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Eminem: The Rolling Stone Interview

Marshall Mathers reflects on fatherhood, sobriety, and life as one of the most compelling — and obnoxious — MCs in hip-hop

Eminem, The RootsEminem, The Roots

Eminem during 2004 MTV European Music Awards in Rome, Italy on November 18th, 2004.

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Eminem has become a family man. During two long conversations over two days in Detroit in October, he constantly mentions the kids he’s raising, as any proud father would: His daughter, Hailie Jade, will soon be nine, his niece Alaina is eight, and his half brother, Nate, is eighteen. In October, Marshall Mathers turned thirty-two. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and Detroit without a father figure, but he has grown into a committed parent who goes to school plays and everything. He schedules most of his recording in Detroit and has put his movie career on hold so he can be home with the kids at night.

He has slowed down his drinking and his drug use since two 2000 gun charges that he feared would take him away from Hailie, but his ex, Kim Mathers, has slogged through her own legal morass. In June 2003 she was arrested for possession of cocaine, then failed to show up in court and for a short while hid from the police. Eminem says that explaning the situation to Hailie and Alaina “was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through.” At the time of our first interview, Kim was in jail. At the time of our last interview, she had been released. “She’s out right now,” he said. “We’re hoping that stays kosher.”

Encore is Eminem’s fifth solo album, and he remains one of the most skilled, compelling, audacious, obnoxious and important MCs in hip-hop. He thanks his mother for the troubled childhood that still fuels his anger in “Never Enough”; he tells Kim that he hates her in “Puke” and that he still loves her in “Crazy in Love”; and he declares his devotion to Hailie on “Mockingbird,” which he calls his most emotional song ever. He also attacks President Bush for the Iraq War in “Mosh” and says, “Strap him with an AK. . . Let him impress Daddy that way.”

On Encore, Eminem refers to himself as “Rain Man” because, he says, he doesn’t know how to do anything besides hip-hop. He doesn’t consider himself “a good talker” because his conversation is rarely as direct as his rhymes, but for two days when he sat for the Rolling Stone Interview he was open and intropective. We started out in a dank little room at a photo studio and continued in the recording studio where he does most of his work. The first day he lounged on a small black couch, wearing Nike gear and Jordans and picking at white-chocolate-covered nuts. Ever the fifteen-year-old, he said, “What’s up?” and then asked, “Would you like to eat my white nuts?” He laughed. “C’mon, put my white nuts in your mouth.”

Who in your family loved you? Did any of the adults make you feel special?
My Aunt Edna, which would be my great-aunt Edna, and my Uncle Charles, my great-uncle Charles. This was in Missouri. They’re from my dad’s side. They took care of me a lot. My Uncle Charles passed in ’92 or ’93, and Aunt Edna passed away just six months ago. She was, like, eighty-six. They were older, but they did things with me; they let me stay the weekends there, took me to school, bought me things, let me stay and watch TV, let me cut the grass to get five dollars, took me to the mall. Between them and my Uncle Ronnie, they were my solidity.

Did they connect you with your dad?
They’d tell me he was a good guy: “We don’t know what your mother’s told you, but he was a good guy. “But a lot of times he’d call, and I’d be there — maybe I’d be on the floor coloring or watching TV — and it wouldn’t have been nothing for him to say, “Put him on the phone.” He coulda talked to me, let me know something. ‘Cause as far as father figures, I didn’t have any in my life. My mother had a lot of boyfriends. Some of ’em I didn’t like; some of ’em were cool. But a lot would come and go. My little brother’s dad was probably the closest thing I had to a father figure. He was around off and on for about five years. He was the dude who’d play catch, take us bowling, just do stuff that dads would do.

When I saw you playing with Halie back in February, you were so respectful. A lot of people talk down to little kids, but you talk to her like she’s intelligent.
Thank you for seeing that. I just want her and my immediate family — my daughter, my niece and my little brother — to have things I didn’t have: love and material things. But I can’t just buy them things. I have to be there. That’s a cop-out if I just popped up once in a while, didn’t have custody of my daughter and my niece.

Do you have full custody?
I have full custody of my niece and joint custody of Hailie. It’s no secret what’s been going on over the past year with my ex-wife. I wouldn’t down-talk her, but with her bein’ on the run from the cops I really had no choice but to just step up to the plate. I was always there for Hailie, and my niece has been a part of my life ever since she was born. Me and Kim pretty much had her, she’d live with us wherever we was at.

And your little brother lives with you.
I’ve seen my little brother bounce arond a lot from foster home to foster home. My little brother was taken away by the state when he was eight, nine.

You were how old?
I was twenty-three. But when he was taken away I always said if I ever get in a position to take him, I would take him. I tried to apply for full custody when I was twenty, but I didn’t have the means. I couldn’t support him. I watched him when he was in the foster home. He was so confused. I mean, I cried just goin’ to see him at the foster home. The day he was taken away I was the only one allowed to see him. They had come and got him out of school. He didn’t know what the fuck was goin’ on. The same thing that had happened in my life was happening in his. I had a job and a car, and me and Kim, we bounced around from house to house, tryin’ to pay rent and make ends meet. And then Kim’s niece was born, which is my niece now through marriage. Watched her bounce around from house to house — just watchin’ the cycle house to house — just watchin’ the cycle of dysfunction, it was like, “Man, if I get in position, I’m gonna stop all this shit.” And I got in position and did.

So you have joint custody of Hailie, but she lives with you and spends most of her time with you and not with Kim.
I don’t know if I’m inclined, or allowed, to say more than what is fact. In the last year, Kim has been in and out of jail and on house arrest, cut her tether off, had been on the run from the cops for quite a while. Tryin’ to explain that to my niece and my daughter was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through. You can never let a child feel like it’s her fault for what’s goin’ on. You just gotta let her know: “Mom has a problem, she’s sick, and it’s not because she doesn’t love you. She loves you, but she’s sick right now, and until she gets better, you’ve got Daddy. And I’m here.”

What are your goals and principles as a dad? I’m sure there are boundaries.
Bein’ a dad is definitely living a double life. As far back as I can remember, even before Hailies was born, I was a firm believer in freedom of speech. I never wanted to compromise that, my artistic intergrity, but once I hit them gates where I live, that’s when I’m Dad. Takin’ the kids to school, pickin’ ’em up, teachin’ ’em rules. I’m not sayin’ I’m the perfect father, but the most important thing is to be there for my kids and raise them the right way.

What are your biggest rules as a parent?
Teach them right from wrong as best I can, try not to lose my temper, try to set guidelines and rules and boundaries. Never lay a hand on them. Let them know it’s not right for a man to ever lay his hands on a female. Despite what people may think of me and what I say in my songs — you know, me and Kim have had our moments — I’m trying’ to teach them and make them learn from my mistakes. It’s almost like juggling — juggling the rap life and fatherhood.

Well, in the nexus of that juggling is Hailie, who’s in some of your songs, like “My Dad’s Gone Crazy,” from “The Eminem Show.” Does she get to hear the songs she’s in?
Most of the time I’ll make clean versions of the songs and play them in the car. When she made “My Dad’s Gone Crazy,” it’s a crazy little story. If I feel like I’m working too much, I let the kids come up to the studio. I get this little guilt trip inside, so I would have Kim just bring her up and let her hang around the studio. So me and Dre were working together, and Hailie was running around the studio and she was like [in Hailie’s high voice], “Somebody please help me! I think my dad’s gone crazy!”

Instantly that locked in with a beat we’d made the day before. I went to my house, and I had her go in the booth and say it. When she opens up, she’s just like her dad in a lot of aspects. I just told her what to say and she nailed it, the first take. It almost was scary, to where I had to slow it down. I don’t know if I wanna put her on any more songs. I don’t wanna make her any more famous. She can live a life. She didn’t choose to have her father become a rap star. Nor my niece, nor my brother. So they’re able to go outside and live a normal life, go to stores and do things normally that I can’t do. Which is why, a lot of times, certain things I can’t be there for.

What about school events?
School is different. In school, when they have plays, field trips, all that stuff, I don’t miss them, even if I gotta deal with the craziness. And the teachers are really good about telling the kids, “When Hailie’s dad comes in, he’s Hailie’s dad, Mr. Mathers.” Last year I went and read to the class. Two books. It was reading month or something. There’s a Hailie love song on this album. Yeah, a song called “Mockingbird,” to Hailie and Alaina. When Mom was on the run they didn’t understand it, and I’m not the greatest talker in the world, especially when I’m trying to explain to two little girls what’s goin’ on with someone who’s always been a part of their life and just disappeared. So that was my song to explain to them what was goin on, probably the most emotional song I ever wrote.

Michael Jackson called your mocking of him in the “Just Lose It” video “demeaning and insensitive.” Are you picking on Mike?
I didn’t do anything in the video that he hasn’t said himself he does. With the little boys jumping on the bed and all that — they’re just jumping on the bed. People can take what they wanna take, decipher it how they wanna decipher it. But it’s not actually Michael Jackson, it’s me playing Michael Jackson, studying the moves and doing the impressions. I don’t have an opinion, really, neither here nor there, against Michael Jackson. When Thriller came out, you couldn’t tell me nothing about Michael: Dude was the ultimate, dude is a legend. But the allegations that are thrown at him and the seriousness of the case — the guy’s jumping on top of his van dancing?

And showing up to court late.
I showed up to that motherfucker an hour early every morning. I’m not playing with court. And now I think my fans should rally around me for making fun of myself.

Paris Hilton is in the “Just Lose It” video. She seems like the sort of person you’d normally be dissing, not doing a video with.
Well, when I was on MTV with La La it kinda slipped out. La La said, “How did you manage to get Paris?” I said: “Well, I love Paris. I love her almost as much as she loves herself.” Then I was like, “Damn, that was fucked up.” I try not to attack people who haven’t attacked me first. As far as the image she portrays right now, as far as the way my girls look at her, do I want them to grow up to be like that? No. But for a video, for entertainment, that’s a different thing. The song is about goin’ to the club and losin’ it, and you get so drunk you say the wrong thing. And we needed somebody to punch me, slap me and pull my hair. Our first candidate was Jessica Alba. We couldn’t get Jessica, and Paris happened to be in town.

There are two songs about Kim on Encore. In “Puke,” you hate her so much she makes you want to vomit. Then in “Crazy in Love,” you’re like, “I hate you, yet I can’t live without you.”
It’s a love-hate relationship, and it will always be that. We’re talking about a woman who’s been a part of my life since I can remember. She was thirteen when I can remember. She was thirteen when I met her. I was fifteen.

What was it like the first time you saw her?
I met her the day she got out of the youth home. I was at a friend’s house, and his sister was friends with her, but she hadn’t seen Kim in a while ’cause she was in the youth home. And I’m standing on the table with my shirt off, on top of their coffee table with a Kangol on, mocking the words to LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad.” And I turn around and she’s at the door. Her friend hands her a cigarette. She’s thirteen, she’s taller than me, and she didn’t look that young. She easily coulda been mistaken for sixteen, seventeen. I said to my friend’s sister, “Yo, who was that? She’s kinda hot.” And the saga began. Now there’s the constant struggle of “will I ever meet somebody else that’s gonna be real with me, as real as I can say she’s been with me?”

You get deep into your feelings about President Bush and Iraq on “Mosh.” Do you think the war in Iraq was a mistake?
He’s been painted to be this hero, and he’s got our troops over there dying for no reason. I haven’t heard an explanation yet that I can understand. Explain to us why we have troops over there dying.

There is no good answer.
I think he started a mess. America is the best country there is, the best country to live in. But he’s fuckin’ that up and could run our country into the ground. He jumped the gun, and he fucked up so bad he doesn’t know what to do right now. He’s in a tailspin, running around like a dog chasing its tail. And we got young people over there dyin’, kids in their teens, early twenties, who should have futures ahead of them. And for what? It seems like a Vietnam 2. Bin Laden attacked us and we attacked Saddam. We ain’t heard from Saddam for ten years, but we go attack Saddam. Explain why that is. Give us some answers.

Are you voting?
I’m supposed to hand my absentee ballot in today. I’m going for Kerry, man. I got a chance to watch one of the debates and a piece of another one. He was making Bush look stupid, but anybody can make Bush look stupid. I’m not 100 million percent on Kerry. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I hope he’s true to his word, especially about his plan to pull the troops out. I hope we can get Bush out of there, and I hope “Mosh” wasn’t too little, too late. That can sway some of the voters or open people’s minds and eyes up to see this dude. I don’t wanna see my little brother get drafted. He just turned eighteen. I don’t want to see him get drafted and lose his life. People think their votes don’t count, but people need to get out and vote. Every motherfuckin’ vote counts.

There’s a song on “Encore” called “Like Toy Soldiers” where you get into issues around the battles you’ve had recently. It made me think about how you’re a battle rapper who came up in an era where battling was pure, and now it’s like, “Damn, if I really go too hard, somebody might get shot.”
Someone might die.

It’s gotta be ill to not be able to just battle out like you want to. Battling has been such a great part of hip-hop history.
It’s sad. But I’m not gonna sit back and watch my people be hurt. It’s like a Bush thing: You’re just sending your troops off to war and you ain’t in it. You’re fuckin’ playing golf and you sent your soldiers over to get killed. As you get older, you start to think that if you’re just beefin’ to be beefin’ or tryin’ to sell records, that’s not the way to go. Because what usually ends up happening is somebody’s entourage gets hurt. And it’s not worth it. Battling always started out like a mind game: who could psych who out, who could look the scariest. Then it became people saying, “This is my life you’re fucking with. This is everything I stand for, this is my career. If my career is gone tomorrow, then my life is gone tomorrow.” That’s how people end up losing lives.

Last year, “The Source” uncovered a tape that you made when you were sixteen where you said “nigger.” What was that about?
This is what we used to do. I’d go in my man’s basement and do goofy freestyles, and we’d call ’em sucker rhymes, and the whole point of the rap was to be as wack as possible and warm up before we actually did songs that we wrote. And that ended up just happening to be the topic that day. I just broke up with a black girl, and the rest of the story I address on the album. I’ve got a song called “Yellow Brick Road,” and it basically explains the whole story from beginning to end, how the tape derived.

How did “The Source” get it?
I don’t know. The tapes kinda floated loosely. I never had control of them. It was something we just did and forgot about.

When it came out, were you pissed?
I was angry at myself. I couldn’t believe that I said it. The tone that I’m using, you can almost tell that I’m joking, but the words are coming out of my mouth. If there was never no Eminem, it wouldn’t be so shocking, but given who I am and what I stand for today, then what else could be Eminem’s Achilles’ heel? When the shit came out I owned up to it. I apologized for it. But I can’t keep apologizing for something I said when I was sixteen years old. If you wanna ask me about something I said during my career when I got signed as a rapper and knew that I was speaking to a lot of people, then we can talk about that. But until then, shit that I did as a fucking kid — I mean, we’ve all done stupid shit. Shit that you and your friends might have known was a joke, but had anybody else outside of that heard it, they might have taken it a different way.

In our generation the word “nigga” is used by black and white kids as an expression of love, but even now you won’t say it.
Yeah, it’s just a word I don’t feel comfortable with. It wouldn’t sound right coming out of my mouth.

Do you see a similarity between “nigger” and “faggot”? Aren’t they the same?
I’ve never really seen it that way. Growing up, the word faggot was thrown around. The two words were thrown around, they were always thrown around. But growing up, when you said faggot to somebody it didn’t necessarily mean they were gay. It was in the sense of, “You fuckin’ dick.”

But you don’t see these two words doing the same thing?
I guess it depends on if you’re using it in a derogatory way. Like, if you’re using the word faggot like I just said, in the way of calling them a name, that’s different than a racial slur to me. Some people may feel different. Some white kids feel comfortable throwing the word around all day. I don’t. I’m not saying I’ve never said the word in my entire life. But now, I just don’t say it in casual conversation. It doesn’t feel right to come out of my mouth.

Does it bother you when a black man says, “Eminem is my nigga?”
No. If a white kid came up to me and said it, I probably would look at him funny. And if given the time to sit down with him I’d say, “Look, just don’t say the word. It’s not meant to be used by us. ‘Specially if you want something to do with hip-hop.”

You’ve sobered up some. Has that changed your music at all?
Nah. I feel like I still got the same passion for what I do. BD — Before Drugs — and AD — After Drugs.

You used to talk a lot about drugs, and you had a druggie manicness, and I wonder if you’ll become more clear-eyed.
Well, I definitely feel more wide-eyed and more aware of my surroundings and what’s going on. Going through them days and experimenting and mentioning different drugs, the way that I put it out there, like I got mushrooms and acid and weed, people automatically assumed I was on drugs every time they saw me. Kids would come up to me like, “Yo, Shady, I know you got them ‘shrooms!” And I’d be like, “Yo, I’m chillin’.” I mean, I went through my little phase, and I just realized it wasn’t the thing for me. It wasn’t the thing for me before fame, and there’s no reason for it to be the thing for me now. Especially since I’ve reached a certain level of maturity that hopefully includes a happy medium of immaturity.

Let’s talk about your process as a writer. How do you come up with hooks?
I think the beat should talk to you and tell you what the hook is. The hook for “Just Lose It” I probably wrote in about thirty seconds as soon as the beat came on. It was the last record we made for the album. We didn’t feel like we had the single yet. That was a song that doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just what the beat was telling me to do. Beats run through my head — and rhymes and lyrics and wordplay and catchphrases. When you’re a rapper, rhymes are just gonna come at you. Those words are usually inside that beat, and you gotta find them.

Have you ever tried the Jay-Z method of not writing the rhymes out, just coming up with them in your head?
Yeah, I’ve done that. If you’ve ever seen my rhyme pads, my shit is all over the paper, because it’s a lot of random thoughts. But a lot of times I’ll be short a couple of bars, and I’ll have a couple of lines wrote down and then I just go in the booth and try shit, and see what I’ll say. I’ll lose my space on the paper and just start blurting out, and it’ll just come out. Music for me is an addiction. If I don’t make music I feel like shit. If’I don’t spend enough time at home with my kids I feel like shit. Music is my outlet, my kids are my life, so there’s a balance in my life right now that couldn’t be better.

So you were a teenager when you first heard the Beastie Boys, and they allowed you to feel like, “Oh, I could be part of hip-hop.” 3rd Bass probably gave you more of that sense. Yeah, but then along came the X-Clan. I loved the X-Clan’s first album [To the East, Blackwards, 1990]. Brother J was an MC that I was afraid of lyrically. His delivery was so confident. But he also made me feel like an outcast. Callin’ us polar bears. Even as militant as Public Enemy were, they never made me feel like, “You’re white, you cannot do this rap, this is our music.” The X-Clan kinda made you feel like that, talking [on “Grand Verbalizer, What Time Is It?”] about “How could polar bears swing on vines of the gorillas?” It was a slap in the face. It was like, you’re loving and supporting the music, you’re buying the artist and supporting the artist, you love it and live it and breathe it, then who’s to say that you can’t do it? If you’re good at it and you wanna do it, then why are you allowed to buy the records but not allowed to do the music? That was the pro-black era — and there was that sense of pride where it was like, if you weren’t black, you shouldn’t listen to hip-hop, you shouldn’t touch the mike. And we used to wear the black and green.

You wore an Africa medallion?
Me and a couple of my other white friends. And we would go to the mall.

I remember I had the Flavor Flav clock. The clock was so big and ridiculous, it was the perfect Flavor Flav clock. It was fuckin’ huge. And me and my boy are in matching Nike suits and our hair in high-top fades, and we went to the mall and got laughed at so bad. And kinda got rushed out the mall. I remember this dude jumpin’ in front of my boy’s face and bein’ like, “Yeah, boyyyeee! What you know about hip-hop, white boyyyeee?!”

You must’ve had drama with the Africa medallion.
I’d be tryin’ to explain to my black friends who didn’t really feel like I should be wearin’ it, like, “Look, I love this culture, I’m down with this.” But you’re a kid, so you’re not really sure of anything, you haven’t really experienced life yet, so you don’t really know how to explain yourself to the fullest. You’re tryin’ to find your own identity and you’re stuck in that whole thing of, who am I as a person? Walkin’ through the suburbs and I’m getting called the N-word, and walkin’ through Detroit I’m getting jumped for being white. And goin’ through that identity crisis of, “Am I really not meant to touch the mike? Is this really not meant for me?”

And all this is inside you as you’re coming up as a white rapper trying to enter this black culture.
Even growing up as a kid, being the new kid in school and getting bullied, getting jumped. Kids are fucked up, kids are mean to other kids. School is a tough thing to go through. Anybody will tell you that. I didn’t really learn how to fight back till seventeen, eighteen. I reached my peak around nineteen, where people would call me and say, “Yo, I got beef with such and such — can you come help me out?” They knew I’d fight. I had a friend named Goofy Gary. He’d call me and say, “Yo, I just got jumped up at Burger King.” And I’d say, “All right, Proof, we gotta go fight for Goofy Gary. Let’s get in the car. C’mon.” Then I found myself being the aggressor, which was a little strange from the few years prior to that being the loner kid who didn’t fuck with nobody, wasn’t lookin’ for trouble.

When was the last time you got into a physical confrontation with anyone?
It’s been a while. There’s been a couple little push-and-shove incidents but nothing really recently. Nothing since catchin’ them gun cases and standing before that judge. That changed me a lot. I realized that this dude controls my life, and he can take me away from my little girl. It slowed me the fuck down.

Used to be Eminem was in the police blotter from to time to time, but since that case you’ve made a conscious change.
Yeah. When I got off probation I remember sayin’ to myself, “I’m never fuckin’ up again. I’m-a learn to turn the other cheek.” I took on boxing just to get the stress out. Plus I chilled out a lot as far as the drinking and the drugs and all that stuff. Just chillin’ out on that made me see things a lot clearer and learn to rationalize a lot more. Sobering up, becoming an adult and trying to just become a businessman.

Not sayin’ that I don’t still got it in me. Not sayin’ I’m not still down for mine. But things changed. What I want to do is make records, get respect, have fun, enjoy life and see my daughter grow up. I don’t feel like I portray myself as a gangster; I feel like I portray myself as somebody who won’t be bullied or punked. If I feel like I’m being attacked and somebody comes at me sideways with something I didn’t start, then that’s a different story. But I just try to do what I do, get respect, and that’s it. If I can make people laugh and spark some controversy, good. It is entertainment.

Sparking controversy is key to you being who you are.
It kinda is. It’s part of the whole mystique and the freedom of speech.

I see a lot of similarities between you and Madonna in the first phase of her career, because you both work with the idea that “if I make some people hate me, then that will make those who like me love me that much more intensely.”
Yeah, definitely. You can’t cater to every fan. Everyone’s not gonna love you. Imagine how many people are on the planet. How can everybody love you?

But if some people hate you. . .
It’s gonna make people who love you, love you more. I remember when 8 Mile came out and suddenly I was the good guy, and I was being appreciated for what I do. That was a little strange to me. I was like, “Oh, shit, I got old people comin’ up to me sayin’ they love my music and I got them into hip-hop.”

Do you want to do more movies?
I kind of want to finish my music thing first. There was a point in time with 8 Mile, doin’ the soundtrack, the score to the movie and The Eminem Show that I felt like I was really neglecting life at home. I’m busy, and I stay busy, but I want to remain in control of things where I can stay in the city and go home at night to my kids. I’m a father before anything else, and anybody who knows me knows that that’s the most important thing to me, that I can be close to my kids, and be there.

Where’s your relationship with Kim now?
Neutral at best.

Romantic side is over?
Yeah, that seems to be pretty much out the window, but we’ve still gotta show each other that mutual respect. I can’t walk around the house tryin’ to mess with Hailie’s head, saying, “Your mom’s wrong.” I used to get caught up with that with my mother, as far as saying bad things about any boyfriend she had that I liked. I don’t wanna get them caught up in “Your mom’s wrong,” and then Hailie goes to see her mother, who says, “Your dad’s an asshole.” We don’t do that. It’s about raising these kids. She’s out now. And hopefully she can get her life back in order. Before anything, it’s gotta be for these kids. She knows it, I know it.

In This Article: Coverwall, Detroit, Eminem, Hip-Hop


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