In 1996, Eminem released Infinite, his decidedly inauspicious solo debut. The 24-year-old rapper had spent the past several years bouncing around Detroit, honing his craft in local crews and short-lived groups such as Soul Intent, and hanging out at the Hip-Hop Shop, a weekly club night later made famous in the 2002 movie 8 Mile. Then, Eminem was discovered by Jeff and Mark Bass, two producers who built a modest reputation with hip-house remixes of pop acts like Madonna and the B-52's, and performing as part of George Clinton's sprawling P-Funk empire. Dazzled by Eminem's talent, the Funky Bass Brothers decided to launch a new record label, Web Entertainment, to showcase his raw potential. Infinite flopped, selling less than a few hundred copies. However, the project helped lay the groundwork for Eminem's career and original vinyl pressings now trade for thousands of dollars.
Two decades and hundreds of millions of records sold later, the Bass Brothers are revisiting Infinite. "My brother and myself were executive producers of the album," says Jeff, who adds that Mr. Porter (a.k.a. Kon Artis of D-12) and Kevin Michael Wilder actually produced the original tracks. "What would it be like to hear the Infinite album with no samples in it, and take the approach that we used for all of the other Eminem music in the last 17 years?"
To find out, they applied the same treatment they used as co-producers on subsequent Eminem hits like "Lose Yourself," and replayed much of the Infinite material with live instruments and no samples. The new remixes of some Infinite tracks will appear on digital services and, soon, limited-edition 7-inch singles.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Infinite, the Bass Brothers and Kevin Wilder talked about the making of the album, Em's relationship with J Dilla and George Clinton, and where he really got the name "Slim Shady."
How did you meet Eminem?
Mark Bass: I was driving in my car back in '95 or '96 and heard him on the radio. It was like, "Whoa, who is this?" He was doing an open mic with [WJLB-FM programmer Lisa Orlando] in Detroit. And I was like, "Wow, who is this kid? I've gotta get him over to the studio." That's when I called out to the radio station and asked, "Put me on the phone with the guy." And then 4 o'clock in the morning, a bunch of kids showed up at my studio. It was Marshall and a couple of other guys.
For me, Marshall was able to put rhymes together rhythmically that looked like a drum solo. He was able to change rhythms in the middle of his phrases. He had great metaphors. It was fresh. It was new to me. Honestly, I had to turn to [Wilder] and say, "I think we should do this. Let's go ahead and do it." And I laid it on him. And here we are today.
What were you guys doing before you met Eminem?
Mark Bass: Before that we were doing a lot of George Clinton material. We were doing remixes for different artists. They were urban remixes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna, B-52's … different things with a friend, Ben Grosse, who's out in L.A. now.
Did Eminem work with Funkadelic?
Mark Bass: I introduced Eminem to George Clinton. … I remember George telling me, "Keep that guy. This guy's a winner." Actually, they ran into each other many times after Em really broke through. George Clinton was one of the first outside artists that really took a listen to the kid. To this day, we're still working with George, and George – it's a funny thing, George looks up to Em, and Em looks up to George. It's a real interesting situation.
What was the Detroit hip-hop scene like at the time?
Mark Bass: There some things happening … nothing that broke through, though. Around that time was when J Dilla was coming with all his stuff. He was real influential on the whole project. J Dilla was a big influence for Mr. Porter, who worked on the album with us. You know, Detroit's a small city.
Did Dilla and Eminem ever work together?
Kevin Wilder: I'm not sure about any recordings they have together. I think it was more Mr. Porter that was working with J Dilla, and learning how to construct a track. That's where Mr. Porter got his start. … But I don't think there are any recordings that [Eminem] did over there. I could be wrong, I'm just assuming, but I never heard anything. But they hung out, without a doubt.
Mark Bass: The Hip-Hop Shop was the place for everybody to get together.
Jeff Bass: Denaun Porter was an amazing producer. For a young kid at that time, he had the sensibility. And the combination of what he did and what Michael Wilder did … I think the combination of what they did was magical. We couldn't get the masses to appreciate what they did. We've lived in Detroit our whole lives. We've kept our core business in Detroit. The only time we left Detroit was to go out to California in 1998 to get together with Jimmy [Iovine] and Dre. So, 20 years ago, it was all about, let's get as many people out of Detroit as we can, and everybody has a shot to do something in the business.
Any specific memories about making the album?
Kevin Wilder: I had recorded several different artists before running into Marshall, and I had never seen anyone as precise and accurate as he was. I'll give you an example. He would come in and do a song, and he'd cut the vocal for it. He'd live with it overnight, and then he'd call me and say, "I've got to come in and cut the vocals over." He heard something that was wrong. So he would go back in and re-cut the vocal, and no one could hear any difference. He'd hear something that no one else could hear. That, and how raw it was, is what sticks out more than anything.
Probably the most surprising thing on Infinite is hearing him rap, "In the midst of this insanity, I found my Christianity through God" on "It's OK." Eminem hasn't been especially spiritual in his lyrics since.
Kevin Wilder: Well, he was going through a pretty tough time trying to break through and get people to listen to him. And everyone in the world knows about his personal issues because he laid it out on the table. So I guess you can chalk that up as a song where he's pouring his heart out about everything that was going on in his life.
What was the goal of Infinite? Did you want to push it on your own, or did you want it to get picked up by a bigger label?
Mark Bass: That was everyone's dream, of course. We had a little airplay here in Detroit, not much, which was kind of discouraging at the time. We knew we had a real talent, but it was hard to bust through. We used to get some spins on the mix shows with "Open Mic" and "Tonite."
Kevin Wilder: The DJs were picking up on "Tonite" because it had the closest thing to a club feel. Everything else was underground and hardcore. Or if you look at "Backstabbers," that was kinda cheeky, so it really wouldn't work to play in the club.
Did you have a distributor for the vinyl and cassettes?
Mark Bass: No, the distributor was ourselves. We mainly gave the records out. We had some vinyl, I think 250 cassette tapes, and we were excited to just hand them to people, whether it be at the Hip-Hop Shop, or I remember a couple of the guys in Parliament-Funkadelic would take some of the cassettes on the road with them, and they would hand them to this guy or that guy. Everybody was behind Em, but we didn't know how to get the thing out there. We were fighting a big battle.
Jeff Bass: We couldn't sell anything. We couldn't get arrested back then. It was, like, "Oh, here comes the white rapper." It was very difficult to break him in the beginning of our careers together. So our intentions were to release singles like anything else, but we had a hard enough time getting rid of the album.
After Infinite, you started working on The Slim Shady EP.
Mark Bass: Right, after the Infinite record we took a little bit of time off, and that's when he came back with this little "Slim Shady" tattoo on his arm. He came back a whole different person. Something happened to him where he turned into Slim Shady. I think he was sitting on the toilet and something happened! I mean, he just decided to say, "Fuck the world." … We were making records on the Infinite project where I was trying to cater to radio, we were trying to keep things a little cleaner, and it was like, fuck that, we're not going to do it like this. He wanted to do his thing. Then came Slim Shady.
Kevin Wilder: If you go back, I'm a co-producer on the Infinite album, and I'm listed as "Slim." He walked into the [Bassment Sound] studio on Eight Mile, and he said, "I'm stealing your name!" And I'm, like, go right ahead! You can have it 'cause I'm not going to do anything with it." And the rest is history.
Twenty years later, what's your opinion of the Infinite album?
Jeff Bass: Well, the songwriting is amazing back then. It's like any artist just starting out. If you ever listen to Michael Jackson before he was Michael Jackson or Prince, they were younger-sounding, but you can tell there's something there. Obviously, the fans who will purchase this particular project will get it. They'll understand why. … When I hear Eminem from 20 years ago, I can hear Eminem today. I can hear the nuances in his tone, and his rhythm was insane, and this is him starting out as a kid. We recognized that there was something there that was special. Obviously the world ended up agreeing with what we were feeling.