Eminem was just a couple of days away from finishing his new album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (due November 5th), when we spoke in his suburban Detroit studio in early October. In these outtakes from the upcoming Rolling Stone cover story, which will hit stands November 22nd, he talks about the recording process, going blonde, his wicked sense of humor and much more.
Are you feeling good about the album at this point?
Um, that’s a tough question, man. For the most part, yeah. But I don’t know if I ever feel totally great about a record when I put it out. With every record that I put out, someone has literally got to come pry it from me because when I listen to my own music, I just hear flaws in it. Like I hear ‘Oh fuck! I could have done this better or that better!’ And I’ll work it to death. Obviously if I wasn’t comfortable with it, I wouldn’t put it out. But from the beginning, ever since my career started, I don’t know if I’ve ever been totally like, this is completely it.
In this last crunch, what have you been working on?
I guess you would say last minute jitters of “Fuck! Are the vocals loud enough? Can you hear what I’m saying on this part? Is the beat right? Are the vocals too loud?'” If I could not have to mix any songs and just take the actual two tracks that I rapped over and put them out, I would do that. ‘Cause nothing ever feels the way as when you first did it.
But you’re not changing lyrics or anything like that? It’s just all mix and sound stuff? It’s just sonic shit that needs to be worked out for the most part, because when I decide to keep a song, that’s pretty much it. Like, if it doesn’t work, I pretty much know right away, right when I get it in the car and take it home.
So why did you dye your hair blonde again?
Um, I’ll say that one was [manager Paul Rosenberg’s] idea. In the earlier stages of the record and developing this shit I had thought about it. And once the songs started to come together and the picture got a little more clear of what it was gonna be, he hit me with the idea and I was like “Yo, you know I thought about that, right?” And he was like, “Well you know, why not?” And I was like “I don’t know how it’s gonna look. I haven’t had it in how many fucking years? Five, six years.” I was like, “I’m so used to it being dark,” you know. So I just tried it. And I was like “Fuck it.”
Did physically looking like that help you get back in the mindset or change the way you were recording?
Not really, honestly. Because I already had most of the songs. And I don’t know if I’m gonna keep it like this or how long I’m gonna keep it. But for right now it is what it is. And I feel like it may fit and maybe people will understand when they get the record.
For Recovery there was a lot of rejected stuff. You recorded 100 songs or something, or at least you had 100 beats. So was there a lot of stuff thrown in the garbage pile this time around?
I feel like right now I’m probably working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. And I’ve probably worked harder on this record than any other record aside from maybe the time period during The Eminem Show, which is a little hazy ’cause just so much shit was going on at that time. Just being so busy with The Eminem Show and doing the 8 Mile movie, and the soundtrack and the score to the movie. This is probably the equivalent of that but all focused on the record mostly.
Once I had the direction that I wanted to go, and you know calling it The Marshall Mathers LP 2, obviously I knew that there might be certain expectations. Like, I wouldn’t want to just call it that just for the sake of calling it that. So I wanted to make sure that I had the right songs to be able to call it that. So, a lot of recording. A lot of songs that people probably will never hear. We hit a couple of road blocks. There were songs where the beat leaked or a producer sold the beat to someone else or whatever. And just when you think you got it or you got the right amount of songs you go back and you listen and you’re like, “Fuck man! I feel like it needs this or this” to paint the whole picture.
A lot of people, maybe even you, think the original is your best album.
It’s probably my favorite. I think some of them are my favorites for different reasons. Hate to even say that about my own record, but I mean the first three records, I think they may have captured a time period. And then I think I pretty much probably have publicly said, you know, Encore and Relapse wasn’t – it was just a different time.
You’ve been hard on Relapse, but Tyler, the Creator says that it’s his favorite hip-hop record in years. He loves that record.
Yeah, he tells me that every time I see him. I don’t hate the record. I want to rap and be able to always try to do my best lyrically, but at the same time find the right balance between that and making the right songs. And you know, I don’t know if I necessarily found that balance yet, because I was just getting sober and just kind of finding my feet again and so there was a lot of songs that were just like “Ha ha this is funny!” You know, walking around and joking around with your friends and shit and it ends up on the record and you’re laughing about it. Because when I got sober it was like – I’ve said this before – but it just was like “Oh shit! I can think straight again!” So I don’t know if that record was particularly my best work as far as songs, writing songs that felt like something, that brought some kind of emotion. I ran accents into the ground. I got stuck on that kind of serial killer, crazy vibe and just kind of went with it.
On Recovery, obviously the world came to you on that one. How do you feel now about that record?
I feel like that record I finally got back to where I was at maybe during The Eminem Show. Like, creatively and songwriting, I guess. I mean obviously Recovery was the first time I had ever worked with that many producers outside of our camp. Aside from working with Dre, it was like I always wanted to produce my own records, because producing is fun to me too. One of the things that was cool for me about that record was getting beats that already had choruses on them. It’s kind of like a challenge to myself to be able to hear somebody else’s hook and kind of interpret the words. Because my own hooks, I already know what I mean when I write them. The way that I do music is, like, regardless of what the beat is and whatever kind of appeal it may or may not have, I always want to try to go as hard lyrically as I can. So regardless if the beat feels like “Wow maybe this could be played on the radio,” I’m not like, “Maybe radio would play this so I’ll just wing it.” Like, I always have looked at it like I want to approach every record from an MCs’ aspect.
So how did you come to decide to designate this the sequel to The Marshall Mathers LP? How did you decide to make your life miserable like that?
Well here’s what it is: It’s not necessarily a sequel.
As much as it is a revisitation – like this is a different time period in my life. So there’s not gonna be like, continuations of every song or anything like that. To me, it’s more about the vibe and the nostalgia. One of my favorite new things to do is experiment with new, older breakbeats and sounds and shit like that. You know, retro shit, and try to make it current, like bring it up to date.
So did seeking out Rick Rubin come from that direction? You were like “Why don’t I go back to the source?”
Paul had mentioned to me that he might be interested in doing it and he had been talking to him and I was like, “Fuck man.” Another thing with this record is that I kind of got back into producing more. On Recovery, I wanted to focus more on writing, and not have to worry abut making the beats. On Relapse I think it was mostly all Dre. So I kind of started producing again a little bit. I was kind of in the middle of that when Paul had mentioned that, and was fucking around with those kind of sounds and I don’t know if that’s what made Paul reach out to Rick or if Rick reached out to him. But as soon as I heard he was interested I was like, “Yo, just let me finish this up and let’s go see him.”
You’ve called Rick “Yoda” – was there still stuff to be learned from him at this point in your career?
[Yoda voice] Learning I did. Um, yeah, I mean the best part about Rick’s vibe is he’s very Zen-like in the sense of just “Let it happen.” The weird thing about it is nine times out 10, we would know instantly if something didn’t work and it didn’t feel right, you know. He’s almost like a coach.
He’s very psychological, right?
Yeah the guy’s got his shoes off. [Laughs] Working with him is the most relaxed atmosphere. He’s not afraid to try anything. I kind of felt in the same way I felt, and still feel to this day, as far as like wanting to impress Dre. We talked at his house and then I think we went straight to his studio from there and we started going through breakbeats. I told him that I had started experimenting with some more retro sounds. So we just sat down and started picking shit out and I would start writing to them and next time I’d get together with him we’d start adding shit to it. The dude’s got so many ideas, man. One of the coolest things about the sound that he gives you is the Rick Rubin scratches. When he fucking scratches some shit, it’s almost like this perfect slop that it has on it. Not that it’s off-time or anything like that, but it’s just like – it’s fucking weird. I don’t even know how to explain it. You just know that he scratched it. I don’t know if that even makes sense or not. It’s like a simple scratch, like a basic kind of thing, but it’s so fucking dope when you hear it. It’s just, it’s vintage him. And plus he knows what a lot of those sounds came from and shit.
Did he have all the old drum machines sitting around the studio?
Oh, he’s got some shit in the stash. Yeah. Definitely.
So much has changed in hip-hop since you started producing – did you find the beats you were making on your own were influenced by newer stuff?
Um, not necessarily, because like I feel like I just do whatever feels right. Obviously I pay attention to what’s going on and what’s out and keep my finger on that pulse. But I don’t ever want to be like or do like what anyone else is doing. That’s no offense to anyone else.
Basically, if there are outside influences that are current, you let that come in from the other producers, but your shit is your shit.
Yeah. That’s exactly it. More current-sounding shit I leave to them. And not that I don’t feel like my shit sounds current, but it’s not the exact same thing. And I think I’ve updated as well.
On the new song “Legacy” you’re talking about yourself in detail as a kid. What does it take to get back in that mindset at your age?
I always try to make my music relatable to the kid who people said, “He ain’t shit” or bullied or whatever. It felt like one of them self-empowerment songs. Everybody, I believe, wants to show the world that, “One day I’m gonna be this. One day I’m gonna be that.” Everybody has goals, aspirations or whatever, and everybody has been at a point in their life where nobody believed in them. Like, if you haven’t been kicked or whatever, if you never went through. . .
Tribulations and shit like that, then you’re perfect and fuck you anyways. So everybody has been in that place where they just have been counted out or not even counted. Like, “You don’t matter.” “Oh yeah? I’m gonna show you.” So it was about incorporating that idea into the idea of my legacy – into what I leave behind when I’m gone. And I always looked up to other rappers for the words that they gave me. There’s many, many songs that got me through a lot of shit.
I just love that you rhyme “Onyx” with “comics” on that song.
I don’t know if anyone will get this, like this is super-nerdy, but the rhyming words in that song never change. And that’s just one of the things that I do to try to challenge myself. I wanted to try to make a whole song where the rhyming words never changed.
You’ve praised the Beastie Boys‘ evolution, but it doesn’t seem like you’re going to have a “the disrespect for women has got to be through” moment.
I mean, listen, my sense of humor has certainly not gone away. I realize that I’m an adult, a grown-ass man, and I don’t know what I’ll be doing a year from now, 10 years from now, but I don’t think that my tongue-in-cheekness will ever go away. I guess it’s just a part of my personality. I always want to keep some type of element of fun to the music as well. If one song is darker or talking about a sad subject, I don’t want to make a whole album of that, of being a downer. I don’t want to make a whole album of being too uppity. You gotta try and find that right balance, and that’s one of the things that the creative process was on this record as far as just experimenting. In other words, recording till I get it. And if I record 100 fucking songs and I don’t have what I feel like I need yet to make the body of work, then I’m gonna keep going and keep recording.
You’ve written a bunch of your own hooks, and even sing some of them. Where does your sense of melody come from?
That’s a good question. I would want to say that it’s stemming from early hip-hop. Rappers used to fuck around all the time with melodies, at least on the shit that I grew up on. I don’t know keys on a keyboard or what note this is or that is. I can only hum something. But I think it just comes from all the data that I’ve collected in my years of listening to music. And you know, fuck man, I think that as hip-hop started evolving, there was more melody in it, people were starting to sing hooks. Even like, early Slick Rick – [sings] “Hey young world” – those kind of things. Maybe I took it somewhere different at times, I don’t know.
Maybe it’s just pure instinct.
Honestly, that’s probably what it is. I don’t want that to sound like arrogant or nothing but I just don’t know where I get that sense from, you know what I’m saying? I’m not a singer singer. I just know what’s in key and what’s not.
Having Kendrick Lamar on your album, did you have any concern that he might go in and try to upstage you?
I completely respect what Kendrick does and the fact that he’s in the same camp, that he’s on Aftermath, only made sense to me. He came to Detroit, we kicked it for a few minutes, you know, and I felt the vibe of what he’s like and everything, and you know, he’s a super cool and super humble dude. When we did that record, I think that was actually a week or two before he did the verse to “Control.”
Is there advice you would give him at this point?
I don’t know if he needs advice. He seems like he’s got a really good head on his shoulders, man. He’s very smart and you can tell by the way he put his album together for one. He’s like a hip-hop head, man, he just loves hip-hop. And obviously the way that he did the “Control” verse, it was almost like if you get mad at him, then you might look foolish. He set it up so that you can’t really get mad at a lot of that shit he said because it was what every other MC is already thinking. Or you should be thinking.
Fundamentally, do you feel like a rap god or do you feel like an underdog?
I think everything switches back and forth from hour to hour, day by day with me. That whole “Rap God” record pretty much from top to bottom is tongue in cheek. So I mean, do I want to feel like that? Maybe sometimes. Again, it goes back to everybody who competitive raps and does this for just purely the sport of it wants to be the best. Again, that’s why Kendrick’s verse worked so well because he only said what every rapper’s already thinking, If you don’t want to be the best, then why are you rapping?