Emerging from the Detroit hip-hop underground this year with
the hit single "My Name Is," Dr. Dre protégé
Eminem--otherwise known as "Slim Shady"--attacked
the mainstream with a slew of ill beats and outrageous lyrics
about drugs, violence, and a painful childhood.
But like other white rappers who have taken a beating in
the credibility department, Eminem hopes to attain the street
cred that has eluded his Caucasian counterparts. Now that
he's riding high on the success of his major-label outing,
The Slim Shady LP, Eminem is starting his own label to further
the careers of his fellow Motor City rappers and is even thinking
about an acting career.
The lyrically extreme and musically daring Eminem sat down
with LAUNCH's rap/ R&B editor Billy Johnson Jr. recently
to discuss his lyrics, drug-addled teen years, abusive mother,
and stormy relations with the mother of his daughter. Video
excerpts of the conversation can be viewed in Issue No. 30
of LAUNCH on CD-ROM; an exclusive live performance of "My
Name Is..." can also be viewed on the same disc.
LAUNCH: There are some interesting styles of hip-hop coming
from the Detroit area. Is it a coincidence that artists like
you, Kid Rock, and Insane Clown Posse--groups that are totally
different musically--come from the same region?
EMINEM: Being from Detroit and being on some different sh-t,
I don't think it's a coincidence. You've got the East Coast
and you've got the West Coast. The East Coast is predominantly
known for lyrics and the West Coast is predominantly known
for gangsta sh-t, you know what I'm sayin'? Detroit is in
between both of them. So when you mix the two, you get something
crazy. Kid Rock, Esham, and myself are influenced by both
coasts, so when you blend the two of them together, you get
some different sh-t. Which is cool. That's what it's supposed
to be. We're not supposed to sound like we're from either
coast. I want my sh-t to sound like it's somewhere in the
middle, which it is.
LAUNCH: Has there been a resolution to the feud between you
and Insane Clown Posse?
EMINEM: I don't think I take the beef as seriously as they
do, because I don't consider them artists. They look at me
as an artist. I think they get more uptight about it. I can
look at them and laugh. They can't do anything to me. What
can they do to me? They have no credibility, no respect, no
talent, they have nothing. All they can do is dis me vocally,
they can't dis me lyrically. There's nothing they can do to
me as far as the music goes. I don't take it as seriously
as they do and I think that frustrates them. I think it's
LAUNCH: When you were starting out on the Detroit hip-hop
scene, it wasn't necessarily easy for you to get a lot of
respect from your peers. Can you recall the first time you
got respect you were looking for?
EMINEM: I remember I used to go to this place called the
Rhythm Kitchen way back in the day. I was probably 16 or 17.
The first time I grabbed the mic, I got booed before I even
said anything. As I started to rap, the boos just got louder
and louder and louder until I just got off the mic. At this
place called the Hip-Hop Shop, every Saturday, MCs would come
up there and rhyme. The first time I ever got respect was
the first time I grabbed the mic at the Hip-Hop Shop. I had
said some sh-t and people was quiet at first, then cheers
and applause, and it got louder and louder. That was the spot
I started going to every Saturday. They would have official
announce battles every couple of months and I kept winning
LAUNCH: Was it because you went to a different spot or was
it that you were getting better at rhyming?
EMINEM: I think it was something a little different about
me; I started growing up and I just got better. At 15 or 16,
I was wack. I didn't know how I wanted to sound, I didn't
know anything. But at 18, 19, I started learning. This is
how I should sound on the mic, learning how to battle, practicing
freestyle. That was what I was known for in Detroit, in the
underground for a couple of years before all this happened.
LAUNCH: The thing that's missing in hip-hop today is that
very few people have anything interesting to say. You have
a lot of interesting lyrics...things that make the listener
want to go back and rewind and listen again. What is your
approach to writing? Are you a perfectionist?
EMINEM: I'm definitely a perfectionist. I make my music for
me. I know how I want it to sound. I don't think about if
anyone else is going to like it. I listen to it and make it
for me, so that I'm satisfied with it. If I am, then everybody
else will like it. If I say the word "the" wrong,
I'll go back and change it. Usually when I write my songs,
I write the verses and then sum them up with a hook. But my
delivery and the way I say things across the mic, I make sure
that sh-t is perfect, for me, so I can listen to it a million
times and not find a flaw in it.
LAUNCH: How long is the songwriting process usually?
EMINEM: Some songs take longer than others to write, it just
depends on what type of mood I'm in or what I'm thinking at
that time. I don't know, "My Name Is..." was really
simple to write. I thought of the hook right away, even before
I wrote the song. Sometimes I'll do story raps and have to
come back the next day to finish it. "Brain Damage"
took a couple of days to write. It just depends on the mood
and how the sh-t is flowing.
LAUNCH: "Brain Damage" really stands out for me.
I really like the story. I think anybody can relate to it.
Is it a true story?
EMINEM: "Brain Damage" is a true story, except
for my brain falling out of my head. I used to get harassed
by these bullies in school. This one in particular, because
I got a concussion and almost died. When I wrote that, I was
summing up my whole years of grade school, junior high, high
school. The second verse I started getting really truthful.
But when I write a story, I don't want the sh-t to get boring,
so I lay down the truth as the foundation and then mix it
with a little imagination.
LAUNCH: Your writing is really honest and almost comedic
in a lot of ways. Do you think people have the right perception
EMINEM: I think the young people are getting it. The older
people are getting it confused, tending to take my sh-t too
literal. I don't care, it's funny to me, because if I say
my f--king brain fell out of my skull, and they believe it,
what's wrong with them? The younger people have a sense of
humor and can determine right from wrong. Kids are a lot smarter
than we think they are. I only get flack from the white-collar
motherf--kers who don't know about hip-hop anyway. When N.W.A.
came out, look how literal everyone was taking it. It was
entertainment and people didn't understand it. If N.W.A. said,
"I'm gonna shoot you," they believed: "Oh my
God, they're gonna shoot somebody." Maybe Dre or Ice
Cube was mad when they wrote that, but it doesn't mean they
feel that way constantly. When I'm writing I may feel that
way at the time, so I sit down and write that.
LAUNCH: Tupac pretty much wrote the same way.
EMINEM: He had his positive songs, negative songs, angry
songs, just whatever mood he was going through at the time.
That's what writers do.
LAUNCH: Kid Rock said when you write your lyrics you don't
write them in paragraph form--they're just all over the page.
Can you describe the way you write your lyrics?
EMINEM: I collect ideas throughout the week. It might take
a while, but I write on a sheet of paper, scattered ideas,
words and metaphors. When I have enough ideas, I'll piece
the sh-t together. I do it purposely so that if a rhyme sheet
is lost, whoever finds it won't know what it means. Half a
sentence will be here, another half here...a word over here.
I don't know how I started doing it. When I write a full song
now, I start at the corner of the paper, I write in slants.
I don't know why I do that sh-t neither, but I do.
LAUNCH: Is writing therapeutic for you? Do you cope with
things better once you write them down?
EMINEM: Yeah, definitely. My sh-t is like therapy for me,
not only when I'm writing it, but also when I'm in the booth
saying it. It's a way to get sh-t off my chest. On my album,
I've got my happy songs, crazy songs, serious songs--all jokes
aside. Those are songs like, "Okay, I've slit my wrists
90 million times, I cut my own f--king head off, but this
is how I really feel." I put those songs on my album
so you could see for yourself. It's not rocket science here.
It's so clear when I'm joking and when I'm serious, but some
people just don't get it.
LAUNCH: This is not a dis, but have you ever talked to anyone
about your thoughts, like with a therapist or whatever?
EMINEM: Have I ever gone to counseling? I got a doctor for
that sh-t. But Dre ain't helping me for sh-t.
LAUNCH: Will your next album be the same or will it be different?
EMINEM: It's gonna be a little different, probably worse.
Every time I hear critics talk sh-t about me, when they dis
me, they only egg me on and they only make me madder. This
album might have been here, but the next one will be out there
somewhere. Each time I do an album, I'll just keep taking
LAUNCH: You mentioned to me earlier that Master Ace is one
of your favorite artists. What is it about his music that
you relate to?
EMINEM: Master Ace was ahead of his time. I feel like when
that album came out, I went and copped it. MC Proof was the
first one who turned me on to the first album, when the second
album came out, I thought it should have gone double-, triple-platinum,
but it was so ahead of its time that people didn't understand.
He was trying to say that hip-hop was straying from the lyrical
side. I think he was directing things toward the West Coast,
like hip-hop was getting too much like "I'll shoot you,
stab you, and kill you," and we need to get back to the
LAUNCH: You have a tattoo of a mushroom on your arm. Is that
a drug reference?
EMINEM: I just got it. I had to show it off. I try not to
f--k with mushrooms that much any more because that sh-t gets
me too out of my mind. I go through phases with drugs and
sh-t. I have a different drug of choice every other month.
If I do too much of something, I say, "I'm never doing
that again!" I might stray from it for a little bit,
and go back to it later. Mushrooms make me too f--king giggly;
I just laugh at everything. I don't like to laugh too much.
LAUNCH: You say a lot of outrageous things in your lyrics.
How are you in your personal life? Are you an outrageous person?
EMINEM: I do a lot of crazy sh-t that maybe normal people
wouldn't do, but I don't know what the f--k is normal. I don't
consider myself insane. I don't walk around like a f--king
lunatic. Day to day, I consider myself pretty normal. My thoughts,
what I write, I think other people think a lot of the same
sh-t, I just think they don't say it. I may think a little
bit different than the average person, but how I act, dress
and carry myself, I think it's normal.
LAUNCH: Lil' Kim is criticized a lot for being speaking her
mind and being outrageous. But people come up to her on the
street and tell her that they can relate. Do you get the same
EMINEM: Yeah, I get a lot of that. Lil' Kim speaks her mind
and says what she wants to say. There's no in between, people
will either love you for it or hate you for it. That's what
I've found just on a street level--fans, and people on the
street--they either can't stand me or love me for telling
the truth and saying what's on my mind.
LAUNCH: Are there any limitations on what you say? Are there
some things you won't touch?
EMINEM: My thing is this, if I'm sick enough to think it,
then I'm sick enough to say it. Why are these thoughts in
my head? A lot of people think sh-t, they just don't say it.
If I'm crazy enough to think it, then I'm crazy enough to
say it. That's how I base my whole sh-t. I think there's a
reason why I think this way. I don't think I say the things
I say for no reason. I write it down and say it.
LAUNCH: Tell me about the song "Bonnie & Clyde Part
EMINEM: I go through phases with my daughter's mother constantly--we've
been going off and on for nine years--different phases of
our relationship where I want to kill her. I don't know if
you ever felt like you wanted to kill someone, but there have
been times, literally, where I want to kill her. I've had
songs about killing her for five years now that nobody's even
heard. I've killed her, like, 11 times. The song "Bonnie
& Clyde Part II," really "Part I" is what
happened before I killed her and stuffed her in the trunk.
It's like the argument that took place. It's crazy. I don't
want to give too much away. I want people to hear it. When
I did it, I was kind of high, so I came back and listened
to it the next day, I was just like, "Whoa."
LAUNCH: What does your daughter's mother think about all
EMINEM: She thinks I'm crazy. She thinks I'm f--king nuts.
When I did "Bonnie & Clyde '97" she was mad
because I took my daughter into the studio and put her vocals
on it. At the time, she was keeping me from my daughter. I
barely got to see her at all. So when I did get to see her,
I wanted to use that to get back at her. My daughter was being
used as a weapon against me. I put the song on an EP that
was only released in Detroit. I never thought it would be
as big as it is. She was mad. She thinks I'm f--king crazy,
insane for real. But it's all good. But maybe I am!
LAUNCH: What kind of influence does your daughter have on
EMINEM: She keeps me from being too extreme. I realize that
no matter how crazy I act onstage or how wild I may get, there's
got to be a limit. I can't step out of a certain boundary--I
have to be here for her. Her father has to remain alive. I
have to maintain. She really helps me when I'm about to do
something too stupid. All I have to do is think about Haley.
She keeps me in check, definitely.
LAUNCH: Do you have a name for your next album?
EMINEM: I've got a title, but I don't want to reveal it yet,
because I change my mind a lot. I don't want to say it's this
and it comes out and it's called something else.
LAUNCH: Will your next album this possibly be your last?
EMINEM: I won't know until it's finished and I put it out.
LAUNCH: Even though you've been working underground for years,
now that you are well-known, why would your next album be
EMINEM: Just depends on how I feel after it's done. Right
now, My little girl is three years old. I'm missing the best
years of her life. I'm not seeing her grow up. There's gonna
be a time when I have to think, "Yo, do I want this?
Or do I want this?" If I can't find a balance, I'll have
to make a choice. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow,
you know what I'm saying? I'll have to see what happens with
the next album, then I can make a decision, but right now,
I really can't.
LAUNCH: Do you think you could write a song about dealing
with an issue like that?
EMINEM: Yeah, I can make a song about anything. I probably
will write a song about that. I just started working on my
next album recently. I don't know where it's gonna go. I know
where it's headed towards...but I don't know where I will
totally take it yet.
LAUNCH: Whenever someone mentions the song "Guilty Conscience,"
they bring up your comment about Dre and Dee Barnes. How did
that come up? How did you deal with it and what was Dre's
EMINEM: When we did "Guilty Conscience," it was
pretty much Dre's concept to come up with a song with the
devil on one shoulder, and the angel on the other. Like in
Animal House, the dude was about to rape the girl, he had
a devil on one shoulder telling him to do it and an angel
on the other telling him not to. That's kind of the concept
I based it on. Dre lately has been on the positive tip, trying
to clean up his image and sh-t. I'm at the stage where I don't
give a f--k. Of course, I was the devil, he was the angel.
I came up with the three scenarios: The liquor store, the
rape, and sh-t. At the end of the song, I felt I was losing
the battle, so I felt I had to take pokes at him. Like, "Are
you gonna listen to him?" And I remember when he slapped
Dee Barnes. So when I wrote it, I didn't tell him I was going
to say it. He fell over in his chair laughing, so I guess
it was all good. But I was thinking the whole time, "What
is he going to say about this?"
LAUNCH: What do you think about the idea that you're the
one rap artist that's bringing Dre back to prominence? Does
that pressure you? How do you feel about that?
EMINEM: I wouldn't say I was bringing Dre back. I don't think
he ever left. "Phone Tap," on the last album, The
Firm, was dope to me. "Phone Tap" was one of the
dopest beats I ever heard. I just want to return the favor.
Dre basically saved my life; my sh-t was going no where. Dre
took me in and taught me a lot, not just rap-wise, but business-wise.
Whatever I can do to return the favor, I'm here. We've got
a chemistry that works and we'll make it work for however
long it works.
LAUNCH: When you say Dre saved your life, do you mean you
would have left hip-hop all together and found something else
EMINEM: I would have probably quit in '97 if it weren't for
Dre. My daughter was one at the time. I couldn't afford to
buy her diapers. I didn't have a job. I had job after job
after job and just kept getting fired. I didn't have a high
school diploma. I failed ninth grade three times. I was basically
going nowhere. When I made the Slim Shady EP, I told the production
people, "Yo, if this doesn't work, I'm about to be 23,
I gotta quit, get a job, do something." We just so happened
to go to L.A. that same year and Dre heard the tape, gave
us a call. I was reaching a boiling point, doing a lot of
drugs and f--ked-up sh-t because I was so depressed. So when
I say Dre saved my life, I mean he literally saved my life,
and I feel like I owe him a lot.
LAUNCH: Dr. Dre 2001: What is your involvement with that?
EMINEM: I've been in there pretty much from the beginning,
just being involved, giving my input, writing, doing whatever
I can do to make the sh-t hot. The album is over-the-top,
definitely some classical sh-t. It's going to be bigger than
my album. I know this for a fact. But it's hot, man. I don't
want to give any details. I just want people to be surprised.
I want to sit back and say, "I told you!"
LAUNCH: To be linked with one of hip-hop's best producers,
what does it say about you sticking to your guns and not giving
up or changing what you do, when you thought people wouldn't
EMINEM: I think that's why people do accept me because from
Slim Shady EP to LP, I haven't changed sh-t. "My Name
Is..." blew up commercially, but we had no plans for
that. We just thought it was a hot song and we put it out.
Now, you've got underground kids talking sh-t about me like
I'm a pop artist because I made one song that was catchy.
My album is probably the rawest album this year, as far as
material and sh-t. It's not an egotistical assumption, that's
just the way I feel. I haven't changed sh-t lyrically, style-wise.
I'm still me. I could have made a commercial album. But I
didn't. My album is underground as f--k, but the single blew
up, people heard it and bought the rest of the album. My sh-t
is underground. If I've got some appealing sh-t, is that my
fault? That's what you're supposed to do, right? Otherwise
you stay underground and you stay broke as f--k.
LAUNCH: Do you still battle?
EMINEM: I f--k around with my friends and crew members and
sh-t, but as far as me going out and getting in a battle with
MCs, I'm a marked man. Everybody knows everything about me,
and I wouldn't know anything about the person I'm facing off
against. I don't really choose to do that. Sometimes at shows,
I'll pull someone onstage to battle just to make them look
stupid. Some people think that I don't have it anymore. "Eminem
made an album and now it's double-platinum and he can't battle
no more." That's bullsh-t. I do it for the fun now. I
don't take it as seriously as I used to take it. Back then
when I was coming up through the underground, it was a do-or-die
situation. When I lost the Rap Olympics, I was ready to kill
somebody. There was a $500 prize and a Rolex. I was evicted
from my house and I needed that money. Now, I do it for the
LAUNCH: Is there a female celebrity out there that you'd
like to get with?
EMINEM: Female celebrity? Mariah Carey. If she's reading
this...I love you!
LAUNCH: I understand that people have questioned whether
you're black or white.
EMINEM: Whether or not I'm white? Last time I checked I was,
I guess. I looked in the mirror this morning and was combing
my hair and I said, "Wow, I'm sure white today!"
I was born this way, I don't think I have much say in the
LAUNCH: I understand that you have a song on the Wild Wild
West movie soundtrack. Who are playing with on the track and
what is the song about?
EMINEM: It's me and Dre. It's a Western theme. We wanted
to tie in with the wild, wild West for the soundtrack. At
the same time, it's a sneak preview of what's coming up on
the Chronic II. We're plugging Chronic II and still staying
tied into the movie.
LAUNCH: Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet?
EMINEM: I don't spend much time on the Internet. I don't
really get into computers and sh-t. I don't have the patience
to sit down. I'm a jittery person; I don't like to stay in
one place too long, unless I'm writing. And sometimes when
I'm writing, I get up and I pace the room. Sitting at a computer,
I can't really function like that. I look every now and then
to see what's going on.
LAUNCH: What do you think about groups like the Backstreet
Boys and 'N Sync?
EMINEM: I'm not mad at them--Backstreet Boys, or whatever--they're
just doing whatever it is they do. It's not the same type
of music I'm doing, so I don't feel I'm in competition with
them. I think they're corny as f--k. All those boy bands and
girl bands and sh-t. But little teenyboppers like it. So sell
it and do it, I guess.
LAUNCH: Is there anything else in the works for you?
EMINEM: I'm probably going to be starting my own label soon
called Shady Records. Right now the artist I'm looking at
is MC Proof, who is on tour with me now. Actually, he's my
hype man. Bizarre Kid is another MC from Detroit. It may sound
biased, but I'm really trying to kick open the doors for Detroit--to
put Detroit on the map full-blown. Until I do that, I won't
stop with Detroit MCs. If I come across a dope MC from another
town, I'll put them on the label, but Detroit has been struggling
LAUNCH: Are you looking to get into acting any time soon?
EMINEM: I've had some offers to do some movie roles. I haven't
taken anything yet because I don't want it to take away from
the music. I'm already busy as f--k. Touring, working on my
new album, doing all the interviews, etc. I don't want to
get too busy. I already can't see my family. Dre and I have
talked about a feature film about my life. But it will be
some bugged-out sh-t: how Dre sees my life, how he thinks
I was conceived and sh-t. It's some ill sh-t. But we've just
been talking about it. It's not official yet.
By Billy Johnson Jr., Launch.com