Personalities | Eminem | Twenty-First Century | Rock

Marshall Bruce Mathers III was born on 17 October 1972 in Detroit, Michigan. The exact details of his upbringing there and in nearby Warren are unknown, suffice to say he was raised solely by his mother Debbie, and the upbringing, reputedly poverty-stricken, provided ample subject matter for much of the rapper’s lyrical material.

8 Mile And Detroit

Marshall Mathers was introduced to hip hop music, which he soon came to adore, by his uncle Ronald Polkingham. A high school drop-out, Mathers entered the hip hop world with gusto. Taking the name Eminem (after his initials), he performed from the age of 13, and quickly built a reputation as a skilled wordsmith (in the local scene at least). Early work with the group Soul Intent was popular but relatively unknown, but increasingly the young Mathers found himself ranking highly as a solo performer in verbal battles with other local rappers.

The period is covered in the 2002 film 8 Mile (named after a rough area of Detroit), in which Eminem played himself in a story based on his life. The film would earn him an Academy Award and Grammy for the accompanying soundtrack.

A debut album Infinite (1996), which Eminem recorded while still living with friends and family, was sold from the boot of his car – although few sold. The aim had been to raise enough money to support his girlfriend (Kim Scott) through her recent pregnancy. Hailie Scott was born in late 1995, with Kim’s threat of refused access pushing Mathers to a suicide attempt.

Long-Awaited Success

Rap entrepreneur/producer Dr. Dre, of seminal outfit N.W.A. – himself a mean rapper – somehow found Eminem’s demo cassette in 1997, although the exact details of how remain sketchy. Infinite therefore paved the way for Eminem’s Slim Shady LP (1999). Slim Shady was an alias for Eminem, and a character who represented the more damaged side of the rapper. Here was a narrator who would urge men to kill cheating wives and then dispose of the body in a lake. Unsurprisingly, the album caused a storm of controversy, but for every detractor there would be a voice championing the white star – one increasingly ruling a traditionally black genre.

The album sold triple platinum in its first year – but music fans were not surprised. Debut single ‘My Name Is’ was a comedic romp with a lazy, addictive sample. ‘Stan’, a chillingly self-aware tale of a man driven to murder, supposedly inspired by Eminem, saw its sampling of Dido project her to new levels of fame, such was the growing magnitude of the rapper.

The next step for Eminem seemed to be to self-reference, to verbalize the strains that came with superstardom. Fans liked this just as much, and The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) sold three times as well as its predecessor. Later albums, although still selling extremely well, were perhaps too infused with Mathers’ increasing mental instability to cross over as well as they had...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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