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Eminem May be Slightly Crazy
Eminem is a rarity: he’s built an entire pop music career based on his dislike for pop culture. When he first appeared on the music scene, confusion ensued over his many identities: was he Eminem or Slim Shady or Marshall Mathers? For those of you still confused, let us clarify: Marshall Mathers is the birth name, Eminem is the stage name, and Slim Shady is the shady force that makes him speak his mind. We acknowledge the fact that Eminem, Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers are three highly distinct characters; however, in the interest of clarity, we’ll put his self-induced schizophrenia aside in this article and simply lump them all together as Eminen.
To write the life story of Eminem in this article seems a bit redundant, since he himself does a very thorough job telling his life story in approximately nine out of ten of his songs. However, for those of you who are having trouble keeping track of the recurring characters Kim, Hailie, Ronnie and Debbie, we’ll do a quick recap for you:
Eminen’s October 17, 1972 birth took place in St. Joseph, Missouri. However, he grew up in Detroit, Michigan (though you probably already knew that). He has been married twice, both times to the same woman, known to anyone who has listened to his lyrics as promiscuous villainess Kim. The pair has a daughter, Hailie, who also appears in most of Eminem’s songs, most notably as the Bonnie to his Clyde in ’97 Bonnie and Clyde. Eminem and Kim first divorced in 2001 after a long estrangement. Interestingly, the fact that he repeatedly threatened to kill her in his song lyrics didn’t dissuade Kim from remarrying Eminem in January 2006. This time, she apparently learned her lesson, divorcing him one month shy of what would have been the one-year anniversary of their second wedding day.
Little is known about Uncle Ronnie, other than he was Eminen’s best childhood friend. Although they shared a grandmother, making them uncle and nephew, Ronnie was only two months older than Eminem. The two planned to be a rap duo someday, but tragically, Ronnie died in 1991. Eminem has mentioned Ronnie in several songs, and wanted to commemorate him by using his voice in a 2001 song. His grandmother threatened to sue, adding yet another feud to the Mathers family tree.
Now that Eminem’s home life is nice and fresh in our minds, let’s get to his career. Eminem first started rapping around the age of 13. Later, circa 1995, he joined a group called Soul Intent, raising a few interested pairs of eyebrows locally with their tape, Fuckin’ Backstabber (the first of many, many experiments with inappropriate lyrics for Eminem). 1996 saw his first solo release, an underground album called Infinite. Reactions included no airplay and claims that Eminem was just a local rip-off of established greats like Nas and AZ. Wanting to prove that his career wasn’t quite as finite as the interest in his first album, Eminem went on to record The Slim Shady EP, which included a creepy song about feeding his daughter called—what else?—Murder, Murder.
Eminem’s first album, the Slim Shady LP, caused controversy worldwide, and not just because of the Eminem/Slim Shady/ Marshall Mathers perplexity. Aftermath/Interscope wasn’t the only label attached to the triple platinum selling album. Other labels included misogynistic, homophobic and pro-violence. Before we all collectively roll our eyes at the deep-seated Christian influences still rampant in the American collective consciousness today, let’s be fair and admit that Eminem DID bring these labels on himself through a CD-full of suggestive lyrics and dark-themed songs. In the hit single My Name Is, for example, he recounts the following fantasy: “Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee's tits off/ And smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kris Kross.” ’97 Bonnie and Clyde had Eminem and his daughter, Hailie, driving in a car with Hailie’s mother and Eminem’s estranged wife, Kim, in the trunk, preparing to dispose of her body. Guilty Conscience is a clever duet with Dr. Dre in which Eminem plays the devil on the shoulder, Dr. Dre plays the angel. The song was blacklisted by moralists everywhere, probably because Eminem, in his role as devil, encourages the holding up of an aging store clerk, the raping of a fifteen-year-old girl, and the murder of his philandering wife’s lover.
May 2000 saw the much-anticipated release of The Marshall Mathers LP, Emimen’s fastest-selling album to date. The first single, the catchy The Real Slim Shady, was basically Emimen’s tribute to himself: he praised himself as being the real Slim Shady, and accused all those pesky other Slim Shadies of just imitatin’.
Then, just as critics were ready to dismiss Eminem as just another narcissistic pop icon, Eminem began showing evidence of a social conscience. His second and third singles off The Marshall Mathers LP raised some interesting and pertinent points about society. The Way I Am lyrics suggest that blaming the likes of Marilyn Manson for tragedies of the Columbine caliber was ridiculous; in Eminen’s opinion, it would make more sense to blame the parents. (Blaming the parents is an Eminem specialty. We’ll explore this topic further in a few paragraphs.)
Then came his third and most controversial single to date, Stan. Stan lyrics tell the story of an obsessed fan who writes Eminem letter after letter, confessing his problems with self-mutilation and difficulty coping with a loved one’s suicide. The fictional Stan was sympathetic to listeners at first, but as the song wore on, Stan became increasingly creepy, berating Eminem for not having spoken to him outside a concert where Stan and his nephew had been waiting in the cold for four hours. Stan’s creepiness climaxes when he ties his pregnant girlfriend up, locks her in the trunk of his car, drinks a fifth of vodka and drives off a bridge, killing himself, his girlfriend and their unborn daughter, Bonnie. Devoted Eminem fans realized that Stan had borrowed this plot from the ’97 Bonnie and Clyde lyrics. The song ends with Eminem finally replying to Stan, wishing him luck with his daughter, urging him to seek counseling, telling him about a psycho he’d heard about the other day who’d driven his family to their death… realizing, too late, that the psycho in question is Stan himself. The song raises hairs on backs of necks even today.
Naturally, Stan raised controversy. Formerly blasé mothers now banned Eminem merchandise from their children’s bedrooms. Devoted fans and intelligent listeners, however, recognized the song for what it was: an important social commentary, Eminem’s way of saying that it’s not the media who programs the socially deranged, but rather the socially deranged who misinterpret the media. Clearly, Stan’s problems were deep-rooted, around long before controversial Eminem lyrics were.
Music critics recognized the song for what else it was: a masterpiece. It was named the third best rap song of all time by Q Magazine, the 10th best rap song by Top40-charts.com, and number 290 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all time.
Interestingly, Stan launched the career of another now-legendary musician: Dido. Nowadays, we know the Irish songstress for makeout music classics like White Flag and Here With Me, but no one in North America had ever heard of her until her now-famous song, Thank U, was sampled as the chorus of Stan.
Eminem also released three other hit albums, The Eminem Show, Curtain Call and Encore, all international successes.
Eminem adding acting to his list of abilities when he starred in the 2002 movie 8 Mile. Many critics raved about his brilliant performance, speculating Eminem might be a Jack Nicholson or Robert DeNiro in the making. Other critics raised eyebrows. Could Eminem’s portrayal of a young, hopeful rap artist growing up in a ghetto broken home really qualify as acting? They murmured to one another: “Is it me, or does this movie sound a lot like his REAL life?” The debate evoked memories of Courtney Love’s acclaimed acting in 1997’s The People Versus Larry Flint, in which she portrayed a heroin addict.
However, the general consensus was that 8 Mile was excellent. The only real criticism of it came from hoards of young women and a few gay men, who were disappointed that his long-anticipated sex scene with Brittany Murhpy contained no nudity.
8 Mile also produced a best-selling soundtrack, including the hit song Lose Yourself, famous not only as a great song, but also as one of the few Eminem songs where he doesn’t pay homage to himself. Some music critics suggest that Lose Yourself was popular not just because of its lyrical strength or its complex melody, but also because it was the first Eminem song listeners could truly relate to. Lose Yourself gave Eminem fans a much-appreciated break from the saga of Kim, Hailie, Debbie, and Eminem swapped his usual mix of death threats and self-congratulation to deliver a message of hope to his audience: “Do not miss your chance to blow/This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” Whatever the reason, everyone loved Lose Yourself—even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who awarded Eminem the coveted Oscar for Best Original Song in 2002. Lose Yourself is also the confidence-building, dancing in front of the bedroom mirror song of choice for slickers-in-training worldwide trying to mentally toughen themselves up for sporting events, job interviews, or first dates.
Now, as promised, let’s return to the issue of Eminem’s mother, Debbie. Time and again, Eminem has disproved Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus Complex theory through his very public wrath for his own mother, Debbie. His lyrical assaults of Debbie go back to his earliest commercial work. “How you gonna breastfeed me?” he challenged in My Name Is. “You ain’t got no [breasts]!”
Admittedly, Debbie Mathers is no Cindy Walsh. We don’t know exactly what she did to make Eminem respond to the question, “What would you do if you could go back in time?” by saying he’d go back to the day he was born and kill his mother as soon as she gave birth to him. We do know that she filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against him—but then again, it was for defamation, so we can’t say the woman didn’t have a case. She then went out to put out her own rap album defending her case, taking the term mother-son bonding to a peculiar new level.
Finally, let’s look at some of the people Eminem has managed to anger, hurt and alienate through his lyrics:
Christina Aguilera. In The Real Slim Shady, Eminem talks about wanting to sit between Carson Daly and Fred Durst at an awards show and listen to them argue over on who she first performed fellatio. Christina Aguilera was, up until then, known only as a bubblegum blonde who sang saccharine songs with titles like What a Girl Wants, but she really held her own against Eminem, paving the way for the “Fighter” image she’d portray in future music videos.
NSync. Members of the pop group wondered, teary-eyed, why Eminem claimed to be “sick of them” and “sent here to destroy” them in the Without Me lyrics.
Moby. Eminem blatantly dissed Moby in Without Me, saying, “You’re too old. Let go. It’s over. Nobody listens to techno!” Interestingly, Moby’s sales records increased several-fold after the release of Without Me. Eminem’s diss earned Moby a whole new generation of fans.
Mariah Carey. In the Superman lyrics, he portrayed the high-note highness as a control freak who mistook their casual fling for something deeper. No one really listened to him, though, and to this day it remains an established fact in music history that they were once involved in a brief but fully consensual relationship.
GLAAD. The gay and lesbian rights organization has repeatedly criticized Eminem for his homophobic lyrics. Eminen repeatedly replied that his lyrics weren’t meant to be taken seriously. But, alas, no one seemed to trust the words of the man who’d threatened to beat Pamela Anderson until her clothes sat backwards, like those of early 90’s rap duo Kris Kross. So instead, Eminem showed everyone he wasn’t homophobic: he performed Stan at a Grammy Awards show with the real Queen of England, Elton John. Elton John sang the Dido parts of Stan, and Eminem terminated their performance with a very gay-friendly hug. GLAAD members and other activists still weren’t convinced, but this performance did manage to make Elton John cool again.
The Cheneys. He made fun of them in Without Me. No one objected.
What will this musical Messiah bring us next? Are the rumours true—will he really retire? Can we look forward to another deliciously scandalous album, or will he merely devote his life to establishing prodigies like D-12 and Akon? Stay tuned for the next R-rated episode of the Eminem/Marshall Mathers/Slim Shady show…