's Da Real World, the Soundbombing 2 compilation, and Dr. Dre's
highly anticipated sequel to The Chronic, Chronic 2001: No Seeds. And in June and
July of 1999, the rapper took to the road with the Warped tour, filling in for
Cypress Hill, who decided to forgo the tour in favor of recording its next album.
After wrapping up his touring commitments, Eminem plans to take a short break before
returning to the studio to record the follow up to The Slim Shady LP. In the
meantime, he can bask in the glow of his many awards. Not only is he up for Best New
Artist in the Source's Hip-Hop Music Awards, he also garnered four MTV Video Music
Awards � "My Name Is �" nabbed nods for Best Male Video, Best New Artist, and
Best Director, and "Guilty Conscience" earned him a Breakthrough Video nomination.
- Mosi Reeves, Wall Of Sound