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FEATURE: Eminem, Hard To Kill

Photography Perou
Photography Perou

It’s felt sort of empty without him, hasn’t it? One of the biggest superstars on the planet, EMINEM has been on a three-year hiatus, dealing with some awfully heavy personal issues. He’s back now, though.

And up to his old tricks. Sick. But healthier than ever. Tucked away in the VIP room of Morton’s steak house in downtown Cleveland, Eminem sits at the head of a long, 12-seat dinner table, looking more like a high school baseball shortstop than a multimillionaire don of the hip-hop world. He’s rocking a white Jordan fitted cap to the back, with a platinum cross dangling atop a wrinkled white T-shirt, black sweats, and Nike Air Max on the feet. Along with his longtime manager and partner, Paul Rosenberg, D12 producer Denaun Porter, and an eight-member team of label support, assistants and security, the 36-year-old rap star is watching Michigan State handle Connecticut in an NCAA Final Four game, which is playing on a huge flat-screen hanging on the mahogany walls. Repping Detroit harder (and more successfully) than General Motors, the crew oohs and aahs and screams at every basket, urging the Spartans to victory. Em cracks jokes about his publicist peeing on people in a riot back in the days. (Never happened.) But just as everything seems dorm-roomish and festive, word comes down. “Let’s roll. Em has to be there now.”

That’s a sentiment no doubt shared by millions of fans worldwide. One of hip-hop’s biggest-selling artists ever (his 34 million total domestic album sales ranks second only to Tupac), Eminem has been mostly MIA for the past three years. After an aborted European tour in summer 2005, the troubled icon ducked out of the spotlight to deal with a growing drug problem—one exacerbated, the next year, by the failure of his second marriage to Kimberly Scott, and even more by the loss of his best friend and rap partner, Proof, who died in a tragic, and still somewhat hazy, shooting incident in a bar on the very 8 Mile Road that Em has made so famous.

But he’s back. This spring marks the release of his sixth solo album, Relapse, the first of two on tap for the year. Judging from a quick listen to the setup singles “Crack a Bottle” (with fellow Interscope Records pillars Dr. Dre and 50 Cent) and “We Made You,” and a few select unreleased tracks, it’s pretty clear that rap’s nimble-tongued clown prince wants to reclaim his throne. With an emphasis on the cartoony, TV-steeped ultraviolence that rocketed him to fame 10 years ago, Em’s rapping in his Slim Shady guise, with a nod to his favorite Marvel comic-book hero, the trigger-happy vigilante Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher. “The Punisher just seemed appropriate for my return to the scene,” he says. “Shady with a vengeance!” Everyone feels the wrath—from horror-flick serial killers, like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, to train-wreck starlets, like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, to failed vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. In the video for the first single, “We Made You,” Kim Kardashian gets the wood-chipper treatment.

But tonight there’s more serious business to attend to. It’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 24th annual induction ceremony, and the blue-eyed, formerly golden-haired god of hip-hop’s modern era will be introducing the greatest group from hip-hop’s early years, Run-DMC, before they take the stage and receive their prestigious due. Fresh from Morton’s, backstage at the museum’s performance hall, crumpled-up, handwritten speech tight in his fist, Em paces the small dressing room right next to the one occupied by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. “I’m about to rock this shit!” he says, goofing on his own nervous energy, as a black leather coat arrives for him to wear. “I don’t know what I’m about to rock, but I’m about to do it! I’ma, ummm, rock this speech!”

He hops up, dons the coat and a matching Run-DMC–style fedora, takes the walkway to the stage and busts a b-boy stance at the podium. The audience leaps to its feet. The place goes crazy. Somebody screams “It’s Eminem! He’s back!”

Where have you been? It seems like a whole generation of hip-hop has gone in the time that you’ve been away.

Yeah, well, there were a few things that played into that factor. First of all, I went for seven years straight and never took a break. It got to the point where I felt like I needed to pull back. After the last tour, the Anger Management 3, as everybody knows, I went into rehab for a drug problem that, honestly, didn’t get better when I went into rehab. I wasn’t ready to go into rehab. I felt that, at the time, everyone else was ready for me to go. And I wasn’t ready.

You weren’t ready mentally?

I wasn’t ready mentally. I wasn’t ready to give up the drugs. I didn’t really think I had a problem. Basically, I went in, and I came out. I relapsed, and I spent the next three years struggling with it. Also, at that time, I felt like I wanted to pull back, because my drug problem had got so bad. I felt like, Maybe if I take a break, maybe this will help. I started to get into the producer role more… I can still be out there with my music, like with the Re-Up album, but I don’t have to be in the spotlight the whole time.

What types of drugs were you were taking?

Ever since the beginning of my career I dabbled in Vicodin, Valium, Ambien. It was kind of like a recreational thing that, for some reason, when it first started out, like ecstasy and shit like that, I was able to do it and step away from it. Drinking, I was able to do it and step away from it. But slowly it started progressing. For a while, there were, like, four to six months where I struggled with ecstasy. I had found myself taking it before every show.

So you would go out, rock these shows…

Yeah, like, on the Warped Tour, me and Proof would split a hit, like half a hit or whatever, and on top of it, I was drinking or whatever. Then I would come home and be like, Aight, I’m not gonna do it around the kids. So those would be the times I’d clean myself out. I’d be home for a week, two weeks or whatever and be like, I’m done with this. Then I’d get back out on the road and then… It started becoming that I’d be doing it all the time if people had it. I wouldn’t carry the shit on me. I wouldn’t have it myself. If we were around that kind of party atmosphere and somebody had it, which my music at that time always attracted that crowd, like the raver kids and shit like that, we’d end up hanging out with some kids somehow, and people would be around us and be like, “Hey, I got some mushrooms, I got this, I got that.” Slowly, after a period of time, it became where we were buying it on the road. So we would kinda say, “Who’s got the E?” It became where I wasn’t doing it anymore because people had it, I was doing it and actually purchasing the shit, just because. Then it got to a point where I felt like I needed it to be onstage. My biggest thing was sleeping. I would take NyQuil and shit like that. I’d be like, Okay, well, this worked last night. But I got to take extra tonight, ’cause it ain’t gonna work. Now I got to get a prescription for something. I got to see my doctor.

Because you couldn’t sleep?

It’s between the schedule and all the shit when it starts to get crazy. When you’re in album cycle and touring and shit like that, the schedule… You got to be somewhere at certain times. You only got this little window to sleep. And if you don’t sleep, you are kind of fucked for the next day. So it was all the mental things that I went through. I struggled with ecstasy, kinda struggled with drinking. But I was able to cut it off, which is what I never understood about pills. But that’s obviously what you learn in rehab. It’s what becomes your drug of choice. Certain addicts may not struggle with… I may not have a problem with liquor. But if I drink liquor and I get to where I get a hangover the next day, I’m screaming for a Vicodin. “Oh, I wish I had a Vicodin!” So, basically, I struggled off and on with prescription pills, like, the next three years. Then, everybody knows, I went through a divorce. I was trying to put my family back together. That ended up not working out. Then losing my best friend. It was kinda like going through those struggles. None of that shit was easy. My addiction got worse and worse and worse.
I had to come to the realization, I mean, I’ve been clean for a year now, but I had to come to the realization that I want to do this. This ain’t something that anybody can just tell me, know what
I mean? This isn’t something that everyone can want for me.

When did you know that it was time for you to go to rehab?

There were a bunch of moments where I felt like, I want to do it, I want to do it. Ah, maybe now is not the time. Maybe I’ll just do this for a little longer. I started realizing, like,
I took a break from the spotlight, and I felt like I wanted to be with my family and spend more time with my kids and stuff like that. But the whole time, I’m walking around the house high most of the time. So I’m missing out on the best parts of their lives. There were several moments. And it got to the point where the guilt that I started feeling inside for doing the shit… I wasn’t fooling anybody but myself.
I had to come to that realization. At the time, I’m 35 years old, how long am I going to keep doing this? I felt like I needed to grow up, and if I didn’t grow up, it was like, now or never.-DATWON THOMAS

For more of Hard To Kill, the Eminem cover story, make sure to pick up XXL’s May issue on newsstands now.

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