A quiet boy from Detroit that dreamed of simply becoming a rapper is now thought to be one of the greatest hip hop performers of all time. Eminem, born Marshall Mathers, aka Slim Shady, has had the life and career of three men, filled with many ups and downs. A rebel and a loving father, a musician and an entrepreneur, he was the one to enter the mainstream by pointing out everything that’s wrong with it.
Marshall Mathers III was born from a teenage romance between Marshall Bruce Mathers Jr. (then 18 years old) and Deborah Rae Nelson (then 17 years old) in St. Joseph, Missouri, after a 72-hour-long labour that nearly killed his mother. Eminem’s parents were, briefly, in a band together called Daddy Warbucks. He was their only child. He is of English, German, Scottish and Swiss-German ancestry.
Eventually, the couple broke up and Bruce moved to California where he had another two children. He never continued his relationship with Eminem. According to Debbie, Eminem tried to contact his father via letters, but they were all returned to him. When Eminem was 14, Debbie also had another child, Nelson. Growing up, Eminem often moved homes with his mother, shifting between different family members. When he was 12, they finally settled in Detroit, in a lower-middle-class and primarily black neighbourhood, where he was often bullied. On one occasion Eminem even got injured in the head, which lead to Debbie filing a lawsuit against his school.
As a quiet, introvert child, Eminem got interested in rapping and storytelling at an early age of 4, but firstly aspired to be a comic-book artist. The first rap song he heard, Reckless, came on a soundtrack given to him by his uncle Ronnie Polkinghorn, Debbie’s half-brother. Ronnie and Eminem had a close relationship, with Ronnie becoming Eminem’s musical mentor until his suicide in 1991. Eminem’s relationship with his mother, however, was far from good as they fought frequently, and it continued to deteriorate all through their lives.
Eminem began actively rapping when he was 14, together with his school friend Mike Ruby. This is where his nickname was born, firstly written as his initials M&M. Eminem also visited freestyle rap battles in the neighbouring high school, with his friend Proof, and attended open mic contests. He struggled to make a breakthrough in, what was mostly a black industry, which led him to feel rejected and angry. This is all reflected in his lyrics that are often dark and controversial.
In 1987, Debbie invited Kimberly Ann Scott and her twin sister, both high school friends of Eminem who ran away from home, to stay with them. Kim and Eminem became a couple and continued an on-and-off relationship for years.
Two years later, Eminem, who repeated the ninth grade three times, finally dropped out of school. He worked at several jobs to help pay the bills and wrote songs in his free time.
In 1995, he and Kim had a baby girl, Hailie Jade Scott.
Eminem has wrote songs about his life in general, pouring down his emotions into the lyrics, all while being careful that each of his verses rhyme. He eventually joined several rap groups, with the most significant being the D12 (The Dirty Dozen or Detroit’s Twelve), made up out of six rappers, including his friend Proof, who later died in a nightclub shooting.
In 1996, Eminem recorded his first album entitled Infinite. The album was not a success and Eminem got criticized for being too mild with his lyrics, which led him to write angrier songs and develop an alter-ego called Slim Shady. In 1997, Eminem recorded the Slim Shady EP.
That year he decided to travel to Los Angeles to attend the Rap Olympics. He entered the contest for the $1,500 cash prize but came in second after an hour-long battle. This is where he first got spotted by the producer from The Interscope Records, who sent a copy of the Slim Shady EP to his company’s CEO. The tape made its way to Dr. Dre, the founder of The Aftermath Entertainment and a founding member of the N.W.A. hip-hop group. Dr. Dre tracked Eminem down and invited him to work together. What came out of it was the Slim Shady LP, released in 1999, and a great friendship and collaboration between the two that will prove to last for years.
The Slim Shady LP became one of the year’s most popular albums, certified triple platinum by the RIAA by the end of the year. The controversy of the lyrics of the album didn’t go unnoticed as Eminem rapped about, for example, killing his wife. That same year Eminem was given his own record label, called Shady Records, which later on signed D12 and 50 Cent.
In 2000, Eminem released the Marshall Mathers LP. The album broke Snoop Dogg’s record for fastest-selling hip hop album and Britney Spears’ for fastest-selling solo album and made Eminem known worldwide as the controversial rapper that insults celebrities and writes about his darkest fantasies and trying to deal with his fame. Stan, the third single from the album, featuring Dido’s Thank You was named the third-greatest rap song of all time by the Q magazine and 296th on 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list by the Rolling Stone magazine.
In 2002, Eminem released The Eminem Show, which proved to be another success, certified ten times platinum. That same year Eminem starred in a quasi-autobiographical film 8 Mile, alongside Kim Basinger and Brittany Murphy. The film was a representation of growing up in Detroit, inspired but not completely based on rapper’s life. Eminem recorded new songs for the soundtrack, including Lose Yourself, a song that won him an Academy Award and became the longest-running number 1 hip hop single in history.
Albums that followed were Encore, in 2004, then Curtain Call: The Hits, in 2005, and Eminem Presents: The Re-Up, in 2006, which lead to Eminem going on a break during which he focused on pulling his personal life together and bettering himself as a producer. In 2009, Eminem came back with Relapse, an album that was not as successful as those at the peak of his career, but still a commercial success with positive reviews. Then there was Relapse: Refill, a re-release of the album with seven bonus tracks. 2010 brought the album Recovery, the best-selling digital album in history, that made Eminem break the record for the most successive US number-one albums by a solo artist. In 2013 Eminem released the Marshall Mathers LP 2, his eighth studio album.
Today, Eminem is focused on his production projects, and rumoured to be working on his next album.
There is no doubt about it that where there’s mention of Eminem, there is mention of the controversies he brings as an artist.
In 2000, Eminem appeared on the cover of The Source magazine as the first white artist to ever do so. He personally despises the fact that the colour of his skin needs to come up whenever people talk about his career.
His lyrics, that often include curse words used for homosexuals made him to be thought of as a homophobic by many. In 2001, Eminem and Elton John teamed up to perform his song Stan at the 43rd Grammy Awards, proving everyone wrong and making it on the best-of list by The Entertainment Weekly. However, the collaboration was still criticized by GLAAD, who protested on the night of the performance. Eminem and Elton went on to become close friends.
Homophobia charges and those about violence against women that many believed Eminem advocated in his lyrics, led him to be almost banned from entering Canada and Australia.
In 2003, the United States Secret Service stated that it was looking into the allegations of Eminem’s threat towards the president of the United States. This response was triggered by lyrics from a song We As Americans, featured in his album The Eminem Show. The controversial sentence was: I don’t rap for dead presidents.
Album Encore that came out in 2004 featured the song Just Lose It, and the video for it parodied Michael Jackson and Madonna, amongst other celebrities. Eminem was pressured to pull the video (MTV decided to keep on airing it) and to apologize to Michael publicly. In 2007 Michael revenged by buying Famous Music, Viacom’s publishing division, with Sony, which earned him rights to Eminem’s songs.
Eminem established the Marshall Mathers Foundation which works on helping disadvantaged youth. Like many other celebrities, he has also created his own fashion line called Shady Limited. However, unlike any other celebrities, Eminem doesn’t like to think of himself as one. For example, he didn’t attend the Academy Awards ceremony because he didn’t think that was somewhere he belonged.
Eminem was married twice to the same woman, Kim Scott, in 1999 and then again in 2006. Both times they divorced in less than a year.
The two met when he was just 13 and she was 15, in high school. When Kim and her sister ran away from home, Eminem’s mother let them move in with them. They then began a turbulent, on-and-off relationship. In 1995, the couple had a daughter, Hailie. After their second divorce, Eminem had a shared custody. He also adopted his niece Laine (who grew up with Hailie), Whitney (Kim’s daughter from another relationship) and received custody of his half-brother Nathan.
When he was 20, Eminem got arrested for being involved in a drive-by shooting with a paintball gun, but the case was dismissed. When Hailie was born, he and Kim lived in a dangerous neighbourhood, which led to their house being broken into several times. Eminem worked for a minimum wage at Gilbert’s Lodge, cooking and washing dishes. The stress of the life led him to start using drugs and even try to commit suicide.
After the success of his first album, Eminem’s mother sued him for slandering her. She received over a million dollars in damages. A year later, Eminem was arrested again, this time for pulling out an unloaded gun. The next day, he got arrested yet again for assaulting a man he saw kissing his wife. After pleading guilty, he got away with a two years’ probation.
In 2001, Eminem was again sentenced to one year’s probation on weapon charges during an argument with an employee of the Psychopathic Records.
Eminem has been honest about his addiction to prescription drugs, lasting for several years, that first began during the shooting of the 8 Mile film, when the rapper developed insomnia. The problem led to him taking an enormous number of pills just to feel normal again, and him gaining a lot of weight. This culminated in 2007 with a methadone overdose. Finally, in 2008, he began a rehabilitation that revolved around an exercise program, with Elton John as his mentor during this period.
Today, Eminem works with a clear mind, helping other artists express themselves through his production projects.
Written by: Tamara Djordjevic