WITH HIS MIND RIGHT AND RHYMES TIGHT, HIP-HOP’S BIGGEST BLOCKBUSTER RAPPER ISN’T READY FOR WAR ANYMORE. MARSHALL “EMINEM” MATHERS IS CLEAN AND SOBER AND PUTTING SHATTERED PIECES OF HIS LIFE BACK TOGETHER AGAIN, ONE POTENT HIT AT A TIME
WORDS: THOMAS GOLIANOPOULOS II PHOTO: SCOTT COUNCIL
EMINEM IS A 37-YEAR-OLD DAD who goes to work every day and has a fantasy football team. He is trying really hard to be normal. Of course it’s too late for that. His childhood was totally fucked. His drug addiction to a myriad of prescription pills and alcohol nearly killed him. He is incredibly talented—only guys like Kobe Bryant and Roger Federer know what it’s like to be that damn good at something. And once again, he stands alone as the biggest rap star in the world. In June, his seventh studio album Recovery sold 741,000 copies during its first week. That’s more than Drake sold. That’s more than Jay-Z sold last time out. Hell, that’s more than even Justin Bieber sold. Some people were surprised. (1) Others were not. (2) Either way, it’s quite the comeback story.
Eminem points out several times on Recovery that his previous two albums, 2004’s Encore and 2009’s Relapse, were not very good. It helps that he is sober now and has been through some rigorous rehab. He has emerged from a personal hell—the drugs, the death of his best friend Proof, the failed marriage to his childhood sweetheart Kim—as a stronger artist and a stronger person.
We meet at his homely studio in Ferndale, Michigan, about a thirty-minute drive from downtown Detroit. He walks past the row of old school 1980’s video games and introduces himself with a firm handshake. “Hi, I’m Marshall.” From there, it’s over to his office where he takes a swig of sugar free Red Bull. “I’m addicted to these,” he says without a hint of irony at the poor choice of words.
He wears blue-and-white Nike sneakers, a white T-shirt, navy blue gym shorts and a matching navy Kangol baseball cap. Eminem rarely makes eye contact. He is, however, articulate and commanding. He also frequently lassos the conversation and steers it back into his comfort zone, which makes him a challenging interview. On the song “On Fire,” Eminem says, “Critics never ask me how my day went.” It’s a simple request. He will give you what you want. After all, his life was always an open book. He knows he’s a star. He just wants you to know he’s also human. He wants to be treated like a regular person. God help him with that.
VIBE: How’s your day going?
Eminem: Good. I’m just coming back from L.A. It’s the album cycle again.
Are you doing more publicity than last year?
Yeah, I am. I was taking baby steps. I was in my first year of getting clean so it was a little awkward for me.
Upon telling a friend about this interview he said, “Eminem hasn’t done shit since The Eminem Show.” Do you agree?
I do feel like that. The last couple of albums I let some people down. It wasn’t like, “Let me put some bullshit out.” At the time, obviously I felt like it was the best I could do or else I wouldn’t have put it out. But looking back on it now, there was some pretty mediocre things that I was putting out. (3) When I was making Encore, my addiction took on a life of its own. I remember going to L.A., recording with Dre and being in the studio high, taking too many pills, getting in this slap-happy mood and making songs like “Big Weenie” and “Rain Man” and “Ass Like That.”
What did Dr. Dre say about those records?
He would just laugh. He didn’t understand what was going on. Nobody understood what was going on with me or why I was acting so fucking goofy.
Did Interscope pressure you to finish Encore and Relapse? Were they telling you, “We need the album. We need product?”
No. Interscope, Dre and Jimmy, they kind of let me work at my own pace, which is a cool thing. I don’t really get the pressure. Every now and then, I’m sure they are like, “Yo, what’s up?” But for the most part, I pretty much don’t put it out till it’s right.
You seem very self-assured on Recovery. Is this the most confident you’ve ever felt? Not as a rapper, but as a person.
As a person, yeah. I feel stronger than ever, better than ever, nothing is going to stop me. That is the undertone of the record. It’s also; I think that, um, by me putting out a record like this, it can show people that no matter how down you are, it does get better. (4)
So this is an uplifting Eminem record?
I, um, yeah, kind of. To an extent. This is probably the most uplifting record I’ve made. But I don’t want to go too far with it. You know what I mean? So let me pull it back a little so I have some songs where it’s like, “Fuck all that other shit, let me just get on some hip-hop shit.”
1 “I never know what the market will bear these days. I just knew that he made an incredible [album].” — Interscope Records co-founder, Jimmy Iovine
2 “I won a lot of bets.” —longtime friend and rapper, Royce Da 5’9”
3 “I felt Encore was a little more scattered than The Eminem Show. I like Encore. I just think The Eminem Show is more direct and cleaner. Relapse was very clear for what it was, but what it was, was very narrow.” —Jimmy Iovine
4 “What [Eminem is] doing and how he’s doing it should be an example to anyone that has anykind of substance abuse problem and give them the courage to admit the problem because the only way to recovery is to admit you have a problem.” —Jimmy Iovine