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Eminem: The Rolling Stone Interview

“I don’t need no shrink,” the rapper says, “I tell my problems to the world.” Welcome to his latest therapy session

Eminem, Brittany MurphyEminem, Brittany Murphy

Eminem performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on April 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Christopher Polk/Getty

This story originally appeared in the July 4, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.

In a lounge chair in the presidential suite of a Detroit hotel, Eminem sits as he always does: leaning back in his chair, his legs wide apart, eyes straight ahead. He’s dressed head to toe in Air Jordan. Sometimes, he suddenly leans forward to emphasize a point, tucking his hand under his chin or gesturing with a pointed finger, the way he does onstage. His eyes and skin are clear; he looks lean and in shape, and he has an odd, almost angelic glow to him, as if he’s been wandering the desert with hip-hop monks. He’s been keeping late hours, but it doesn’t show, maybe due to better eats. (“Damn, they didn’t get me fries with that,” he says, eyeing a room-service tuna melt. “I’m off that no-carb diet.”) He is relaxed, a king in his castle, ready to greet the world after a year of battle.

Since the release of his second album, The Marshall Mathers LP, in May 2000, Eminem has seen his celebrity grow into a sun orbited by his own label (Shady Records), his partners in rhyme D12, a planet of fans, a nascent movie career (with the release of 8 Mile this fall) and an asteroid field of cops, lawyers and judges. In August 2000, he filed for divorce from his twisted muse and the love of his life, Kim, whom he had married only a year earlier. They shared eleven years and now share custody of their six-year-old daughter, Hailie Jade.

In June 2000, while he and Kim were still married, Eminem witnessed her kissing another man outside a suburban Detroit bar. After a very short internal debate, Em pistol-whipped the guy and earned himself the first of two felony charges that year — the second came after an altercation involving the ersatz rap group the Insane Clown Posse. The two charges spelled possible jail time for twenty-eight-year-old Marshall Mathers, a gangsta reality he was scared as hell to add to his portfolio. To spice the stew further, Eminem’s vitriolic rhymes made him the constant subject of protests by gay- and women’s-rights groups.

The threat of prison and his current probation woke him up and grew him up right quick. He stopped drinking and downing purple pills and, as always, took his angst to the studio. The Eminem Show is confident, complex, edgy, banging and fresh. “I’m paranoid as fuck about anything of mine sounding like a track I just did or like anything else out there,” Eminem says. “I practically live in the studio, aside from spending time with Hailie. I always feel that I can improve something until I just get sick of it.” Eminem handled most of the production himself, with three tracks coming from his mentor, Dr. Dre. On his own, Em samples Aerosmith’s “Dream On” in “Sing for the Moment,” sings to his daughter in “Hailie’s Song” and attacks American moral hypocrisy throughout. His new songs make this last point better than ever before, because the man making them, more than ever, is aware of who he is and how to manipulate the world watching him.

It will certainly be watching when he makes his big-screen debut in November in 8 Mile, alongside Kim Basinger and Brittany Murphy. The film, produced by Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind), was developed with Eminem in mind, though it is not exactly a biopic. “I was looking to make a movie about hip-hop that, like Saturday Night Fever did, really puts you in that world,” Grazer says. “I randomly saw Eminem on MTV, and in the span of six or seven seconds, he goes from this icy, urban, scary glare to this fluid, self-effacing, kind of fun character. I had to meet him.”

They did meet, but the free-flowing feeling wasn’t quite there at first. “Em and his manager came in, and Em didn’t say a word for about twenty minutes,” Grazer says. “He just stared. I was only getting the icy part. It got really uncomfortable. But then, Em just opened up and told me about his life for over an hour.” They enlisted the talents of Curtis Hanson, director of L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys. “He’s an extraordinarily gifted artist,” Hanson says of Eminem. “If Internet piracy kills the music business, Marshall Mathers need not worry. He’ll have another career.”

Over the course of two days in Detroit, Eminem surveyed his ever-expanding Shady kingdom. He’s more professional now, but he’s equally eager to run off — to his daughter, to his studio, to his home, to anyplace he can be in peace. Or maybe just to the lyric book he still carries with him everywhere, in which he’s always scrawling, usually too small for anyone else to read.

You look focused and pretty happy. Have you calmed down?
I’m on probation now, so I don’t have a choice. But I probably would’ve done it anyways — perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. I’m growing up, and I figure there’s a certain level of maturity that comes with that. [Starts picking left nostril] Hailie is better at this than I am. You know, when you build a booger castle with your daughter — that’s quality time. It’s actually what we live in now, and we built it ourselves.

You wrote this album during an insane year — lawsuits, divorce, the threat of jail time. Tell me about the early stages of the album.
“Sing for the Moment” was the first song I wrote for the album; “Cleanin Out My Closet” was the second. I had the line in “Cleanin Out My Closet” — “I’d like to welcome y’all out to The Eminem Show” — and it was just a line, but I sat back and I was like, “My life is really like a fucking show.” I have songs on the album that I wrote when I was in that shit last year, with a possible jail sentence hangin’ over my head and all the emotions going through the divorce. I went through a lot of shit last year that I resolved at the same time, all in the same year. And, yeah, that’s when half of the album was wrote.

“Dream On” was a desperate, hopeful song when Aerosmith wrote it. Is that why you used it?
Yeah. I was in that shit, and I didn’t know what was going to happen to me — I thought I was goin’ to jail. But the scariest thought was, “How am I going to tell this to Hailie?” What am I going to say — “Daddy’s goin’ away and he’s bad, and you have to come visit him in jail”? I never told her anything, because if there was a slim chance that I’d get off, then I didn’t want to put her through that emotionally — being scared. She hates when I go away, anytime. “Sing for the Moment” is that frustration and all that shit. There I was, in the fucking precinct getting booked, and the cops were asking me for autographs while they were fucking booking me, and I’m doing it, I’m giving them the autographs. But I’m like, “My life is in fucking shambles right now, and you look at me like I am not a fucking person. I am a walking spectacle.” I signed it. “They’re the police, and I’m sure that if Marshall is a good guy, word will get around, so OK, fuck it, lemme do it.”
OK, yeah, I’m a criminal and I did a couple of things that I shouldn’a did, but I’m still a human, and people make mistakes. I didn’t do anything different than any other person would have done that night [when he caught Kim kissing another man]. Some people would have done more than me, but I don’t know of a man on this fuckin’ earth that would have done less — not to say exactly what I did.

You always talk about your daughter, Hailie Jade, in your songs, but on this album, “Hailie’s Song” is a much more personal message. Plus, you sing — that is certainly putting yourself out there.
That song was stress off my chest. That’s how it is with every song I do; it’s therapy and it’s releasing everything onto a record instead of doing any of it. I really dumped my feelings out in that song. I love my little girl enough to sing to her, for one, and two, it wasn’t easy what I went through last year. Divorce is the hardest thing that I’ve ever worked through — not that I’m bitter or anything like that. I’m a better person because I went through it, but it was hard at first. I’ve known this chick all my life, she’s the first true girlfriend that I ever had. You grow up with this person, and then they want to leave you. And at first you don’t know what to do. You know, I put the blame on everything. I put the blame on myself, I put the blame on my career. But as I got through it, I stepped back and looked at the whole picture. I realized it wasn’t my fault and there’s nothing I could have done. It was inevitable. It’s cool, me and Kim are on speaking terms, we can communicate, no hard feelings, fuck it. Didn’t work, you know, after eleven years.

You’ve produced more tracks than ever on this album. Was that a result of having a home studio?
Yeah. I actually know how to program a drum machine now. It used to be so simple — just writing lyrics and raps, laying vocals and leaving the studio was great. But now that I’m so into producing, it’s a fucking job.

What comes first for you, the rhythm or the rhymes?
It’s both. Sometimes I get a couple lines in my head, and the way they’re going, I go downstairs and make a beat to that rhythm. That’s why a lot of my drum patterns are crazy, offbeat patterns — because of the rhyme. Now more than ever I try to make my rap go right with the beat. I listen to my older shit, and I can’t stand it, because I fell behind the beat too much. Like “My Name Is” — I fucking hate that song anyways.

You wouldn’t be here without it.
Yeah, I didn’t hate that song when I first made it. But the shit that I really, really like, that I put my heart and soul into, I don’t get recognized for, like “The Way I Am.” There’s a difference between me being funny and me being real. I feel like I don’t get recognized for my best shit — the shit that’s my real, true feelings and emotions.

Those songs definitely scare the people who love the humor in your big singles.
I was talking to Steven Tyler the other day. He was saying that if he has to make songs that appeal to everybody to get people to listen to his realer songs, that’s what he’ll do. My theory is the same. You gotta play the fucking game, man. One day I want people to look back on me, when my time is over, and say, “He knew what the fuck he was doing.” If they say that now, too, that would be great. The ultimate thing is to be recognized for quality shit.

By now, do you know when you make a record that will sell well?
Failure has always been the biggest motivation to me — the fear of losing and somebody getting the last laugh on me. I’ve felt since my first day of rapping that my time is ticking. That’s how I’ve based my whole career — that this may never happen again. The truth is, this could end tomorrow. I’ve seen so many albums get slept on. Pharcyde’s first album should have been huge, that shit should have sold 6, 7, 8 million. Fans are so fickle and so quick to turn on you, too. Suddenly, you’re not cool no more, you’re like the Kris Kross jeans or something, even if at first you’re the greatest thing since sliced cunt.

Now that you have joint custody of Hailie, you’re spending more quality time with her. What’s a typical day like?
When I’m home, I wake her up in the morning, I feed her some cereal, watch a little TV, take her to school and pick her up. Lately, I’ve been taking her to the studio, because that’s where I spend most of my time. She has fun there, there’s video games for her and stuff. Coloring books and crayons — thank God for those. We watch a lot of movies, just typical shit. She’s real into The Powerpuff Girls and Hey Arnold! and Dora the Explorer — ever seen that one? It’s the same episode all week long because it teaches kids numbers and how to speak Spanish. By Friday, you know it by heart. I watch that with her, then I go listen to my songs over and over. I’m gonna fucking jump off a bridge.
I try to keep Hailie sheltered from most of the bullshit. When September 11th happened, I didn’t tell her that morning. I just didn’t know how to explain it to her. I switched on the TV and saw the second plane hit. She was still sleeping. I got her up and took her to school, and within a couple of days she heard about it there. Those are things that I have trouble with, explaining to her all the fucked-up shit in the world. I try not to drive myself crazy with what to say if she asks me certain things. There’s a few things that are going to be tough to deal with.

Some of your lyrics about her mother?
No. Kim is pregnant. I have no idea who the father is. I just know she’s due any day. So Hailie is going to have a baby sister. It’s going to be tough the day she asks me why her baby sister can’t come over. I’ve tried to keep her sheltered from those issues. Of course, she’s going to find out shit as she goes through life, but I really don’t want her to learn all the fucked-up shit on my shift.
But, you know, Hailie listens to my music, and I go back and forth with myself a lot about it. When I was six, music flew by my head. But I caught it if there was a swear word. If I have a song that has a lot of swear words in a row, I make her clean versions and play those in the car. I don’t cuss around my daughter. If someone else is around and they say the f-word, she’s heard it before; I don’t say, “Hey, watch your mouth around my daughter.” That would be ridiculous. After all, I’m Eminem, Mr. Potty-Mouth King. I try to be a liberal parent and be open about things. If somebody is smoking a joint in a movie and she asks, “Daddy?” I say it’s a cigarette — a big cigarette if it’s a Cheech and Chong movie. She doesn’t know about drugs yet, and she’s not old enough for me to explain that they’re doing drugs and those are bad.

Do you want more kids?
Oh, no. No more kids for me. I’m cool. I’m chilling now. And no more marriage. I would rather fucking be on a coach flight with ‘NSync at the back of the plane in the last row in them seats that don’t go back — just stuck there with the bathroom out of order. I would rather have a baby through my penis than get married again. I can’t take what I went through last year. I don’t ever want to experience that again.

You’ve said 8 Mile is not a film of your life, but there are many similarities.
I don’t play me in the movie. There are similarities because I sat down with Scott Silver, the script writer, and told him instances from my life that were used in the movie, some exactly the way they happened, some a little bit different. I play a guy named Jimmy who grows up in Detroit and tries to make it as a rapper. It’s pre-Tupac’s and Biggie’s deaths; it’s supposed to be ’95. Now, it’s a lot more acceptable for white people to do black music, black people to do white music. The barriers are more broken down.

On this album, you speak openly about being more successful because you are white.
Oh, definitely. It’s obvious to me that I sold double the records because I’m white. In my heart I truly believe I have a talent, but at the same time I’m not stupid. I know, when I first came out especially, being produced by Dre made it cool and acceptable for white kids to like me. In the suburbs, the white kids have to see black people liking you or they won’t like you. You need that foundation of legitimacy. The Beastie Boys — they had respect from the hip-hop community, and that’s what made them.

Are you expecting as much criticism from the PTAs of the U.S.A. for this album?
You put your shit out there for the world to see and to judge, and whoever agrees with you agrees with you. Even my most die-hard fans don’t agree with everything I say. These are my views, this is how I see it. You may have your own opinion, but you may not get to project it to the world like I do. The fact of the matter is that kids ain’t supposed to get it. It’s got a parental-advisory sticker. Yes, of course, kids are gonna get the album. But it’s cool. When I was thirteen, I got music I wasn’t supposed to have, and look at me — I turned out fine!

Do you regret any of your past controversial statements?
Sometimes you say things that sound really good at the time. And that’s what ends up in the big print in the magazine. For example, “I blow elephant cock” — that’s bold letters on the front cover. EMINEM: I BLOW ELEPHANT COCK. And I do, just in everyday life, it’s my routine in the morning.

That will put a twist on all of the homophobia controversy tailing you. How did you feel about that then and now?
I was ready for it. I knew there was something comin’, I didn’t know exactly what it was, but Dre was like, “You better get ready, some shit is about to happen.” He went through it with N.W.A.

What do you think of psychotherapy? A lot of people out there think you need it.
I think it’s bullshit. I don’t need no shrink. My music is my shrink, you know? What are you gonna do, you gonna pay a guy to sit there and listen to your problems, and dump your heart out? Let the world do that. The world is my fuckin’ therapist. I tell the world my problems, and that’s it.

What would have happened if you didn’t get the chance to tell the world your problems?
I would be either still workin’ at that restaurant, Gilbert’s Lodge, or I would have gone postal at Gilbert’s Lodge.

Do you think society and fans are taking rap too seriously? You suggest that on a few of the new songs — “Business,” “White America.”
Hip-hop as a whole is bigger than ever, and it just keeps getting bigger, just when you think it can’t — kinda like my dick. I seen an interview with Tupac once — he was a huge influence on my life — where he said if you see a rose growing in concrete, you’ll stop and look at it. It could be the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen, and instead of wondering how this rose grows from concrete, all you want to talk about is how the stem leans to the side and the petals are dried up. The fact that the rose is growing from concrete isn’t enough to amaze you, you want to pick out all of the things that are wrong with it.
That’s the truest statement in the world. Take this music for what it is. It’s got some fucking cuss words in it. If you don’t want to listen to it because of that, then don’t. Live your happy fucking life, do whatever. Half of the shit I say and other rappers say, they might have done it, but they’re not telling you to go out and do it. When Jay-Z said he used to push weight back in ’88, he’s not necessarily glamorizing it and telling you to do it. He’s telling you that’s what he did and that he turned his life into something positive.

So rappers aren’t free to tell their stories without being blamed for glamorizing them.
All I’m saying is, if I say the word faggot on my album, it’s taken as if I’m speaking directly to gay people and I’m homophobic and a bad influence on kids. But if you watch American Pie, the same word is in there, and that’s cool with everyone. Why is it all right for them to say it, but if I say it on a record it’s not OK?

What haven’t you done that you want to do professionally?
What’s-her-name from American Pie — Shannon Elizabeth. Besides that? Take a break. I haven’t had more than a two-day break. Even if I take a break, I’ll start writing, and I can’t control the thoughts. I wanna take a break, and then I get so fucking antsy. And I get frustrated if I get writer’s block. That’s my worst fear — that I’ll wake up tomorrow and won’t be able to write. That if there’s not drama and negativity in my life, all my songs will be really wack and boring or something.

You call out Moby on “Without Me.” He loves media attention so much, I’m sure he’s rejoicing that you noticed him.
Yeah. Last year at the Grammys, he was running his fucking mouth. He doesn’t know me, so he should shut the fuck up. Nobody likes you, Moby, shut the fuck up. It got to the point last year where every TV show I saw, someone was asking his opinion of me. Who is this fucking guy to give his fucking opinion of me in the first place? What the fuck do you do? You now how people know you? You did a song with Gwen Stefani. You think people wanted to see you in the fucking video? No. I never would have said anything about that dude, but he was such an expert on me last year. He’s never met me, so he should shut up. “Wait, here’s my theory, it’s very important and you should care.” Um, I don’t care. “Well, I’m gonna tell you anyway, here goes, wake up.”

Since your divorce, you’ve been linked to a few famous ladies. I’m going to name names; just say true or false. First up, Kim Basinger, who plays your mom in 8 Mile.
No. I know how rumors start. If people see me out and with a celebrity of the female species, I’m fucking ’em. Lemme tell you, I wish I was fucking as many as the media have me fucking. I have a lot of respect for Kim Basinger, and I think that she’s a really nice lady and she’s beautiful, and that’s all I’m gonna say. As far as us being together, it’s untrue — not that I wouldn’t.

Next, Mariah Carey. You two were almost boyfriend-girlfriend, weren’t you?
There’s truth to that. I don’t want to say anything disrespectful because I respect her as a singer, but on the whole personal level, I’m not really feeling it. I just don’t like her as a person. I gotta be honest; I learned a lesson from it: Don’t believe the hype. I have respect for her, but she doesn’t really have it all together. I’ll just say that and that she’s a beautiful woman.

Last up, Baby Spice, Emma Bunton.
That’s a known fact! Nah. I’ve only met one of the Spice Girls, Scary Spice, about three years ago. The funny thing is how off the media is about the women I’ve been with in the business. The people I do get with completely slip by them. But I’ll never tell. I gotta be low-key. My white ass is on display quite a bit, so I gotta keep some shit personal.

So where are you the most honest?
In the songs. If you listen to them and don’t take the words out of context, they’ll tell you why I’m saying this or that. Why do I have to sit here and explain myself? Just listen to the fucking songs. They will tell you everything.

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