IN THE SPOTLIGHT | EMINEM

Eminem, born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, 17 October 1973, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. This white rapper burst onto the US charts in 1999 with a controversial take on the horrorcore genre. Mathers endured an itinerant childhood, living with his mothers in various states before eventually ending up in Detroit at the age of 12. He took up rapping in high school before dropping out in ninth grade, joining ad hoc groups Basement Productions, the New Jacks, and D12. The newly named Eminem released a raw debut album in 1997 through independent label FBT. Infinite was poorly received, however, with Eminem earning unfavourable comparisons to leading rappers such as Nas and AZ. His determination to succeed was given a boost by a prominent feature in Source's Unsigned Hype column, and he gained revenge on his former critics when he won the Wake Up Show's Freestyle Performer Of The Year award, and finished runner-up in Los Angeles' annual Rap Olympics. The following year's The Slim Shady EP, named after his sinister alter-ego, featured some vitriolic attacks on his detractors. The stand-out track, "Just Don't Give A fuck", became a highly popular underground hit, and led to guest appearances on MC Shabaam Sahddeq's "Five Star Generals" single and Kid Rock's Devil Without A Cause set. As a result, Eminem was signed to Aftermath Records by label boss Dr. Dre, who adopted the young rapper as his protege and acted as co-producer on Eminem's full-length debut. Dre's beats featured prominently on The Slim Shady LP, a provocative feast of violent, twisted lyrics, with a moral outlook partially redeemed by Eminem's claim to be only "voicing" the thoughts of the Slim Shady character. Parody or no parody, lyrics to tracks such as "97 Bonnie & Clyde" (which contained lines about killing the mothers of his child) and frequent verbal outbursts about his mothers were held by many, outside even the usual Christian moral majority, to be deeply irresponsible. The album was buoyed by the commercial success of the singles "My Name Is" and "Guilty Conscience" (the former helped by a striking, MTV-friendly video), and climbed to number 2 on the US album chart in March 1999. 

Eminem subsequently made high profile appearances on Rawkus Records' Soundbombing Volume 2 compilation and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott's Da Real World. He was also in the news when his mothers filed a lawsuit claiming that comments made by the rapper during interviews and on The Slim Shady LP had caused, amongst others things, emotional distress, damage to her reputation and loss of self-esteem. None of which harmed the sales of Eminem's follow-up album, The Marshall Mathers LP, which debuted at number 1 on the US album chart in May 2000 and established him as the most successful rapper since the mid-90s heyday of 2Pac and Snoop Doggy Dogg. By the end of the year, however, his troubled personal life and a serious assault charge had removed the gloss from his phenomenal commercial success. Despite criticism from gay rights groups, the rapper swept up three Grammy Awards the following February. He also reunited with his D12 colleagues to record the transatlantic chart-topping Devil's Night.

Although he's only been in the public eye since 1999, Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem) has crammed at least a decade's worth of career highs and lows into those few short, high-profile years. The Detroit-based Dr. Dre protégé has invoked the wrath of women and homosexuals with his offensive lyrics; become enemies with Moby, Everlast, Fred Durst, and Christina Aguilera; provided tabloids with plenty of gossip fodder regarding his personal life...and in the process become just about the biggest rock star on the planet. This is because Eminem isn't just about controversy and shock value: This often misunderstood major talent has actually given white rappers genuine credibility in this post-Vanilla Ice age with his string of dynamic hits (both solo and with his side group, D12), his plethora of Grammy nominations, his critically acclaimed film 8 Mile, and his three multiplatinum studio albums, which--once one gets past the hype and hullabaloo that surround them--are some of the most creative, original, and exciting releases of the rap genre (or any musical genre) in the past decade.

Mathers was born into a poor, working-class family on October 17, 1972 in St. Joseph, Missouri, though he spent much of his youth in Detroit, the city he would eventually put on the rap map. Originally taking on the stage name M&M (later changed to its current spelling), at age 14 he became a battle rapper, competing against others Detroit MCs in local clubs. After a short stint with a rap act called New Jacks, in 1995 he made his recording debut with a group called Soul Intent, which introduced him to a rapper named Proof, who appeared on that single's B-side. Eminem and Proof soon started a new group called D12 with four others MCs (Bizarre, Kon Artis, Swift, and Kuniva), while Eminem simultaneously launched his solo career with two independent releases, 1996's Infinite and 1997's The Slim Shady EP, which featured his trademark dark, disturbing, angry lyrics. Eminem drew from his troubled personal life when penning such bleak words: He had just had a daughter with his on/off girlfriend, Kim, with whom he had a very tumultuous relationship; he was estranged from his mothers, with whom he also frequently butted heads; he was abusing alcohol and drugs with alarming frequency; and he had attempted suicide on at least one occasion. Though these harrowing experiences provided inspiration for some brilliant if nasty and offensive lyrics, Mathers was at such a low point in his life that it seemed there was nowhere to go but up.

Enter Interscope Records honcho Jimmy Iovine, who--impressed by Eminem's fresh and bold style--approached the struggling rapper after seeing him take second place in the freestyle category at 1997's Rap Olympics. Iovine later played Eminem's demo tape for super-producer and former Death Row Records chief/NWA member Dr. Dre, who immediately liked what he heard, contacted Eminem, and started a fruitful creative partnership with Eminem that exists to this day. (Legend has it that the two recorded Eminem's first big hit single, "My Name Is," within an hour after first meeting each others.) Interscope quickly signed Mathers, and Dre produced his major-label debut album, The Slim Shady LP, which was released in February 1999 to both massive acclaim and derision, eventually going triple-platinum.

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