1972–1991: Early life
Eminem was born on October 17, 1972, in St. Joseph, Missouri, the only child of Marshall Bruce Mathers, Jr. (born June 30, 1951; known as Bruce) and Deborah Rae "Debbie" Nelson (born January 6, 1955). Debbie was 14 when she met 18-year-old Bruce; at age 17, she nearly died during her 73-hour labor. Eminem's parents were in a band called Daddy Warbucks, playing in Ramada Inns along the Dakotas–Montana border before their separation. Bruce left the family, moving to California and having two other children: Michael and Sarah (born c. 1982). Debbie had son Nathan "Nate" Kane Samara on February 3, 1986. During his childhood, Eminem and Debbie shuttled between Michigan and Missouri, rarely staying in one house for more than a year or two and living primarily with family members. In Missouri, they lived in several places, including St. Joseph, Savannah, and Kansas City.
As a teenager Eminem wrote letters to his father; according to Debbie, all came back marked "return to sender". Friends and family remember Eminem as a happy child, but "a bit of a loner" who was often bullied. One bully, De'Angelo Bailey, severely injured Eminem's head; Debbie filed a lawsuit against the school in 1982, which was dismissed the following year. Eminem spent much of his youth in a working-class, primarily black, Detroit neighborhood. He and Debbie were one of three white households on their block, and Eminem was beaten by black youths several times. As a child he was interested in storytelling, aspiring to be a comic-book artist before discovering hip hop. Eminem heard his first rap song ("Reckless", featuring Ice-T) on the Breakin' soundtrack, a gift from Debbie's half-brother Ronnie Polkinghorn, who later became a musical mentor to him. When Polkinghorn committed suicide in 1991, Eminem stopped speaking for days and did not attend his funeral.
Eminem's home life was seldom stable; he frequently fought with his mother, whom a social worker described as having a "very suspicious, almost paranoid personality". When her son became famous, Debbie was unimpressed by suggestions that she was a less-than-ideal mother, contending that she sheltered him and was responsible for his success. In 1987, Debbie allowed runaway Kimberly Ann "Kim" Scott to stay at their home; several years later, Eminem began an on-and-off relationship with Scott. After spending three years in ninth grade due to truancy and poor grades, he dropped out of Lincoln High School at age 17. Although he was interested in English, he never explored literature (preferring comic books) and disliked math and social studies. Eminem worked at several jobs to help his mother pay the bills, later maintaining that she often threw him out of the house anyway. When she left to play bingo, he would blast the stereo and write songs.
At age 14, Eminem began rapping with high-school friend Mike Ruby; they adopted the names "Manix" and "M&M", the latter of which evolved into "Eminem". Eminem sneaked into neighboring Osborn High School with friend and fellow rapper Proof for lunchroom freestyle rap battles. On Saturdays, they attended open mic contests at the Hip-Hop Shop on West 7 Mile, considered "ground zero" for the Detroit rap scene. Struggling to succeed in a predominantly black industry, Eminem was appreciated by underground hip hop audiences. When he wrote verses, he wanted most of the words to rhyme; he wrote long words or phrases on paper and, underneath, worked on rhymes for each syllable. Although the words often made little sense, the drill helped Eminem practice sounds and rhymes.
1992–1999: Early career, Infinite, and The Slim Shady LP
Eminem in Germany, 1999
As Eminem's reputation grew, he was recruited by several rap groups; the first was the New Jacks. After they disbanded he joined Soul Intent, who released a single on their 1995 self-titled EP featuring Proof. Eminem and Proof then teamed up with four other rappers to form The Dirty Dozen (D12), who released their first album Devil's Night in 2001. Eminem had his first run-in with the law at age 20, when he was arrested for his involvement in a drive-by shooting with a paintball gun. The case was dismissed when the victim did not appear in court.
Eminem was soon signed to Jeff and Mark Bass's FBT Productions, and recorded his debut album Infinite for their independent Web Entertainment label. The album was a commercial failure upon its release in 1996. One lyrical subject of Infinite was his struggle to raise his newborn daughter, Hailie Jade Scott Mathers, on little money. During this period, Eminem's rhyming style, primarily inspired by rappers Nas, Esham and AZ, lacked the comically violent slant for which he later became known. Detroit disc jockeys largely ignored Infinite, and the feedback Eminem did receive ("Why don't you go into rock and roll?") led him to craft angrier, moodier tracks. At this time Eminem and Kim Scott lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and their house was robbed several times. Eminem cooked and washed dishes for minimum wage at Gilbert's Lodge, a family-style restaurant at St. Clair Shores. His former boss described him as becoming a model employee, as he worked 60 hours a week for six months after Hailie's birth. He was fired shortly before Christmas, and later said, "It was, like, five days before Christmas, which is Hailie's birthday. I had, like, forty dollars to get her something." After the release of Infinite, his personal problems and substance abuse culminated in a suicide attempt. By March 1997 he was fired from Gilbert's Lodge for the last time, and lived in his mother's mobile home with Kim and Hailie.
Eminem attracted more attention when he developed Slim Shady, a sadistic, violent alter ego. The character allowed him to express his anger with lyrics about drugs, rape, and murder. In the spring of 1997 he recorded his debut EP, the Slim Shady EP, which was released that winter by Web Entertainment. The EP, with frequent references to drug use, sexual acts, mental instability and violence, also explored the more-serious themes of dealing with poverty and marital and family difficulties and revealed his direct, self-deprecating response to criticism. Hip-hop magazine The Source featured Eminem in its "Unsigned Hype" column in March 1998.
Eminem (left) at the ARCO Arena for the Up in Smoke Tour, June 2000
After he was evicted from his home, Eminem went to Los Angeles to compete in the 1997 Rap Olympics, an annual, nationwide battle rap competition. He placed second, and Interscope Records staff in attendance sent a copy of the Slim Shady EP to company CEO Jimmy Iovine. Iovine played the tape for record producer Dr. Dre, founder of Aftermath Entertainment and founding member of hip-hop group N.W.A. Dre recalled, "In my entire career in the music industry, I have never found anything from a demo tape or a CD. When Jimmy played this, I said, 'Find him. Now.'" Although his associates criticized him for hiring a white rapper, he was confident in his decision: "I don't give a **** if you're purple; if you can kick it, I'm working with you." Eminem had idolized Dre since listening to N.W.A as a teenager, and was nervous about working with him on an album: "I didn't want to be starstruck or kiss his ass too much ... I'm just a little white boy from Detroit. I had never seen stars, let alone Dr. Dre." He became more comfortable working with Dre after a series of productive recording sessions.
Eminem released The Slim Shady LP in February 1999. Although it was one of the year's most popular albums (certified triple platinum by the end of the year), he was accused of imitating the style and subject matter of underground rapper Cage. The album's popularity was accompanied by controversy over its lyrics; in "'97 Bonnie and Clyde" Eminem describes a trip with his infant daughter when he disposes of his wife's body, and in "Guilty Conscience" which encourages a man to murder his wife and her lover. Guilty Conscience marked the beginning of a friendship and musical bond between Dr. Dre and Eminem. The label-mates later collaborated on a number of hit songs ("Forgot About Dre" and "What's the Difference" from Dr. Dre's album 2001, "Bitch Please II" from The Marshall Mathers LP, "Say What You Say" from The Eminem Show, "Encore/Curtains Down" from Encore, and "Old Time's Sake" and "Crack a Bottle" from Relapse), and Dre made at least one guest appearance on each of Eminem's Aftermath albums. The Slim Shady LP has been certified quadruple platinum by the RIAA.
2000–2002: The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show
Eminem and Proof at Voodoo Experience in October 2000
The Marshall Mathers LP was released in May 2000. It sold 1,760,000 copies in its first week, breaking US records held by Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle for fastest-selling hip hop album and Britney Spears' ...Baby One More Time for fastest-selling solo album. The first single from the album, "The Real Slim Shady", was a success despite controversies about Eminem's insults and dubious claims about celebrities (for example, that Christina Aguilera had performed oral sex on Fred Durst and Carson Daly). In his second single, "The Way I Am", he reveals the pressure from his record company to top "My Name Is". Although Eminem parodied shock rocker Marilyn Manson in the music video for "My Name Is", they are reportedly on good terms; Manson is mentioned in "The Way I Am", appeared in its music video and has performed a live remix of the song with Eminem. In the third single, "Stan" (which samples Dido's "Thank You") Eminem tries to deal with his new fame, assuming the persona of a deranged fan who kills himself and his pregnant girlfriend (mirroring "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" from The Slim Shady LP). Q magazine called "Stan" the third-greatest rap song of all time, and it was ranked tenth in a Top40-Charts.com survey. The song has since been ranked 296th on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list. In July 2000, Eminem was the first white artist to appear on the cover of The Source magazine. The Marshall Mathers LP has been certified 10× platinum by the RIAA.
Eminem performed with Elton John at the 43rd Grammy Awards ceremony in 2001, with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD, an organization which considered Eminem's lyrics homophobic) condemning John's decision to perform with Eminem. Entertainment Weekly placed the appearance on its end-of-decade "best-of" list: "It was the hug heard 'round the world. Eminem, under fire for homophobic lyrics, shared the stage with a gay icon for a performance of "Stan" that would have been memorable in any context." On February 21, the day of the awards ceremony, GLAAD held a protest outside the Staples Center (the ceremony's venue). In 2001 Eminem appeared in the Up in Smoke Tour with rappers Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Ice Cube and the Family Values Tour with Limp Bizkit, headlining the Anger Management Tour with Papa Roach, Ludacris and Xzibit.
The Eminem Show was released in May 2002. It was another success, reaching number one on the charts and selling over 1.332 million copies during its first full week. The album's single, "Without Me", denigrates boy bands, Limp Bizkit, Dick and Lynne Cheney, Moby and others. The Eminem Show (certified 10× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America) examines the effects of the rapper's rise to fame, his relationship with his wife and daughter and his status in the hip-hop community, addressing an assault charge brought by a bouncer he saw kissing his wife in 2000. Although several tracks are clearly angry, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic found The Eminem Show less inflammatory than The Marshall Mathers LP. L. Brent Bozell III, who had criticized The Marshall Mathers LP for misogynistic lyrics, noted The Eminem Show's extensive use of obscenity and called the rapper "Eminef" for the prevalence of the word "************" on the album. The Eminem Show was the best-selling album of 2002.
2003–2007: Encore and musical hiatus
On the Anger Management Tour promoting Encore
On December 8, 2003, the United States Secret Service said that it was "looking into" allegations that Eminem had threatened the President of the United States. The cause for concern was the lyrics of "We As Americans" ("**** money / I don't rap for dead presidents / I'd rather see the president dead / It's never been said, but I set precedents"), which was later released on a bonus CD with the deluxe edition of Encore.
I am surprised that Edgar is into Eminem now - it's great to broaden your music horizon into the younger music scene.
"8 Mile" was really a great movie, liked it a lot and it showed the early struggle of Eminem living in Detroit with an alcoholic mother in a trailer. He's overcome a lot in his life and his music is testimony to that.
I love that song together with Rihanna. He did collaborations with other artists too, Black Eyed Peas comes to mind - and they were all great songs.
Sun 4 Jun, 2017 12:35 pm
It's Eminem's early life, how he overcame the hopelessness that might have overcome a lesser spirit, that inspires me to know him. It will take time for me to get a handle on it, but I will persevere.
Sun 4 Jun, 2017 01:16 pm
I loved '8 Mile' and Eminem's flow and word choice is superior, I think.
I've read that his lyrics dip into brutal homophobia, but I haven't heard that in the few songs I've listened to. I know Elton John stands beside him... Curious.
His flow is highly infectious 😆 to me.
Mon 5 Jun, 2017 06:54 am
I can't understand a word he says. Maybe when I get my hearing aids next week. Here's a paraphrased quote from Ray Charles: "If I were 15 I would be doing rap. It doesn't touch my heart."
Ray Charles also said about Rap that it wasn't music; that just saying rhymes over a beat was something any child could do.
Here's the quote I was thinking about - from the LA Times in 1994:
Ask what he thinks of rap and hip-hop and he answers politely--at first.
"You have to remember I'm a musician," said the singer-keyboardist who back in the '50s did as much as anyone to pry open the body of American pop and inject it with soul. "So rap doesn't do anything for me; I can't learn anything from it. Rap is like reciting poetry--I could do that when I was 7. All you have to do is match (the words) with the rhythm. That's nothing. That's . . . (expletive)"
Remember: at the old a2k format there was a thread about rap where a few guys put out lyrics to challenge others. Even Gustav came one day and gave us his best rap lyrics. Now I am going to look for that thread....it was good!
I had a friend who had this knack for limericks. They'd just flow into his mind like thoughts in prose do for normal people. He could dis a person very deftly and hilariously with his limericks. I was the butt of many of them. Ironically, he didn't like rap. The rhythms are very different.