Over 25 years into his career, Eminem’s impact on the culture has been immeasurable and wide-reaching, inspiring millions of fans globally as well as challenging outdated stereotypes. Half composed and matured, half unhinged, vulgar and playful, Eminem is in a league of his own in terms of lyricism and flow, and arguably regarded as the greatest rapper of all time in certain unbiased circles. His history, however, is plagued with controversy, hurdles and challenges, with each and every one of his albums reflecting his headspace at the time.
Eminem began rapping in middle school, mimicking LL Cool J and other big names through primitive raps in a humble beginnings story, eventually dropping out of high school after failing ninth grade repeatedly and jumping feet first into the local freestyle rap scene. After years of grind, he released his two debut albums in ‘96 and ‘99 respectively, with the latter being a Grammy-award winning – Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance, no less – masterpiece.
The success wasn’t at all short lived either. Despite a $10 million defamation lawsuit from his mother in 1999 – which came about as a result of Em labelling her as a drug-addict – and a failing marriage which went on to end promptly, Slim Shady released The Marshall Mathers LP, which included hits like “The Real Slim Shady” and “Stan”. The album also featured many more disturbing songs featuring an insight into what was an unhinged, deranged headspace, with one song “Bonnie & Clyde” rapping about a man killing his wife, just before the rapper’s own relationship reached its climax. Once again, he won a Grammy for Best Rap Album, and went on to perform with the legendary Elton John in one of the most iconic Grammy performances of all time.
In the late 90’s and early 00’s, Em was a white man in a black man’s game. Yes, he was showcasing every piece of prerequisite talent needed to make it big in music, but the color of his skin was always a source of controversy. This, in combination with the often dark and violent lyrics from alter ego Slim Shady, drew a lot of negative energy. This prompted industry-wide confusion when he was signed to Dr. Dre’s label Aftermath. Defending his decision to sign the newcomer, Dre said “I got a couple of questions from people around me, you know, ‘He’s got blue eyes, he’s a white kid.’ But I don’t give a f–k if you’re purple: If you can kick it, I’m working with you.” Moving onwards – and massively upwards – Em became a figurehead for the rap scene, with every release and project being critically acclaimed and hugely successful. He featured in 8 Mile, a movie telling his life story, with the film opening eyes as to how hard his life had actually been. He began to open eyes across America, changing prejudices and showing that rap was for everyone.
Just as everything was going up, and his ascension to superstardom seemed cemented, he became addicted to prescription pills. “I was taking so many pills that I wasn’t even taking them to get high anymore,” he told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I was taking them to feel normal. Not that I didn’t get high. I just had to take a ridiculous amount. I want to say in a day I could consume anywhere from 40 to 60 Valium. And Vicodin… maybe 20, 30? I don’t know. I was taking a lot of sh-t.” After a life-threatening overdose in ‘06, he went to rehab, got clean and, in his own words, grew up. His comeback came by way of Relapse and Recovery, two studio albums which took Eminem straight back to the limelight. At this level of fame, Em introspectively reflected on his personality, saying to long term friend Elton John in interview “It might sound weird, given that I’m always trying to get people’s attention with my music, but I’m not an attention-seeker, when I’m not Eminem, and I’m just Marshall–it’s hard.”
He wouldn’t release any more music until Revival in 2017, which saw the star collaborate with Beyonce and Ed Sheeran among others. More recently, his status as the GOAT of rap was disputed by Machine Gun Kelly fans, as the pair fought it out in a long term beef. While his career has been turbulent, and laden with controversy, his influence and prominence is undeniable. What began in Detroit as a hobby alongside school went on to be a force to be reckoned with.