Some would call Eminem hip-hop’s Elvis, which although not incorrect is still quite inaccurate. Eminem was for sure the first white rapper to acquire critical respect and sales together since the Beastie Boys, but his success got even further than this restrictive view. Without a doubt Eminem is among his generation’s greatest MCs when it comes to verbal skills, and he found the right music to match as well thanks to his mentor Dr. Dre. Eminem also brought a lot of controversy. In the early 2000′s, Marshall Mathers became one of the most critized figure of the pop culture. This is especially the result of the violence, most of the time towards is wife or mother, of the psychodramas depicted on his best selling albums, The Slim Shady LP and Marshall Mathers LP that proved particularly offensing especially to the younger audience.
“The Real Slim Shady” and “My Name Is” were two great hits that made Eminem a radio star, and gradually collected as many critics as fans, partly helped by some singles like “Stan”, a depressed song expressing an obsessed fan viewpoint. Eminem then went further and hit theaters with 8 Mile in 2002 which earned him an Oscar for “Lose Yourself”, the movie’s original soundtrack. But he finally lost some momentum and fell off the wagon for almost half of the decade, until he came back with Relapse in 2009.
Marshall Bruce Mathers III was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, a Kansas City subrb and grew up between Missouri and Michigan, before he settled in Detroit as a teenager. He started rapping by 14 with a high school friend with the nicknames “Manix” and “M&M”, which soon changed into Eminem. He was using this nickname when he entered battle rapping, as dramatized in 8 Mile, a fictional adaptation of his own life.
Eminem wasn’t easily adopted by the mostly African-American audience at first, but his skills eventually earned him a reputation and he was soon invited to join some rap bands. The New Jacks was the first one he joined, before Soul Intent which released a single in 1995. Proof was also featured on this single, and both of them left the band to form D-12, in the form of a six-member band that was more a collective like Wu-Tang than a traditional group.
His girlfriend Kim and him had a daughter named Hailey while he was trying hard to settle his career, and this forced him to dedicate more time to his family than rapping. He came up with his first album, Infinite, during this period in 1996 and got some undergroud attention and mixed reviews. Eminem then developed his Slim Shady alter ego, which allowed him to go deeper into his own dark side and helped him cope up with numerous troubles in his personal life. These included a difficult break up with Kim after which he moved in with his mother, increased his consumption of alcohol and drugs, and topped it all with a suicide attempt. All these torments were funneled into The Slim Shady EP, which definitely defined his quirky hallmark, including extremely violent imagery and his unique rhyming style.
The Slim Shady EP landed Eminem a contract with Interscope Records. When he hit the second rank at the 1997 Rap Olympics MC Battle in Los Angeles, Jimmy Ioving – head of Interscope – reached him and gave the EP to Dr. Dre, who turned out to be very interested in working with Eminem.
During this period, Eminem made up with Kim and married her, before the single “My Name Is” was released in early 1999, quickly followed by The Slim Shady LP, which both turned into instant best sellers. Eminem became the center of attention, earning as much disdain as praise for his always controversial violent fantasias.
The Marshall Mathers LP followed in summer 2000 and at this point, Eminem was definitively one of the greatest figure in pop music. This album sold almost two million copies in only two weeks, before Eminem decided to grow some more controversy by attacking other celebrities, provoking them through his lyrics and providing endless grist to tabloids. This added up with the ever growing critism about the violence and alledged homophobia of his lyrics, and Eminem reunited his old friends to reform D-12, which released another album in 2001 before a tour.
In the middle of this agitation, Eminem released Stan, a mournful ballad which turned out to be his greatest hit. He performed it with Elton John at the Grammy Awards, cutting many accusations of homophobia. This song also helped him reach a wider mainstream audience, which served as a springboard to launch 8 Mile in 2001. The biopic depicted a dramatized adaptation of Mathers’ pre-fame days in Detroit and was directed by Curtis Hanson, known as the Oscar-Nominated director of L.A. Confidential. The movie not only earned Eminem lots of praise, but also an Oscar for the original soundtrack Lose Yourself.
Eminem got quiet for some time after this while he recorded The Eminem Show, his third album. Released after the new single Without Me, it also became a colossal hit, although not as much as the previous. Critics mentioned Eminem wasn’t expending his horizons quite enough. In late 2004, his next album Encore managed to reach a more mature audience, especially thanks to the anti George W. Bush protest song Mosh. Some behind the scene events also raised controversy around this album, notably a bus crash, cancelled dates and some time in rehab. Rumor had it that Eminem was close to retirement, and this wasn’t helped by the release of Curtain Call: The Hits in 2005, a greatest hits compilation, nor by the tumult of 2006 when Eminem re-married and divorced from Kim in a four months span, or even the passing of Proof who were shot and killed at a club in Detroit.
He did some lesser studio work during this, before he retreated to his Detroit home and went off the grid. He occasionally showed up from time to time, especially for the launch of Shade 45, a hip hop channel for Sirius Satellit Radio in 2008, but he essentially went through a dry period. Eminem made his comeback in 2009 with Relapse, an album named after an allusion to his prescription drugs issues, which also announced that Slim Shady was back after quite a long absence. Even though it did not turn out to be the kind of blockbuster Eminem had previously, it still went platinum. By the end of the year he released an extended version called Relapse: Refill, with a few outtakes and new songs. In June 2010 was released Recovery, renamed from the initial title Relapse 2, which started on top of Billboard 200 chart for five consecutive weeks. The associated single Not Afraid also hit the top of Hot 100 singles chart.
Eminem also reformed a duo called Bad Meets Evil with Royce da 5’9″ in 2010. Their first EP, Hell: The Sequel, was released in June 2011, after the release of Fastlane, the key EP track, as a single one month before. This EP was the first release of new recordings since their double A-side in 1999. In August 2013, After a long period of recording, Eminem announced a new solo album, titled The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and released in early November.