Guess Who’s Back?
By Sasha Perera
“I would ask Dre, ‘What do you think people wanna hear from me?’, and the best advice he gave me was, ‘People wanna hear you lose your fucking mind again’. I was like, ‘Okay’.”
And so began the sessions for Eminem’s brand new album Relapse – his first new studio album since 2004. With Dr. Dre back at the helm contributing the beats, Eminem found his voice again, and the result is Eminem we love – and some love to hate. His biting lyrics, satirical attacks, and demented story-telling comes to life on Relapse, reminding audiences why he’s one of the best lyricists in the hip hop game.
“Ya know, I heard things like, ‘He should reinvent himself’, ‘He should come back completely different’, and I thought to myself, no I don’t, I just need to go back to what made me in the first place,” Eminem says to me when we sit down together at a London recording studio last week to discuss his return to the recording studio and the public spotlight. The healthy-looking rapper is surprisingly candid – and surprisingly serious – throughout our chat, referring to his recent battles with drug addiction and his loss of confidence. I asked him whether he was worried about his return, and whether he wondered whether he’d still be on the same page as his fans.
“Yeah… I mean there were several times where, within the break that I took, that I questioned myself. I didn’t know whether I still had it – the case of writer’s block that I had was pretty bad so I started to question myself, ‘Can I do it again?’.”
The writer’s block he speaks of, was as a result of a number of things, including his over-exposure as a superstar, the death of his best friend Proof (from band D-12), and his addiction to drugs – reportedly Vicodin, Ambien, Valium and methadone pills. The addiction resulted in the cancellation of international tours and sent the rapper into rehab, and kept him out of the recording studio. “To make a long story short… I guess I wanted to step away from the spotlight for a while. I wanted to produce records, and I battled a pretty serious addiction problem – I think that, more so than anything – and I just wanted to reassess and reevaluate my life, and where I wanted to be in my career. I spent three or four years out of that time battling my drug addiction, and I’ve spent a little over a year sober, now.”
Following his recovery, back in the studio and working with Dre, Eminem began work on Relapse, which once again cleverly combines lampooning pop like the single ‘We Made You’, with much darker storytelling and role-playing, as can be heard on the next single ‘3AM’, in which Eminem plays the role of a bloody serial killer. Once again controversy goes hand-in-hand with Eminem, and some critics are already up in arms about his new batch of lyrics. I asked Eminem whether it was a case of pushing the boundaries as a criteria for his art, or if it was his sense of humor, or just the way he thinks. “It’s all of those – it’s sense of humor, it’s the way I think… it’s just all different sides. When I sit down to write there’s no formula that I go in and say I’m gonna make this kind of song, or I’m gonna talk about this – it’s kind of whatever the beat is telling me to do. Whatever I feel like the beat is saying, ya know what I mean?”
Surely he has to realize that his harshest critics will come after him saying that songs like ‘3AM’ are too dark, and that he has crossed the line again? “That’s great – I hope they do,” he shrugs.
As a lyricist, does he ever feel he can go too far? “I don’t think I can, no. And I certainly haven’t gone far enough yet. I’ve just begun – believe me when I say this,” he warns.
It’s hard to imagine Eminem going further than he’s gone lyrically on Relapse. Take for example the album track ‘Insane’ on which he graphically raps in first-person experience about sexual abuse from a step-father. Some might ask, why even write a song like that? “Why not?” he deadpans. “I mean, a song like ‘Insane’ is probably the perfect example of a rhyme gone bad. The way I started the record was that I had the first line, ‘Born with a dick in my brain / fucked in the head’, and me as a rapper, I don’t just try and rhyme the last syllable of each rhyme, I try to rhyme as many words as I can. Compound-phrasing is something that I’ve done since the beginning of my career. So, ‘Fucked in the head / sucked in the bed / Teddy Ruxpin instead’, and just see how far I can take the rhyme. As soon as I started thinking of it, I was like, ‘Oh-oh’! See what I mean? I just went where the pen took me, and that’s why the chorus is, ‘Is he nuts, no, he’s insane’.
Eminem is equally unapologetic when it comes to his alter-ego Slim Shady who runs wild with a series of attacks on celebrities on the single ‘We Made You’. “Well, the thing is, when I talk about all these other celebrities and things like that in my music, it’s not intended to be personal shots. These aren’t personal attacks on this person’s being. This is like picking names out of the air, or just picking names out of a hat. Their name rhymes with something I’m thinking about right at that moment, so it’s like, ‘Ooh, that’d be crazy right there’, ya know what I mean? And ya know what, they’re famous, they’re pop stars, so I guess they’re sitting ducks… so it is what it is, but it’s not meant to be personal attacks. Like Kim Kardashian said a couple of things publicly which were kinda cool to me because it’s like, she gets it. She’s not offended, she knows what it is.”
Unlike Nick Cannon (Mr. Mariah), who was up in arms last week, and obviously offended by the album track ‘Bagpipes From Baghdad’ which takes some unabashed and very personal major shots at both Mariah and Nick. Nevertheless, despite the valiant attempt at husbandry, Nick needs to take a number and get in the queue, or just move on. Trying to stand in the way of Slim Shady and his line of fire seems to be a pointless exercise, which will surely only add to his lyrical ammunition.
With plans to release a follow up to Relapse later this year – already recorded with Dre – Eminem is firmly back on track, although he is still a little weary about overloading his commitments and planning a world tour.
“I haven’t got that far yet… as far as touring and stuff like that I haven’t really even discussed it with anybody,” he says shaking his head. “I’m kinda just taking it a day at a time… my recovery and everything like that I’m taking a day at a time, so I’ll have to see what happens with these two albums,” he says, seemingly oblivious to the impressive reception fans and audiences are already giving Relapse, which reinforces the fact that Eminem is as relevant now as he ever was before.
What: Relapse is out now through Universal