Battle rapper Eminem is perhaps the most successful of Dr. Dre’s proteges. Dre’s work with N.W.A., Snoop Dogg and the Death Row Records roster was groundbreaking, but it was with a white rapper from Michigan that he went mainstream.
Eminem, born Marshall Mathers, first came to prominence by placing second in the 1997 Rap Olympics MC Battle in Los Angeles. Eminem had already created his Slim Shady persona, an act not unlike a rap version of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. An EP release did not fare well, but Dre and Interscope president Jimmy Iovine, one of music’s all-time greatest producers, liked what they heard and quickly signed the 25 year old rapper.
The Slim Shady LP, Eminem’s first major label release, reached #2 on Billboard’s Album Chart in 1999. That would be the lowest chart position any subsequent Eminem album reached for six years as his next three releases scorched sales charts and held the #1 slot. The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000’s follow up to Slim Shady went platinum, selling more than one million copies in its first week of release.
Despite all this success, Eminem’s personal life was grist for the tabloid mill. The rapper was arrested in 2000 in Warren, Michigan over a fight at a night club. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed weapon, but eventually entered a plea bargain. His conviction for carrying a concealed weapon brought probation and community service.
Meanwhile, Eminem’s family was imploding. His mother, Debbie Mathers-Briggs, filed a lawsuit over slander and even cut an album deriding her son. Even worse was the constant trouble his wife Kim caused. After a suicide attempt and a similar $10 million lawsuit for slander, she was arrested in 2001 and 2003 for cocaine possession although she was never convicted as a result of the 2001 arrest.
As his albums were selling extremely well, Eminem turned to acting, appearing in the 2002 film 8 Mile. The movie about a Detroit area rapper was shot for $41 million and earned nearly three times that amount at the box office. The film won a surprise Academy Award for Best Music for the song Lose Yourself. That song remains Eminem’s sole number one song on the Billboard Hot 100, but many others have charted in the top 10.
A winner of nine Grammy Awards, including three for Best Rap Album, Eminem has tried to rehabilitate his image, keeping a lower profile and attempting to distance himself from the Slim Shady persona. His 2001 duet with Elton John at the Grammy Awards was one such attempt. Another was the ballad like rap to his daughter Hallie from his 2004 release, Encore, an album sharply contrasting his attacks on Moby and Limp Bizkit on 2002’s The Eminem Show.
Eminem tried remarrying Kim, but the two filed for divorce in 2006 in an even more media-frenzied manner with the former Ms. Mathers calling at least one Detroit radio station to accuse Eminem of addiction to pain medication.