The rapper is no stranger to moving around. He and his mother shuttled between Missouri and Michigan, rarely staying in one house for more than a year or two, and finally settled down when Marshall was eleven. It was the start of a life full of enough screaming fights and sordid dramas that, at the tender age of twenty-four, Eminem is ready for his own Behind the Music. But what happened depends on whom you ask. To hear him tell it, his life up until now has been nonstop hard knocks, beatings from bullies and brawls "Fuck that motherfucker, man. Fuck him."
The single mother and her sons (Em's younger half-brother, Nathan, was born in 1986) were one of three white households on their block. "I'm colorblind — it wasn't an issue," Em's mom says. "But the younger people in the area gave us trouble. Marshall got jumped a lot." When he was sixteen, his ass was kicked fiercely. "I was walking home from my boy's house, through the Bel-Air Shopping Center," he recalls. "All these black dudes rode by in a car, flippin' me off. I flipped them off back, they drove away, and I didn't think nothin' of it." Evidently they parked the car. "One dude came up, hit me in the face and knocked me down. Then he pulled out a gun. I ran right out of my shoes, dog. I thought that's what they wanted." But they didn't — when Mathers returned the next day, his shoes were still stuck in the mud. "That's how I knew it was racial." Em was saved by a white guy who pulled over, took out a gun and drove him home. "He came in wearing just his socks and
with his pill-popping, lawsuit-happy mom. His mother, Debbie Mathers-Briggs, on the other hand, denies both of these characterizations, claiming that her unending love and financial support got Eminem through the dog days. It's a story that would make Jerry Springer salivate, but let's just stick to the facts: (1) Eminem has never met his father; (2) he spent his formative years living in a largely black lower-middle-class Detroit neighborhood; (3) he dropped out of high school in the ninth grade; (4) he and his baby's mother have been breaking up and making up for the past eight years; and (5) he loves their three-year-old daughter, Hailie Jade, more than anybody else in the world.
Eminem's parents were married, his mother says, when she was fifteen and his father was twenty-two. Marshall III was born two years later. His parents were in a band called Daddy Warbucks, playing Ramada Inns along the Dakota-Montana border. But their relationship went sour. The couple split up, and Debbie and her son lived with family members for a few years before settling on the east side of Detroit. Marshall's father moved to California. As a teen, the future Eminem sent his dad a few letters, all of which, his mother claims, came back "return to sender." "I heard he's trying to get in touch with me now," the rapper says. underwear," his mother says woefully. "They had taken his jogging suit off him, taken his boombox. They would have taken him out, too."
Eminem heard his first rap song when he was nine years old. It was "Reckless," a track featuring Ice-T on the Breakin' soundtrack, which his Uncle Ronnie had given him. Ten years later, when Ronnie committed suicide, Eminem was devastated. "I didn't talk for days," he says. "I couldn't even go to the funeral."
He dropped out of high school after failing the ninth grade for the third time. "As soon as I turned fifteen," he says, "my mother was like, 'Get a fucking job and help me with these bills, or your ass is out.' Then she would fucking kick me out anyway, half the time right after she took most of my paycheck." His mom says none of this is true: "A friend told me, 'Debbie, he's saying this stuff for publicity.' He was always well provided for." Either way, his salvation was rap and the rhymes he had begun to write. "As soon as my mom would leave to go play bingo, I would blast the stereo," he says. Soon enough he was ready to test his skills by sneaking into neighboring Osborne High School with his friend and fellow MC, Proof, for lunchroom rap throw-downs. "It was like White Men Can't Jump," says Proof, now an account executive for hip-hop clothier Maurice Malone. "Everybody thought he'd be easy to beat, and they got smoked every time."
On Saturdays, the two friends went to open-mike contests at the Hip-Hop Shop, on West 7 Mile, ground zero for the Detroit scene. "As soon as I grabbed the mike, I'd get booed," Eminem recalls. "Once motherfuckers heard me rhyme, though, they'd shut up." With four other rappers, Em and Proof formed a crew called the Dirty Dozen before Em released his own album, Infinite, on a local label in 1996 — an effort devoid of Shady's whacked-out humor and pent-up rage. "It was right before my daughter was born, so having a future for her was all I talked about," he says. "It was way hip-hopped out, like Nas and AZ — that rhyme style that was real in at the time. I've always been a smartass comedian, and that's why it wasn't a good album."
Detroit DJs and radio folks seemed to agree, leaving Infinite well enough alone. "After that record, every rhyme I wrote got angrier and angrier," Eminem says. "A lot of it was because of the feedback I got. Motherfuckers was like, 'You're a white boy, what the fuck are you rapping for? Why don't you go into rock & roll?' All that type of shit started pissing me off." It didn't help that days before his daughter's first birthday, Eminem got fired from his cooking job at Gilbert's Lodge. "That was the worst time ever, dog," he says. "It was, like, five days before Christmas, which is Hailie's birthday. I had, like, forty dollars to get her something. I wrote 'Rock Bottom' right after that."
This downward spiral ended one day on the John when Em met Slim Shady. "Boom, the name hit me, and right away I thought of all these words to rhyme with it," he says. "So I wiped my ass, got up off the pot and, ah, went and called everybody I knew."
Shady became Em's vengeful gremlin, his knight in smarmy armor, an Inspector Gadget Incredible Hulk with a taste for a bit of the ultra-violence. It was high time for Em to write some of the wrongs in his life, and Slim Shady was just the cat to right them. At the top of the shit list was his grade-school nemesis, D'Angelo Bailey. Yes, the bully who gets it with a broomstick in "Brain Damage" was entirely real. "Motherfucker used to beat the shit out of me," Eminem says. "I was in fourth grade and he was in sixth. Everything in the song is true: One day he came in the bathroom, I was pissing, and he beat the shit out of me. Pissed all over myself. But that's not how I got really fucked up." During recess one winter, Em taunted a smallish friend of Bailey's. "D'Angelo Bailey — no one called him D'Angelo — came running from across the yard and hit me so hard into this snowbank that I blacked out." Em was sent home, his ear started bleeding, and he was taken to the hospital. "He had a cerebral hemorrhage and was in and out of consciousness for five days," his mother reports. "The doctors had given up on him, but I wouldn't give up on my son."
"I remember waking up and saying, 'I can spell elephant,'" Em recalls with a laugh. "D'Angelo Bailey — I'll never forget that kid."
Old D'Angelo won't forget you, either. "He was the one we used to pick on," says Bailey, now married with kids and living in Detroit. "There was a bunch of us that used to mess with him. You know, bully-type things. We was having fun. Sometimes he'd fight back — depended on what mood he'd be in." As for Eminem's recollection of the event that put him in the hospital, Bailey boasts, "Yeah, we flipped him right on his head at recess. When we didn't see him moving, we took off running. We lied and said he slipped on the ice. He was a wild kid, but back then we thought it was stupid. Hey, you have his phone number?"
In the spring of 1997, Eminem recorded the eight-son Slim Shady EP — the demo that earned him his deal with Interscope. At the time, he was scrounging more than ever. He and his girlfriend, Kim, had been living with their baby in crack-infested neighborhoods. A stray bullet flying through the kitchen window and lodging in the wall while Kim was doing dishes wasn't the worst of it — they had been adopted by a crackhead. "The neighborhoods we lived in fucking sucked," Kim says. "I went through four TVs and five VCRs in two years." After cleaning out the first of those TVs and VCRs, plus a clock radio, the guy came back one night to make a sandwich. "He left the peanut butter, jelly — all the shit — out and didn't steal nothing," Em says. "Ain't this about a mother-fucking bitch. But then he came back again and took everything but the couches and beds. The pillows, clothes, silverware — everything. We were fuckin' fucked.".
The young parents moved in with Em's mom for a while, which wasn't much better. "My mother did a lot of dope and shit — a lot of pills — so she had mood swings," Em says. "She'd go to bed cqol, then wake up like, 'Motherfuckers, get out!'" Em's mom denies all of the above. "I've never done drugs," she says. "Marshall was raised in a drug- and alcohol-free environment." He moved in with friends, and Kim and the baby lived with her mother. "I didn't have a job that whole summer," Em recalls. "Then we got evicted, because my friends and me were paying rent to the guy on the lease, and he screwed us over." The night before he headed to the Rap Olympics, an annual nationwide MC battle in L.A., he came home to a locked door and an eviction notice. "I had to break in," he says. "I didn't have anywhere else to go. There was no heat, no water, no electricity. I slept on the floor, woke up, went to L.A. I was so pissed."
"Oh, my God," recalls Paul "Bunyan" Rosenberg, the beefy lawyer who manages Eminem. "There was this big black guy sitting next to me in the crowd at the Olympics. After the first round, he yells, 'Just give it to the white boy. It's over. Give it to the white boy.'"
They didn't, and Em was crushed. Not only could he have used the first-place prize, 500 bucks and a Rolex, but he wasn't used to taking second. "He really looked like he was going to cry," Rosenberg says, nodding thoughtfully. Well, Eminem lost the battle, but he won the war. A Shady EP given to a few Interscope staffers soon made it into the hands of co-head Jimmy Iovine. While Em was in L.A., Iovine and Dr. Dre took a listen. "In my entire career in the music industry," Dre says, "I have never found anything from a demo tape or a CD. When Jimmy played this, I said, 'Find him. Now.'"
Their first day in the studio, the pair knocked off "My Name Is" in about an hour, and as much as that song proved that Em is a brother from another planet, they were just warming up. "I wrote two songs for the next album on ecstasy," Eminem says. "Shit about bouncing off walls, going straight through 'em, falling down twenty stories. Crazy. That's what we do when I'm in the studio with Dre." Dr. Dre on E? "Ha ha," Dre laughs. "He didn't say that! It's true, though. We get in there, get bugged out, stay in the studio for fuckin' two days. Then you're dead for three days. Then you wake up, pop the tape in, like, 'Let me see what I've done.'"
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