Eminem: On the Road Back From Hell
Well, that and video games. Eminem is a vintage video-game fiend. The studio lobby is filled with arcade classics: Donkey Kong, Frogger, Space Invaders. His interest grew after seeing a documentary called The King of Kong, about a mild-mannered engineer named Steve Wiebe and his quest to capture the world Donkey Kong record. (Two of Eminem’s machines are autographed by Wiebe.) He says he’s also trying to break Wiebe’s record, and on one of his Donkey Kong games, all six high scores belong to MBM – Marshall Bruce Mathers.
The bad guy in The King of Kong is named Billy Mitchell, a loudmouthed jerk not entirely unlike a certain white rapper. Cocky and snide, he’s an ideal dramatic foil for the sweet, modest family man Wiebe. “It’s a perfect contrast,” Eminem says of the pairing. “A hero and a villain.” Just which of those two he himself wants to be is one of the many things Eminem is trying to figure out.
Congratulations on your success with Recovery. Has it surprised you at all?
I’m a little surprised. I was certainly more confident in this album than the last one. It feels good to have your work respected again. Winning awards is cool, but at this point, I’m in it for the sport.
What’s been the highlight so far?
The shows with Jay-Z. Just being onstage in front of that many people, being able to command the crowd but not having to fall back on old crutches like drugs and drinking. You do get nervous – anybody who says they don’t is lying. But hitting that stage now, I want to feel those nerves. To look out and actually see girls crying and shit, it’s overwhelming. But not like it used to be, where I felt like I needed to [mimes drinking from a bottle].
Does fame feel different this time?
It feels like I have a better grasp on it. A lot of the problems I had with fame I was bringing on myself. A lot of self-loathing, a lot of woe-is-me. Now I’m learning to see the positive side of things, instead of, like, “I can’t go to Kmart. I can’t take my kids to the haunted house.”
Your past few albums were produced mainly by you and Dr. Dre. On this one you worked with several new producers.
It was just time for fresh blood. There’s so many talented producers I always wanted to work with, but I was never sure if it would gel. I think it was a fear of failure. Like, “What if I bring these guys out, and I don’t come up with anything?” So I just stayed in my element, where I was comfortable. But I was talking to my boy Denaun [Porter, of D12] one day, and he said, “Yo, man – you gotta get off your island.” I don’t mean to keep going back to it, but when I got clean, I started doing things I wouldn’t otherwise have done.
Your music also seems more serious now.
Around the tail end of [2004’s] Encore, the songs started getting really goofy. “Rain Man,” “Big Weenie,” “Ass Like That” – that’s when the wheels were coming off. Every day I had a pocketful of pills, and I would just go into the studio and goof off. When I went to Hawaii with Dre for [what became Recovery], there was a turning point lyrically. I was sitting in the car listening to these older songs of mine, trying to figure out, “Why doesn’t the new stuff hit me like it used to?” That’s when I started to get away from the funny shit and do songs that had some emotion and aggression to them again.
What are you working on now?
Right now me and Dre are busy with Detox. It’s really close – I want to say we’re halfway done. I’m lending an ear, helping him write, laying hooks – whatever I can do. As for my stuff, I’m just doing guest verses for other people’s records. I try to stay recording, because if I don’t, I get rusty. I’m very paranoid about writer’s block – I had it for four years, and it drove me fucking crazy. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t think of shit. The pills had a lot to do with it. Just wiping out brain cells. I don’t know if it sounds like I’m making excuses, but the absolute truth is a lot of my memory is gone. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken Ambien, but it’s kind of a memory-eraser. That shit wiped out five years of my life. People will tell me stories, and it’s like, “I did that?” I saw myself doing this thing on BET recently, and I was like, “When was that?”
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