“It’s been a ride. I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one. Now some of you might still be in that place. If you’re tryna get out, just follow me. I’ll get you there.”
Eminem says this to his listeners at the beginning of “Not Afraid”, a track from his album “Recovery”. Here he’s referring to his addictions, one of the darkest phases of his life and his recovery from it.
The story of Hip Hop and Rap sensation Marshal Mathers, aka Eminem, is one of the many stories about not giving up. Over the years, with the rise of motivational speakers and self-help books, this phrase has been overused to the point of annoyance. Yet, it remains accurate and relevant. To most of us. Maybe all of us at some point.
Stories of actual human beings, of people like you and me, drive this point home much better. So, let me begin at the beginning.
Life Begins With a Promise of Sadness
On October 17th, 1972, in Missouri, a boy named Marshal Bruce Mathers III was born. With an absent father and constant shuttling between cities, young Marshal did not have a great start in life. Being a white boy in a predominantly black neighbourhood, he often got beaten up and bullied in school.
Even life back at home was not that great as he often ended up fighting with his mother. He also had to work several jobs to help his mother pay the bills. However, she let runaway Kimberly “Kim” Scott stay with them, and Eminem later began an on-and-off relationship with her.
With life so harsh, he found respite in storytelling and comic books. He even hoped to become an artist one day. Things took a turn when his uncle introduced him to rap music. At age 14, he started rapping with his friends and adopted the name “M&M” (yeah, you guessed it. It later evolved to the widely known Eminem). He also began going to lunchroom rap battles, open mics etc.
A Rocky Start, Professionally
At age 16, Eminem formed his first group and made a demo tape. He went on to join a production company with his childhood friend, Proof. They created a group called the Dirty Dozen or D12 and released their first album, Devil’s Night, in 2001.
His single music career had a rocky start. His debut album Infinite was released in 1996 and proved to be a commercial failure. He did not have his characteristic angry style of rapping till then, and people suggested he moves to Rock and Roll instead.
His personal life was also troubled at this time. With little to no money and a newborn daughter with Kim, he found it very difficult to make ends meet. He worked 60 hours a week at a local family restaurant and worked on his music. But they lived in a crime-ridden neighbourhood, and their house got robbed several times.
Such turbulent times, failure of Infinite and substance abuse led him to almost give up on life at that time.
All May Not Be So Bad Afterall
The year 1996 was terrible for him. No doubt. But the years afterwards were going to be full of promise. In 1997, we recorded his debut Extended Play, “Slim Shady”. Slim Shady became his ‘alter ego’ of sorts, which was angry and violent with words and attracted more attention from the audience.
After being fired from his job and evicted from his house, Eminem took his family to live with his mother. He then went to Los Angeles to compete in the Rap Olympics of 1997. There, a record label intern asked him for a copy of Slim Shady EP and sent it to the company’s CEO. Eventually, Dr Dre, an established rapper, heard his music and immediately hired him under his label.
From there, Eminem’s career soared. Dr Dre became a mentor and a lifelong friend and collaborated with him on multiple tracks. He released Slim Shady Long Play in 1999, which was the year’s most popular album. He went on to release ten such albums, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 in his career so far.
Addiction, Controversies, and Never Giving Up
A human being’s life story cannot be fully and truthfully captured in a few hundred words. I just tried to sum up an expansive and popular career in just a line, but that excludes from it all the troubles and roadblocks that Eminem had to face. From 1999 till today, he has run into quite a few of them. He has regularly been involved in controversies and disputes with fellow artists like Michael Jackson, his mother, and even the United States Secret Service. At one point, he developed a dependency on sleeping pills, gained a lot of weight and became virtually unrecognisable.
But one thing that remained constant in his life was never giving up. He trudged through the pain and the problems. There were so many points in his life where I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had held up his hands and retired. But he didn’t. And now he gets to leave behind a vast legacy. “Why be a king when you can be a God?”
If, my dear readers, you are interested in learning about his detailed journey, I recommend reading his Wikipedia page. That’s where I read this too. Let us know what you think of this article. Also, let us know what propels you forward in the face of adversity?