Call it reverse discrimination. At a time when most affirmative action programs are under fire from state legislators, it's ironic that Eminem is experiencing discrimination of his own, hip-hop-style.
"I've heard it from black people: 'Why don't you be white? Why don't you do rock 'n' roll?' And I've heard it from white people: 'Oh, you're trying to be black,'" Eminem explains, when asked about the race card with which he is occasionally slapped. "I've heard it all my life. I get offended every time the white issue is brought up. I get it from every angle you can possibly get it from."
Due in no small part to magazine articles with features like "White Rappers Who Don't Suck," Eminem is now part of an elite group of talented rap artists who share a common bond: they aren't black. Yet unlike most other Caucasian rappers, Marshall Mathers (a.k.a. Eminem) is relishing the sweet taste of success.
After his Slim Shady debut (Aftermath) sold 480,000 copies in its first two weeks, and reached the No. 2 spot on Billboard's Pop chart, the roar for the CD was so great that Interscope Records shipped more than 1 million copies, something extremely rare for a first release. Nevertheless, Eminem's debut single is what really set the ears of music-loving fans afire. The diabolically insidious "My Name Is" was heard on the radio more times than a presidential apology, and its video soundly conquered MTV.
Eminem's new project, The Marshall Mathers LP, touted as a collection of lyrical nightmares, features 16 new tracks and claims Dr. Dre as executive producer. Dre also produced seven songs on the CD, including the first single, "The Real Slim Shady." Eminem decided to collaborate with other notable rap artists this time around, including Onyx's Sticky Fingaz and former Death Row Records inmate RBX. While the all-star lineup of West Coast favorites for "Bitch Please 2" will add fuel to the Mathers's recording, Eminem will be the main reason fans flock to music stores to buy the new album.
Like it or not, Marshall Mathers is one popular guy.
Last year, security guards kept an energized crowded club from ripping Em to bits while he earned $5,000 for rapping four songs. Not bad for a former $5.50-an-hour Detroit grill cook. Most MCs can only dream of instant fame, yet Em is experiencing it fully, thanks to songs boasting low-self esteem and rhymes that verify a mundane life lacking expectation.
Full of lyrical escapades that delve into the mind of a violently warped and talented wordsmith, The Marshall Mathers LP is a collection of some of the most memorable and demented lyrics recorded by a rapper in some time. For Eminem, his potentially controversial and "offensive" songs will strike a chord with a multitude of rap loyalists who believe they have little to lose and everything to gain.
"I'm not alone in feeling the way I feel," he says. "I believe that a lot of people can relate to me--whether black or white, it doesn't matter. Everybody has been through stuff, whether it's drastic or not so drastic. Everybody has been through [difficult situations]."
Those comments are more than just a slogan for him. Eminem writes songs that express his rage. Although Eminem has exposed himself to harsh criticism, the rapper continues to spout harsh songs, paralyzing meek listeners with a relentless lyrical assault. That material, though, has also given Dr. Dre an opportunity to stage a comeback in the rap community. Dre was so impressed when he first heard Eminem freestyling on a Los Angeles radio station that he put out a manhunt for the guy. That wasn't, however, the first time Eminem caught Dre's attention.
"I was in the Rap Olympics," Eminem recalls, "and there was some kids from Interscope there. I had an EP out and slipped them a tape. They gave it to Jimmy Iovine [president of Interscope Records], and Jimmy took it home with him. He was living with it for a couple of days before Dre came over [to Iovine's house]. He seen it on the floor, picked it up, popped the tape in, and listened to it, and was like, 'How do we find this guy?' It just so happened that I was out [in L.A.] two or three days later, rhyming on the radio."
Dre heard Em on the radio and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. However, Eminem's personal history isn't as rose-colored. Raised in a single-parent, inner-city Detroit home, tales of mayhem and gloom pepper Eminem's tunes. Personal tragedies pepper the songs.
"My mother has a drug problem," states Eminem flatly. "She's always had one and still to this day will not admit it. You can look at her and see. My mother weighs 90 pounds. So when I go public with that on some of my songs, my mother will call me, like, 'I don't like the part where you say I do drugs because Marshall, you know I've never done drugs,' and blah blah blah,'" he says, imitating his mother. "The only thing I can do is hang up on her. It's unfortunate."
The rapper also says that material in many of his songs reflects the reality he faced growing up. He's never met or talked to his dad. "I don't know who my dad is," Eminem reveals. "I've never even heard his voice."
After peering into the world of Eminem, you would agree that it's not been "all good."
"My reality was that my mother never had a job. Never ever," he explains. "We moved from house to house, apartment to apartment, about every three months. I couldn't even tell you how long I was in one school. I dropped out in ninth grade. I failed ninth grade three times. I could sit here and put the blame on my mother, but I feel that's a cop-out, because if I really wanted to do it, I could have done it. But I can tell you she wasn't any help."
That's not to say that Eminem's an idiot. He understands how dangerous ignorance can be in the music industry, how it can end up costing an artist millions in lost royalties. Just ask Dr. Dre.
"I'm trying to educate myself in that, but that's why I got a personal manager and lawyer that take care of me in every aspect," Eminem asserts, "somebody that's close to me and that I've known for a long time."
Although his plans of earning a GED were thwarted four years ago because he had no stable place to live, Eminem said that he hopes to get it in the future.
"I might if I find time to do it," he says. "Right now I'm so busy. I would love to do it. I would love to be able to go back and say, 'Look, yo, I got my education.'"
That's something that would make any former grill cook proud.