The most promising new rapper of the year is a cartoonishly
angry welfare kid from the Detroit ghetto. Oh, and by the
way, he's white.
ive this kid a magazine rack, because he's got a lot of issues.
For starters, there's race (he's the "corny-lookin' white
boy" who got his lunch money stolen at his inner-city
school and never forgot), drugs (he's well acquainted with
mushrooms, weed, etc.), and women (he envisions his mom as
a drug addict with no breasts, fantasizes about murdering
his baby's mother, and advises a husband to cut off the head
of his adulterous wife). For 23-year-old Marshall Mathers,
a.k.a. Eminem, a.k.a. Slim Shady, whose major-label debut,
The Slim Shady LP, is the shocker pop-hit of 1999 (entering
the Billboard 200 at No. 2 with more than 280,000 first-week
sales), life is a bitch who needs to die, now! He's so angry
his "dance" song features a line about Kurt Cobain
committing suicide. But by outrageously spoofing every fear
every parent ever had about his/her child, the album also
defies any pat answer as to why this runty dude is so pissed
off. And it implicitly ridicules anybody who tries to label
his music as either "positive" or "negative."
Less than a year ago, Eminem was a little-known, if nastily
skilled, MC from Detroit, with only an independently released
album and EP to his name. Now, after hooking up with Dr. Dre
(he'll soon appear on Dre's Chronic 2000 album), he's been
known to give shout-outs to Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine onstage.
Since early '99, MTV has been endlessly rotating the uproarious
video for his single "My Name Is," in which Eminem
impersonates Marilyn Manson and Bill Clinton, as well as a
publicity bit featuring Missy Elliott and Dre giving the rapper
props (Interscope also bought commercial time to play the
video during Howard Stern's Saturday night CBS TV show). He's
getting spins on hip-hop radio stations, extremely rare for
a white artist, and is even recording a song for Limp Bizkit's
new album. All those years he spent fighting for his right
to be white finally paid off.
Spin: From listening to your album, you get the impression
that your childhood was pretty much a living hell. What was
it really like?
Eminem: I was born in Kansas City, and my dad left when I
was five or six months old. Then when I was five we moved
to a real bad part of Detroit. I was getting beat up a lot,
so we moved back to K.C., then back to Detroit again when
I was 11. My mother couldn't afford to raise me, but then
she had my little brother, so when we moved back to Michigan,
we were just staying wherever we could, with my grandmother
or whatever family would put us up. I know my mother tried
to do the best she could, but I was bounced around so much-it
seemed like we moved every two or three months. I'd go to,
like, six different schools in one year. We were on welfare,
and my mom never ever worked. I'm not trying to give some
sob story, like, "Oh, I've been broke all my life,"
but people who know me know it's true. There were times when
friends had to buy me fuckin' shoes! I was poor white trash,
no glitter, no glamour, but I'm not ashamed of anything.
Spin: These were mostly African-American neighborhoods where
you grew up?
Eminem: Yeah, near 8 Mile Road in Detroit, which separates
the suburbs from the city. Almost all the blacks are on one
side, and almost all the whites are on the other, but all
the families nearby are low-income. We lived on the black
side. Most of the time it was relatively cool, but I would
get beat up sometimes when I'd walk around the neighborhood
and kids didn't know me. One day I got jumped by, like, six
dudes for no reason. I also got shot at, and ended up running
out of my shoes, crying. I was 15 years old and I didn't know
how to handle that shit.
Spin: Were most of your friends black?
Eminem: When you're a little kid, you don't see color, and
the fact that my friends were black never crossed my mind.
It never became an issue until I was a teenager and started
trying to rap. Then I'd notice that a lot of motherfuckers
always had my back, but somebody always had to say to them,
"Why you have to stick up for the white boy?"
Spin: When did you first get into hip-hop?
Eminem: The first hip-hop shit I ever heard was that song
"Reckless" from the Breakin' soundtrack; my cousin
played me the tape when I was, like, nine. There was this
mixed school I went to in fifth grade, one with lots of Asian
and black kids and everybody was into break dancing. They
always had the latest rap tapes-the Fat Boys, L.L. Cool J's
Radio-and I thought it was the most incredible shit I'd ever
Spin: What'd you think when you first heard the Beastie Boys?
Eminem: That's what really did it for me. I was like, "This
shit is so dope!" That's when I decided I wanted to rap.
I'd hang out on the corner where kids would be rhyming, and
when I tried to get in there, I'd get dissed. A little color
issue developed, and as I got old enough to hit the clubs,
it got really bad. I wasn't that dope yet, but I knew I could
rhyme, so I'd get on the open mics and shit, and a couple
of times I was booed off the stage.
Spin: Your single ("My Name Is") is getting played
on both Modern Rock and Urban radio. Are you surprised at
how quickly you're being accepted?
Eminem: Thing is, I'm not really a commercial rapper. My
whole market, my whole steez, is through the underground;
if those hip-hop heads love it, I'll rise above. It's like,
you hardly ever hear a Wu-Tang song on the radio, but they
rose from the underground on word of mouth.
Spin: Has being white really affected the way you see yourself
as a rapper?
Eminem: In the beginning, the majority of my shows were for
all-black crowds, and people would always say, "You're
dope for a white boy," and I'd take it as a compliment.
Then, as I got older, I started to think, "What the fuck
does that mean?" Nobody asks to be born, nobody has a
choice of what color they'll be, or whether they'll be fat,
skinny, anything. I had to work up to a certain level before
people would even look past my color; a lot of motherfuckers
would just sit with their arms folded and be like, "All
right, what is this?" But as time went on, I started
to get respect. The best thing a motherfucker ever said about
me was after an open mic in Detroit about five years ago.
He was like, "I don't give a fuck if he's green, I don't
give a fuck if he's orange, this motherfucker is dope!"
Nobody has the right to tell me what kind of music to listen
to or how to dress or how to act or how to talk; if people
want to make jokes, well fuck 'em. I lived this shit, you
know what I'm sayin'? And if you hear an Eminem record, you're
gonna know the minute that it comes on that this ain't no
Spin: Did you ever come close to quitting?
Eminem: About three or so years ago, not that long after
my daughter [Hailie Jade Scott] was born. I was staying in
this house on 7 Mile Road, and little kids used to walk down
the street going, "Look at the white baby!" Everything
was "white this, white that." We'd be sitting on
our porch, and if you were real quiet, you'd hear, "Mumble,
mumble, white, mumble, mumble, white." Then I caught
some dude breaking into my house for, like, the fifth time,
and I was like, "Yo, fuck this! It's not worth it. I'm
outta here." That day, I wanted to quit rap and get a
house in the fucking suburbs. I was arguing with my girl,
like, "Can't you see they don't want us here?" I
went through so many changes; I actually stopped writing for
about five or six months and I was about to give everything
up. I just couldn't, though. I'd keep going to the clubs and
taking the abuse. But I'd come home and put a fist through
the wall. If you listen to a Slim Shady record, you're going
to hear all that frustration coming out.
Spin: Could you see why some black people might be not be
so enthusiastic about a white kid trying to be a rapper?
Eminem: Yeah, I did see where the people dissing me were
coming from. But, it's like, anything that happened in the
past between black and white, I can't really speak on it,
because I wasn't there. I don't feel like me being born the
color I am makes me any less of a person.
Spin: Did you ever wish you were black?
Eminem: There was a while when I was feeling like, "Damn,
if I'd just been born black, I would not have to go through
all this shit." But I'm not ignorant-I know how it must
be when a black person goes to get a regular job in society.
Music, in general, is supposed to be universal; people can
listen to whatever they want and get something out of it.
Personally, I just think rap music is the best thing out there,
period. If you look at my deck in my car radio, you're always
going to find a hip-hop tape; that's all I buy, that's all
I live, that's all I listen to, that's all I love.
Spin: How do you feel about other white rap fans?
Eminem: Say there's a white kid who lives in a nice home,
goes to an all-white school, and is pretty much having everything
handed to him on a platter-for him to pick up a rap tape is
incredible to me, because what that's saying is that he's
living a fantasy life of rebellion. He wants to be hard; he
wants to smack motherfuckers for no reason except that the
world is fucked-up; he doesn't know what to rebel against.
Kids like that are just fascinated by the culture. They hear
songs about people going through hard times and want to know
what that feels like. But the same thing goes for a black
person who lived in the suburbs and was catered to all his
life: Tupac is a fantasy for him, too.
Spin: Should suburban white kids, who don't have any firsthand
experience of the way black people live, really be identifying
so closely with hip-hop?
Eminem: Well, whether a white kid goes through as much shit
as I did, or didn't go through any trouble at all, if they
love the music, who's to tell them what they should be listening
to? Let's say I'm a white 16-year-old and I stand in front
of the mirror and lip-synch every day like I'm Krayzie Bone-who's
to say that because I'm a certain color I shouldn't be doing
that? And if I've got a right to buy his music and make him
rich, who's to say that I then don't have the right to rap
Spin: Do you think that hip-hop culture can open up their
minds at all?
Eminem: I don't know, man. Sometimes I feel like rap music
is almost the key to stopping racism. If anything is at least
going to lessen it, it's gonna be rap. I would love it if,
even for one day, you could walk through a neighborhood and
see an Asian guy sitting on his stoop, then you look across
the street and see a black guy and a white guy sitting on
their porches, and a Mexican dude walking by. If we could
truly be multicultural, racism could be so past the point
of anybody giving a fuck; but I don't think you or me are
going to see it in our lifetimes.
Spin: What do you think will happen if your album blows up
and becomes a huge hit?
Eminem: I imagine I'll go through a lot of this same racial
shit, but that'll just make my second album better-because
I'll have even more to rap about.
By Charles Aaron, Spin.com