XXL: With your more recent records, it seems like your producing is influencing your vocals. You’re experimenting with different cadences, rhyming in melody more than ever. Is that something you’re doing consciously?
Eminem: Um, well it kind of goes back to just my ear. I seen a quote recently from Nelly where he said that there’s rappers that stay on top of the beat, there’s rappers that stay behind the beat and he wants to be inside the beat. And that would be the best way to describe it. I mean, I don’t think me and Nelly, stylistically, are similar at all. But I would definitely agree with that quote that he gave, because that’s the same way I feel as far as just wanting to be inside the beat, just hearing the melody and locking into the rhythm. Whatever the bass line is doing, whatever the drums are doing, I want to sink right into that. On The Marshall Mathers LP I got a little better at riding beats, like staying on top of them. But on The Eminem Show I started riding the hi-hat instead of the snare or the bass drum, like with “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.” Every time I do a new song, it’s like I’m learning a new trick.
There are certain songs on this album where you seem to be more intent on having fun with flows and placing less emphasis on content. Does it ever concern you that this could come at the expense of your lyrics?
I always concentrate on lyricism, whether I’m trying to make a point or I’m just buggin’ out. A song like “Toy Soldiers” has an eight-bar drum loop that sounds like marching-band drums. I took it home and I studied the pattern that it was doing. I wrote the rhyme right to it. Just memorized the pattern and learned it by heart. I tried to make every word hit on the kicks and the snares.
It’ll usually start out, when I first start making the record, that the first five, six or seven songs will be dark, like real emotional. And then, usually at the tail end, I get in with Dre, and that’s when I start making the crazy shit. His beats do something to me. They just inspire me to say bugged-out shit. When I hear his beats, I swear his beats talk to me. So the melody, there’s no trick to it. It sounds like his beats are saying it.
Dre produced “Just Lose It,” which was one of the last songs you did for this record, correct?
Yup, it was the last song. We kinda felt like I didn’t have a first single yet with the stuff that I did here in Detroit. So [Dre and I] went down to a studio in Florida and we just banged out the rest of the album.
You obviously put a lot of care into what you do, but I feel like your personal stuff is always more compelling than the radio singles.
I feel that way too.
When I hear “Just Lose It,” I can understand why regular people like it. But it’s not the song off this album that’s going to speak to me as a hip-hop listener.
There’s a certain level where you gotta follow a happy medium. I’m not gonna put out anything that I don’t like or I don’t stand behind, but that was just another fun song. “Mosh” was the only really serious song, with a serious mood and message, that came out of that group of songs that we did [in Florida]. But you got a whole album you want to bring people to. You want as many people to hear it as possible. So if those are the tricks you gotta do to get the people to hear it, and bring them to your album…
Rap is usually based on first-week sales. Your biggest week has gotta be your first week, and then it kinda just starts declining after that. So you gotta hit ’em out the box with a single. And every now and then it doesn’t have to be a “Just Lose It” or a “Real Slim Shady.” [8 Mile’s] “Lose Yourself” came out the box and was not one of them songs that was a cheeseball—you know what I’m sayin’, meant-to-be-fun song or something like that.
But can’t you take the chance of not going for that sort of single at this point? It seems like you’ve reached a level of success where you could put out a street single that’s also your commercial single, say like a Nas “Made You Look.”
Well, you know, we had discussions about that—me and Dre. And it’s not just me running that food chain. It’s not just me always calling the shots. I’m not always necessarily my own boss, so to speak. Between me, the label and Dre it’s got to be a mutual decision. Is this gonna make a big enough impact? Do we come out with this right out the jump, comem out so serious and dark to where people don’t even know that the album’s out because it ain’t getting played on radio? Do you roll the dice like that? Or do you take a song like “Just Lose It” and throw it out there for the kids and for the clubs, and know that you got something like “Mosh” to follow up behind to say, This is what I want to say, this is my message? I got you to listen to me, I got your ears open. Now, here’s my song that’s gonna make a statement. Because “Just Lose It” ain’t really about nothing. Sometimes I get in them slaphappy moods where I just say anything.
What are your reflections on this whole Michael Jackson situation? It kind of came and went in a way, but some people did come out against you.
Well, I didn’t really think too much about it. I thought it was blown way out of proportion. I mean, there’s a line in there: “That’s not a stab at Michael/That’s just a metaphor/I’m just psycho”—basically [explaining] that I’ll say anything. That’s Slim Shady talking. But people don’t look at it like that a lot of times. [When we shot the video] we started trying to think of ’80s pop icons I could dress up as—obviously Michael being one of ’em, and Madonna— which is not the most enjoyable thing to do [laughs]. But you wanna get people’s goat, and you wanna make people laugh and all that shit.
Hey, you did it for Michigan.
[Laughs] Yeah… no doubt! I guess [Michael’s] very sensitive and he probably felt like he got it the worst. We pretty much thought it was equaled out throughout the video. I’m doing MC Hammer moves, the Pee Wee Herman thing. Obviously, this is a joke.
There are people who ran with this controversy and used it for their own purposes to try to denigrate you. But then there are also people who don’t fall into that category—say, for instance, a Steve Harvey, who said Eminem should have his ghetto pass revoked for picking on this icon of African-American music. At that point how did you—
—I didn’t know nothin’ about that.
He said that on his morning radio show.
Oh yeah? Well, that’s good for him.
So how do you react when the criticism isn’t coming from someone already on record as having it out for you—when it’s other folks?
That’s when you gotta throw your hands up, because it’s not even in my hands. I put the video out there and people take what they get from it. Whatever you get from it, you take it in and it’s up to you to make your decision. Michael Jackson sitting on the edge of the bed with little boys jumping on it at the end of the video—that’s not nothing he didn’t tell us.
Then it turns into a race issue. Then that card gets pulled. And it’s like, What the fuck? Trust me, the last thing that was on my mind was race [when I was] dressing up as everybody that I dressed up as in that video. But it’s the story of my life. Things seem to be worse when I say ’em, when I do ’em. Words seem to be worse when I use ’em. It’s just when I do something it tends to be worse. If Chris Rock says, “Michael Jackson showed up to court looking like Captain Crunch,” that’s fine. But if I do a spoof…
Some people believe, though, that you can’t take a joke yourself. Is it true that Weird Al Yankovic was gonna do a parody of “Lose Yourself” but you didn’t allow him to?
We actually did allow him to do the song. He did the parody. I was cool with it. I thought it was funny. There was some type of hang-up [with the video]. I don’t know what happened. But it wasn’t between me and Weird Al. It was some type of hang-up between Columbia and Interscope where he couldn’t shoot a video.
You also have a song called “Ass Like That” where you rhyme in the voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who you had some static with a couple of years back. What was the purpose of that?
When people look at Triumph the puppet dog, he’s saying the most outlandish shit. He’s going out of his way, pushing them buttons, and he’s like really taking it to the limit. They don’t see the man behind the puppet. They see that puppet. But with the whole Slim Shady persona, people don’t see [a character], they just see me. So it was kind of my stab back at Triumph in a poke-fun-ish type way. At the end of the song Triumph ends up saying his jokes went too far: “Get to the chopper, everybody get out/Psyche—I joke, I joke/I kid, I kid/I don’t think my joke is working/I must flee.” So he’s basically getting chased the fuck out of there for going too far.