Having reclaimed the throne with the resounding success of Recovery, Eminem has recruited a remarkable stable of renowned MCs to revive his record label.The underground-scene supergroup Slaughterhouse: Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden, Crooked I and Royce Da 5' 9". Plus rising Alabama star Yelawolf. This is shady business. Two-point-oh.

Interview: Vanessa Satten
Images: Kai Regan

Lil Wayne stole the name of Eminem's next project. Rebirth should be Em's.

Following his return to rap in 2009—after a fi ve-year hiatus chock-full of drama—the superstar MC’s fi rst release was Relapse, a brilliantly rhymed album that lacked the depth both fans and critics were eagerly waiting for. 2010 brought Recovery, a quietly rolled out follow-up effort, almost a do-over for heads waiting for the lyrical master to bequeath them with the rawness and realness he brought on his fi rst three albums. Boosted by the smash hit singles “Not Afraid” and “Love the Way You Lie,” featuring Rihanna, Recovery has sold 3.4 million albums to date and earned Em 10 nominations for February’s Grammy Awards.

Today, a frigid winter day in December, at a Manhattan photo studio, the recovered rapper’s about to kick off the rebirth of his record label, Shady Records. Inside an L-shaped dressing room with large windows overlooking the city’s west side, a major business deal has just wrapped. The rap supergroup Slaughterhouse made up of lyricists Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz, Crooked I and Royce Da 5’9”— have signed to Shady.

The deal was a year in the making. Em and Royce had to bury the hatchet over a beef that started over misunderstood lyrics back in 2000, and hammering out details of four separate solo careers is tricky. Now that it’s fi nally offi cial, spirits are high. But Em’s got another trick up his sleeve, one that has remained a tight-lipped secret: In September, Shady signed the rising Alabama star Yelawolf. The assemblage of such a collective harkens back to the 1990s, when rap was dominated by crews like Bad Boy, Death Row, Ruff Ryders and No Limit.

Today, for the fi rst time ever, Eminem and all fi ve of his newest signees sit together, roundtable style, and give fans the heads up on the rebirth of Shady Records.

It’s about to get lyrical.

XXL: So can you tell us what we’re doing here today?
ROYCE DA 5’9”: Um, we’re shootin’ a cover for XXL magazine. Slaughterhouse, our new family member Yelawolf, and this guy [gestures to Eminem]. Slaughterhouse just officially signed our record deal with Shady Records. Just now.

Just now?
JOELL ORTIZ: Just, just now. Twenty bucks.
ROYCE DA 5’9”: It’s official.
EMINEM: A $20 advance.
ROYCE DA 5’9”: Yeah, our advance was $20. It came right out of his pocket.
EMINEM: To split.
ROYCE DA 5’9”: To split, yeah.

Four ways. So $5 each?
ROYCE DA 5’9”: So, after taxes, that’s what? I don’t plan on paying taxes.
EMINEM: No, it’s cash.

Seems like a pretty big deal, Slaughterhouse and Yelawolf signing to Shady. What do you think it means for hip-hop? Joe?
JOE BUDDEN: I don’t wanna go first.

Okay, forget Joe. Fuck him. One of you, what does this mean?
JOELL ORTIZ: It just feels good to put lyricism in the forefront again, in my eyes. Some of my heroes, when I came up rhymin’, were Biggie Smalls, Big L—rest in peace to all these—Big Pun. Dudes who were passionate about the way they put words together, the message they sent when they rhymed, and just bein’ ill with the pen. And I feel like this group, and Yelawolf and Em, are dudes who stand for that. And it’s good to see the pure form gettin’ shine again.

You guys feel similarly?
ROYCE DA 5’9”: I feel like we’re contributing to hip-hop. Like we’re actually giving back by doing what we’re doing right now. Because the kids are being force-fed one thing. So this is giving hip-hop a balance. It’s not to diss people who are not lyricists, but to have a whole crew of people that just only focus on writin’ lyrics. I haven’t thought about record sales yet since we been in this equation. The only thing I been thinkin’ about is gettin’ in the studio and actually keepin’ up with these dudes. And I think, the kids, they need to learn that.
JOE BUDDEN: To add to that, though, I think I speak for each member of Slaughterhouse when I say it’s even more special, because we’ve all had issues quote-unquote with the system and major labels. So I think it’s just a testament to up-and-coming and aspiring artists: If you are true to what you believe in, and if you are true to yourself, I say all the time, the alternate route may take much longer, but ultimately it will get you to the same place. So to have somebody who I, myself, and many other people recognize as the best MC look at us and see the potential in us…
EMINEM: Slaughterhouse, it’s kinda phase two of Shady. The new generation of Shady Records. And as we’re trying to rebuild our label. But it’s exciting for hip hop because everyone in the group is a solo artist, and it’s, like, all these forces coming together to make a record together, with all of everybody’s ideas and shit, like that, and what everybody’s capable of on the mic, it’s gonna be fun.

It’s also the idea that, if you’re all strong at something, you can challenge each other more and more if you’re together. That it can get better and better.
EMINEM: Everybody here, as an MC, is competitive. And I think, Yelawolf being in the family, the Shady family, it’s gonna make him hear what these guys are doin’ and wanna step his own shit up. When I hear these guys, I wanna step my shit up. And when they hear each other, I think it’ll probably be a competitive atmosphere, like, makin’ these records. And that’s better for hip-hop. It feels like, now… You know, for a few years it didn’t feel like lyrics were in anymore. It wasn’t cool to be lyrical. Where does battling fi t into that? It seems that hip-hop doesn’t have the level of competition that it used to.
ROYCE DA 5’9”: That battle edge, you gotta understand that a lot of people wanna take it directly to the streets. So it’s, like, you got different corporations; they hate each other. You got Bill Gates, and he might hate the CEO of Oracle. But they just do a friendly competition thing. Whereas in hip-hop, it’s so close to the streets that, once somebody has a battle with somebody, it can spill over into the streets and create problems. I think that’s what the problem is. I mean, back in the day, you didn’t like a dude, you said, “Boom, that’s a sucker MC.” Now they got the phrase “hater,” and they, like, “He’s a hater; he’s hatin’.” And I think that kills some of the competition, because some of the best records are born in beefs. “Hit ’Em Up.” “Who Shot Ya?” “No Vaseline.” So I think that we, as hip-hop, gotta fi nd a way to get that competitive spirit back without always going straight to the streets and trying to get crews on shoot-outs and shit.
JOE BUDDEN: Depending on how old you are, that’s where it come from.
ROYCE DA 5’9”: These kids now, they don’t even call it battlin’. They just straight up call if beef. Such and such is beefin’.
YELAWOLF: Adding to battling, it’s also regional and cultural. Because, in Alabama, in Georgia, there was never really no battle scene growing up. You know, it was storytelling. Cadillac, parking-lot rapping. Just kicking verses and shit. Nobody was going at it with metaphors and all that other shit.

It was for fun.
YELAWOLF: I mean, yeah. Well, for hustlin’ mixtapes and shit like that. It’s just a different scene. So along with that comes a different growth of music. That’s how OutKast and Dungeon Family created that. It was more of a funk, more of a story, more of a not going at each other but just making songs for the sake of making songs, you know? I’ve never personally been in any beef or any rap battle. I just made records, and that’s just what got me to where I’m at.
JOE BUDDEN: You never stood next to me.
EMINEM: Yeah, get ready, buddy.
[Everyone laughs]
JOELL ORTIZ: Gonna have the Wolf a-howlin’!
CROOKED I: “Oh, you fuckin’ with Joe? Oh, fuck that shit. I’m fi nna diss Yelawolf.”
JOE BUDDEN: They’ll be throwing shots for no reason at you.
[More laughter]