Eminem - Biography
By David Downs
Hard core rapper Eminem (born Marshall Bruce Mathers III) began his climb into the national consciousness in 1996 from Detroit, Michigan with his solo debut, Infinite (1996 – Web Entertainment). The underground album did little to presage the platinum sales Eminem would enjoy for his future, more fearless releases. As evinced by “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” off Mathers’ second release, The Slim Shady EP (1997 Web Entertainment), drugs, self-abuse, his mother and childhood, racism, adultery, sex, poverty, fatherhood, celebrity, and American pop culture became Mathers’ new forte. His groundbreaking use of onomatopoeia, nonlinear narrative, comedic impression, profanity, and slang has more in common with banned French impressionist writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline than the average Top 40 rapper. His following solo albums The Slim Shady LP (1999 Aftermath), The Marshall Mathers LP (2000 Aftermath), The Eminem Show (2002 Aftermath), Encore (2004 Aftermath), and Curtain Call: The Hits (2005 Aftermath), as well as albums with the Detroit group D12 have sold over sixty-five million copies, winning numerous Grammys, Oscars, and a plethora of magazine awards. True to his themes, Mathers has been the subject of numerous criminal and civil court proceedings, including the repeat divorce of his wife Kimberly Anne Scott with whom he has one child. Millions of Mathers fans around world are anticipating Mathers’ next album Relapse in 2009, produced by Dr. Dre.
Marshall Bruce Mathers III was born on October 17, 1972 in Kansas City, Missouri to a fifteen-year-old mother named Debbie and a father who left six months later. Mathers and his mother fled eviction and chased low rent work across the Midwest during the key years of his development. They moved from government housing to that of relatives every six months or less. When Mathers was nine years old, his uncle introduced him to the soundtrack for the film Breakin’ (1984 Polydor). The first rap song he ever heard was Ice-T’s “Reckless.” LL Cool Jay’s “I'm Bad” and the Fat Boys planted a rap career in his young head.
Trailer parks, white trash, and strange schools forced him to retreat into comic books and television. An assault by schoolmate DeAngelo Bailey put Mathers in the hospital (later immortalized in “Brain Damage,” for which Bailey sued and lost). By the age of 12, Mathers ended up in Detroit, the capital of America’s industrial decline. He attended Lincoln Middle High School and Osbourne High, making friends who also liked lewd rap like 2 Live Crew. He began battling rappers at his high school, where he did better than in real fights. According to Mathers, his mother Debbie abused Vicodin and Valium, and she would later be accused by authorities of abusing her second son Nathan Samra-Mathers.
Around 1990, Mathers dropped out of high school after failing the ninth grade three times. He decided to develop his innate talent for rap despite the color of his skin. He has said that at that time, he wished he would have been born black as it would have made life easier. His favorite movie of all time became the 1983 Brian De Palma film Scarface. Young Marshall helped mom make rent by working as a short-order cook, and joining ad hoc groups Basement Productions and the New Jacks. In 1995 he made his recording debut with a group called Soul Intent, where he met lifelong friend and rapper Proof. Eminem and Proof soon started a new group called D12 with four other MCs.
His 1996 solo debut album, Infinite (1996 Web Entertainment), was produced by a variety of people including the Bass Brothers Jeff and Mark, and Mathers sold copies from his trunk. His uncle committed suicide and his high school girlfriend Kimberly Anne Scott became pregnant, yet he pushed on and cut 1997’s desperate, depraved The Slim Shady EP (1997 Web Entertainment). Denaun Porter produced the breakout track “Just Don’t Give A Fuck,” on which Mathers is significantly more unhinged than anything on Infinite. The track resonated and he had found his path. He would pull no punches and vowed to dredge up the darkest parts of himself in his art. The Source magazine’s Unsigned Hype column featured Mathers and he won several prominent rap battles in 1997. Interscope Records’ Jimmy Iovine caught wind and introduced the music of Mathers to gangsta rap icon Dr. Dre, who was looking to stock his personal label Aftermath, as well as prove his ongoing production prowess. Dre signed Mathers in 1998, and Slim Shady became Mathers’ evil twin – sarcastic, foul-mouthed, and corrupt to the core. The two prepped The Slim Shady EP for a full-fledged release, along with “My Name Is” and “Guilty Conscience.”
The highly-anticipated The Slim Shady LP (1999 Aftermath) was produced by Dr. Dre, and Jeff and Mark Bass. It debuted at number two and sold 283,000 in its opening week, going on sell more than nine million units worldwide. “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” appeared on the record, but the first official single was “My Name Is,” which featured the funky breakbeats of Dre combined with the nasal, delirious, staccato delivery of Mathers. “Public Service Announcement” disavowed all responsibility for the lyrics of tracks like “Guilty Conscience,” “Brain Damage,” and especially “’97 Bonnie & Clyde,” but another front of the culture war erupted anyway. “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” contains lines about killing the mother of his child. The entire delivery was meant to provoke a reaction, as Mathers aired the interior wishes and grievances of America’s silent white underclass. Color proved irrelevant, and money dictated morality. Shady toured with The Beatnuts and Mix Master Mike. In 1999, Mathers’ mother sued him for $10 million for slander, but only won $1,600 in damages in 2001. In 2000, he won Grammy Awards for Best Rap Solo Performance for “My Name Is” and Best Rap Album for The Slim Shady LP.
The Marshall Mathers LP (2000 Aftermath) became even more successful than the The Slim Shady LP, selling 1.7 million in its first week. “The Real Slim Shady” and “Stan” managed to anger homosexual rights groups, domestic violence groups, and pop singer Christina Aguilera, who is depicted in “The Real Slim Shady” fellating Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst and MTV’s Carson Daly. Yet the record sold more than twenty million units worldwide and was a Billboard 200 number one. It was nominated for four Grammy Awards including Album of the Year and won the Best Rap Album award. Dr. Dre, Eminem, F.B.T., and Mel-Man produced the record, which employs spare beats as little more than netting over Mathers’ ferocious delivery. “Stan” depicts a crazed fan who commits suicide by driving off a cliff with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk. The macabre story is juxtaposed with pop singer Dido’s “Thank You,” while cinematic sound effects are deployed to chilling effect. Openly gay pop music icon Elton John performed a duet of “Stan” with Mathers at the Grammys, partly to assuage gay rights groups like GLAAD who organized a boycott of the Grammys over Mathers. “The Real Slim Shady” won the 2001 Grammy Best Rap Solo Performance anyway, and he also won Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for “Forgot About Dre,” performed with Dr. Dre.
Mathers was arrested on June 3, 2000, during a fight wherein he brandished an unloaded gun. The next day he assaulted a bouncer. The incidents resulted in two years of probation. On July 7, 2000, Kimberly attempted suicide by cutting her wrists but was granted physical custody of their five-year-old daughter, along with alimony and a personal driver, just a month later. In 2001, Mathers and his manager Paul Rosenberg founded the label Shady Records, with 50 Cent signing to Shady and Aftermath. Kimberly soon filed for divorce. Also that year, Eminem’s side group D12 signed to Shady and debuted the release of Devils Night (2001 Shady), which also became a Billboard 200 number one. Mathers’ probation and its attendant drug testing forced his recreational drug use to end.
In 2002, Marshall played the lead role in the major Hollywood release and semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile. Mathers won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Lose Yourself,” a track which also appeared on The Eminem Show (2002 Aftermath) later that year. It was Eminem’s third straight LP to win a Grammy for Best Rap Album, was the best-selling album of 2002, and has sold almost 20 million albums worldwide. The Eminem Show spawned two top ten and four top 15 singles, including “Without Me,” “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” “Sing For the Moment,” and “Superman.” Produced by Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Jeff Bass, The Eminem Show saw Mathers dealing with his success and fame by attacking it and America’s cult of celebrity.
Encore (2003 Aftermath) continued the trend, selling more than five million copies in the United States and earning a Grammy nomination in 2005 for Best Rap Album. “Encore,” featuring Dr. Dre and 50 Cent, won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group and “Mockingbird” won a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. The album had the added cachet of earning Mathers an investigation by the United States Secret Service, who were looking into allegations that Eminem had threatened the President of the United States in one of his songs. The track “Just Lose It” drew fire for parodying Michael Jackson, who had just been accused of child molestation at the time.
The third major release from Shady Records was 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003 Shady), which became the second fastest-selling debut in U.S. History, after Eminem’s own The Marshall Mathers LP. In 2004, ex-wife Kimberly was sentenced to 30 days in jail after violating her probation for being caught in possession of cocaine. In 2005, Curtain Call: The Hits (2005 Aftermath) collected Marshall’s work along with three new songs – “Fack,” “Shake That,” and “When I'm Gone.” In the summer of 2005, Eminem toured with 50 Cent, G-Unit, Lil’ Jon, and D12. The tour was later canceled due to Mather’s problems with drug addiction. 2005 also saw 50 Cent’s second major release, The Massacre (2005 Shady), sell 1.14 million albums in four days. In 2006, Eminem Presents: The Re-Up (2006 Shady) – a compilation of Shady acts Stat Quo, Cashis, and Bobby Creekwater – was released and charted at number two on the Billboard 200. That same year, Eminem married Kimberly for the second time on January 14, 2006 in Michigan, but they divorced at the end of the year. Also that year, Mather’s longtime friend and collaborator Proof was killed in a Detroit bar fight. On October 21, 2008, Eminem released his autobiography, The Way I Am, and was voted Best Rapper Alive by Vibe magazine.
Marshall’s side project D12 has had large hits with “Shit On You,” “Purple Pills,” and “Fight Music.” Eminem has collaborated with Redman, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Method Man, The Notorious B.I.G., and many others as well as doing voice work for videogame 50 Cent: Bulletproof and the Comedy Central show Crank Yankers. On a personal level, Mathers has one daughter with Kimberly, Hailie Jade Scott, and is the adopted father of Alaine, the daughter of Kim’s sister, as well as his half-brother Nathan. His long-absent father has attempted to contact him since he has become famous, but Mathers has refused contact.
Eminem has been the only white man to ever be on the cover of both The Source and XXL magazines. He was in many ways Hip-Hop’s Barack Obama, symbolically nullifying race as a determining factor for success in the field of rap. The toxic memories of America’s underclass at the twilight of its greatest century became the material of his platinum records. He battled a requisite list of addictions and blood feuds on the way to selling over 65 million records worldwide. He ranks among groundbreaking American icons like Elvis Presley, and his next (and allegedly final) Relapse, released in 2009, continued his success, followed by Recovery in 2010. He is presently working on a new studio recording.