Enter year 2002. Eminem has already set himself apart from various Detroit artists through his unique rapping style, but his first three studio albums received a lot of mixed reviews from the public. His younger fans, however, indisputably loved his music, written as it was from the perspective of his alter ego, Slim Shady. The name came about as his alias for his band, D12, as a way of differentiating rap styles between the band members, but at the time the name had no image to it. One day Eminem walked into a Detroit drugstore and bought a bottle of peroxide while he was high on ecstasy, not knowing what he was doing. The next day he woke up “looking like a skunk” and went to the recording studio like any other day.1 When Dr. Dre saw Eminem, he knew that Slim Shady’s image had been found. Slim Shady became famous quickly, but there was more to Eminem than a blonde-haired, high-pitched white boy who came from a trailer park. However, a large portion of the public still resented him for his crude lyrics and references to violence.
His movie 8-Mile (2002) presented Eminem in a way that the public was not previously accustomed to — an Eminem that showed compassion toward others, an Eminem that valued family, and most prominently as one with an electrifying rap prowess, seen in the premier song in the 8-Mile Soundtrack, “Lose Yourself (2002).”2 Both his movie and his song allowed people to connect to his life as a struggling adult, but even more so, it allowed them access to his simplistic goals: maintain a family, write rap music, and live a life in comfort. Unfortunately for Eminem, controversy was already plaguing his life and he faced obstacles head-on before he finally achieved a peace of mind.
2000 was a rough year for Eminem: he went through a divorce with his ex-wife Kim Scott, and got in trouble countless times with the law. Eminem loved his daughter, Hailie, and did everything he could to keep the family together for Hailie’s sake. However, Kim grew impatient and upset with Eminem for making her raise a child by herself while he was on tour. This caused a ton of emotional distress between the couple and Eminem claimed that Kim eventually became “emotionally abusive and dependent on drugs.”3 In many of his songs, Eminem gave harsh lyrical depictions of Kim as a bad mother and wife, which added to the list of family conflicts. One night in 2000 while Eminem was out on tour for his first studio album, Slim Shady EP, Kim slit her wrists in a suicide attempt and later accused Eminem of causing emotional distress. In August of 2000, Eminem filed for divorce and Kim filed a $10 million lawsuit. After facing multiple lawsuits that stemmed from his crude use of lyrics, Eminem was sentenced to a total of three years on probation in February 2001.
During his probation, he had a lot of time to think about his decisions and made a conscious effort to center himself. Eventually he took on full parental responsibility for his daughter Hailie, Kim’s niece Alaina, and eventually Whitney, Hailie’s half-sister, after Kim stirred her own trouble with the law. Eminem saw this as an opportunity for him to begin living a stable life with his now three daughters. For the first time in his life, he had money to provide his family with a comfortable life.4
Prior to this event, Eminem would go on tour before coming home to Detroit, where he and his family lived. While on tour for his Slim Shady EP (1999) and Marshall Mathers LP (2000), Eminem would frequently use recreational drugs such as marijuana, alcohol, and psychedelic mushrooms. He loved to perform while “messed up” and the people were crazy for it.5 His performances were probably what made him Eminem but when he was on stage, you would also know him as Slim Shady. In the end, he always left his drug habits on stage with a goal of spending quality time with his daughters.
After going home from his album tours in 1999-2000 he would come home drug-free — Slim Shady left and Marshall Mathers, the father, came back. This was partially due to his probation requirements, which mandated periodic drug testing. From 2001-2004, he limited his drug use to his legal prescription drugs. However, when his three year probation ended, his “reins came off.”6
At the time, Eminem was using Vicodin and Valium for relieving pain and anxiety, as well as Tylenol and NyQuil so that he could get a good night’s sleep. Individually, each of these drugs were capable of helping with his symptoms, but combined, these drugs brought about different health problems including weight gain, memory loss, and especially addiction. As his tolerance for opioid painkillers rose, his body demanded different drugs to give him the same effect, and this caused even more addiction.7
In 2005, he had to cancel his European Anger Management Tour because his drug use was so bad. He told the public he was exhausted at the time and needed to rest to get back in shape, but the truth was he had a problem and thus, the rehab train started. Eminem never had good experiences in rehab because he was always surrounded by fanatics. While he was in rehab, people would ask him for autographs, steal his pens and notebooks, and overall made it difficult for him to focus on the real problem. Eventually, he came out of rehab in 2006 with a positive outlook, but it was not even a year out of rehab before Eminem’s world began to shake.8
In April of 2006, outside of a nightclub in Detroit, Eminem’s lifelong friend and confidante DeShaun “Proof” was killed in an act of violence. Proof had been there through thick and thin for Eminem. He even pushed him to create for himself the Slim Shady alter ego that took his rap game to the next level. Proof was not nearly as famous as Eminem but ever since they met, they recognized that they shared the same sort of rap style. They grew up in the same rough city of Detroit and started their own rap group together called D-12; but most of all, they depended on and trusted each other. Because of this, Eminem felt indebted to Proof and his death brought about a deep depression.9
Once again, his drug addiction got worse. His dependence on opioid drugs continued to plague his life until he eventually overdosed. On an almost fatal Christmas Eve in 2007, Eminem accidentally took too many methadone pills thinking that they were Vicodin pills. Methadone is designed to help people wean off of opioid drugs, but in his case, it served as a wake-up call for him. Yes, he had a problem, but at the bottom of his heart, Eminem knew that what he was doing was not what was best for his family. He decided that he would do what it took to not only rehabilitate, but also recover.10
Unfortunately for him this meant that he had to put down his pen and paper and focus on the issue. From 2005-2008, Eminem was essentially void of any full album recordings and many people were skeptical if he would ever return. This gave him time to reflect on his rise to fame and how it quickly affected him as a person. He spent a lot of time with Elton John, who was able to overcome addiction during the peak of his career. Eminem’s relationship with Elton John was both transforming and long lasting — John would continue to check on him through the tribulations of his addiction.11
During his recovery period, Eminem picked up on some of his old hobbies that helped him rekindle his love for life. When he was seeing a private rehabilitation counselor, he would go running for up to 17 miles a day. During his teenage years, he used to steal cans of paint and draw on denim jackets, and kids even paid him for his talents until it became a business.12
This love for drawing was rekindled in his rehabilitation and even led to a partnership with Marvel Comics to feature Eminem in a comic book. Eventually, his creativity sparked into doing “mind exercises” again and attempting to write rap music again.13 His memory loss was an immense obstacle to overcome. While recovering he often watched old performances and interviews with no recollection of them whatsoever. Being sober helped him relearn his skills and gain the confidence he needed to get back in the studio and work on a new album.
The next step he took to recovery was huge. In 2008, Eminem wrote a memoir dedicated to his lost friend Proof. Inside the memoir, he included some of the most personal insights of his life: events concerning his early to teenage life, pictures with his family and of his most cherished performances, lyric scraps, all in the narration and candidness of his own words. With this, Eminem was able to heal his wounds that stemmed from the loss of his dearest friend and gave him a chance to be open and sincere with all his fans that listened to his music, but were unaware of the true struggles in his life. He even talked about his drug addiction, which had yet to surface until then. The release of this book was Eminem’s way of making a segue into the album he released in 2009, Relapse.14
Relapse proved to his fans that Eminem was not done yet, but more significantly, it proved that Shady was not done, either. He worked with Dr. Dre to help with the direction, and recorded over 100 songs for his new album, turning into a rainbow of different styles and lyrical topics. The end product of Relapse included a traditional Slim Shady, who gave detailed depictions of “fictional violence and graphic sexual content,” but it also included a Marshall Mathers, who spoke down to earth about his struggles with drug addiction and mental issues.15 The Marshall part of the album is most transparent in “Deja Vu” and “Beautiful,” which occur sequentially as the album came to a close. The colorful spread of life experiences and emotions through his album came out to represent a self-portrait. Appropriately, the album cover is literally a portrait of him made of different colored pills made to look like a prescription label and the doctor prescribing it depicts none other than Dr. Dre himself. Eminem was back and he successfully bridged his revitalized rap prowess and an underlying inspirational message. His new album allowed him to turn his feelings into action and created an inspiring message to his fans facing personal struggles such as drug addiction and depression.16
His first studio album release in a total of five years won him two Grammys, including Best Rap Album, and topped Billboard 200 the week it was released, but somehow he was still not done. At the end of 2009, he released a follow-up to his Relapse album so that his fans could get a glimpse of the direction of his new music. He called this follow-up Relapse: Refill, which added on to his original album’s experimental songs as he began to work with new producers; and this is where a true transformation was seen for him. No longer was he focused on relying on the “bugged out” subject matter that Slim Shady thrived on.17 Rather, he worked to move beyond all the jokes and to be an honest worker and rapper. This recovery stage made him a better musical artist, but most of all it helped him become the father he dreamed to be: one that provides financial stability and especially one that fosters growth and good virtues. What appeared to be a repeat album of lyrical graphical violence was really the beginning of a new era of Eminem as a hip-hop artist and as a father. Now, it seems, this Eminem is here to stay.
Best of all, he was even able to return to the stage for the first time in years. He performed a free concert in Detroit for his Relapse album and for the first time in years, performed sober and remembered every second of it.18
There once was a saying that I used to say back in the day when I met Dre. I used to sit around and goof with my friend Proof that if I went gold, I’d go right through the roof. He said “what if you went Platinum” and I’d just laugh at him “that’s not happening, that I can’t fathom.” 80-something million records worldwide later, I’m living in a house with an Elevator.