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.

Interview By Datwon Thomas
Photography By Perou 

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.

Without Proof here, is there someone else that can help you with the emotional weight you’ve been dealing with?
I’ve always had a real tight circle. All the guys from D12, everybody in the circle, management and other members of our crew, have just always been there from day one. Everyone felt his loss, from his kids, to his wife, to everyone. But, for some reason, in hindsight, the way I felt was almost like it happened to just me… Maybe at that time I was a little bit selfish with it. I think it kind of hit me so hard. It just blindsided me. I just went into such a dark place that, with everything, the drugs, my thoughts, everything. And the more drugs I consumed, and it was all depressants I was taking, the more depressed I became, the more self-loathing I became… By the way, I’m just now at the point where I’m better talking about it. It took me so long to get out of that place where I couldn’t even speak about it without crying or wanting to cry… Proof was the anchor. He was everything to D12. And not just the group—for me, personally, he was everything.

When I say I went into a dark place, it feels like I literally crawled into a hole. There were days I’d just sit around all day and take pills and try to numb myself. It was almost an excuse for me to take more pills, like, I just lost Proof, so it’s okay for me to take a couple of pills.

I started spiraling out of control with my thoughts, with the drugs, with everything. When I would go to the studio, I kept trying to write songs about him. I think I might have wrote and recorded at least five or six songs about him. None of them came out the way I wanted them to, and all of them made me depressed. All of them made me go deeper into that hole… Nothing I wrote was good enough for him. Everything was, like, self-loathing.

Did you ever take any personal responsibility for what happened to him?

Yeah, I went through that kind of thing as well. I felt like, Well, maybe if I would have been with him at the club that night... He knows I was trying to get him to chill out and stop going to the club so much.

How did you react to all the conflicting information that came out immediately following the incident?
I got a bunch of conflicting stories, a bunch of conflicting things, and none of them ever made sense to me. There were things that I’d heard that they were saying, that Proof shot the dude first. It’s so not in his character to do that. There were other stories that matched what I knew Proof would have did. I had to go through the process in my head of, like, regardless of what happened, it happened. It’s not gonna bring him back. I don’t know if I’ve accepted it is the right word, but I’m dealing with it. Life for me will never be the same.


In what way did Proof’s death affect your work?
There was, like, a two-year period where I couldn’t write shit. With what was going on and shit, I just couldn’t. I was so cluttered in my mind that everything I was writing wasn’t worth recording. I’d record it, and I’d get through half a song and be like, I don’t like this. I’d get through a song, and the next day I’d be like, Nah, that don’t sound like me. And then I started going in the studio and trying to freestyle. Like, I’d do a line at a time and be like, “Stop the tape,” and be like, “Okay, I got a line here.” You know, kinda like how Jay-Z would do it. Obie did a lot of that, too.

You know, so it was almost like, I don’t know if I was challenging myself to see if I could actually do it or if I was just being lazy with writing because I wasn’t feeling what I was actually writing… So it was like, going through them time periods, I could spend more time and feel good about recording music just making beats. But then when I came out of my writer’s block, I went into the studio with Dre… My first trip was in Orlando. We had planned the trip for, like, two weeks, and I called him on the phone, and I told him, “I don’t know, man, I might be coming out of this writer’s block.” And he was like, “Uh oh! That’s what I want to hear!” I went to Orlando, and I think I wrote, like, 11 songs in the couple weeks that we were out there. Dre kinda caught fire right around the same time that I was comin’ out of my thing… Once we started getting that chemistry back, it just went so crazy that I did two albums in, like, six or seven months. I was literally writing songs faster than I could record them. I’ll take a day out to do vocals, and then my voice will be gone for, like, the next two days. So I’ll have to rest my voice. So, in between, those two days that I’m resting my voice, I’m writing two or three more songs. Before I knew it, we had two albums’ worth of material.

Your new single, “We Made You,” heavily references Amy Winehouse’s sound. How did you keep up with new music during your time off? Were you on the Internet a lot?

Nah, I wasn’t. Either I go buy CDs or I have Paul or somebody sending me something if I hadn’t heard it yet.
I stayed up on the music, and obviously I watch TV and saw what was going on. And without naming any names, it just felt like hip-hop was going downhill. And it seemed like kinda fast. You know, in them three years, it was like everybody just cares about the hook and the beat; nobody really cares about substance. But with this new T.I. album, with this new Lil Wayne album of recent, it seems like things are looking a lot better now. You can appreciate Lil Wayne using different words to rhyme and actually rhyming words that you know. Or T.I., where you hear shit and you’re like, Whoa, ah, I wish I would have thought of that! You know what I mean? Or you hear all the compound-syllable rhyming and all that. It just seems like now the craft is getting cared about more.

XXL featured a new generation of MCs on the cover recently: Charles Hamilton, Wale, B.o.B, Asher Roth. Have you heard their music?
Yeah. Well, B.o.B we actually have a publishing deal with. So I’ve been up on him for a while. But he’s insane. Like, talentwise. He’s, like, 20 years old, and the dude, like, fuckin’ plays guitar, he plays keyboard, he writes raps. He’s not only good at writing songs in the sense of just raps, but hooks. He’s fuckin’ insane. He can sing… I just worked with him a few weeks ago in the studio, and I’m like, “Do you fuckin’ dance, too? Jesus Christ!”

Charles Hamilton I’ve worked with a couple of years ago, toward the end of 2007. I just made the beat to a song, but, you know, I think Charles Hamilton is dope. Asher Roth, I haven’t had a chance to, like, really get into everything, like, really get into what he’s about, because I’ve only heard a couple of songs. There was talk about people saying he sounded like me, and he was doing this and that and, you know, trying to take what I do and do it. You know, shit like that. I’ve heard things. But the stuff that I’ve heard from him—honestly, which certainly isn’t enough for me to make my own opinion and say, “Yeah, he does sound like me” or “No, he doesn’t.” But the couple of songs I’ve heard, I don’t really think he does. You know what I mean? He’s doing his own thing. I can respect it, too, because, at the end of the day, I think he’s dope.

I think people were looking to see if there was going to be any kind of friction or whatever. Because you’re both White. You know, like the “White rapper spot” has to be reserved for one person.
Man, that’s stupid.


As big as hip-hop is, you know what I mean? Like, who gives a shit? I mean, at first it was like, just to me it was like, is it because this dude is White that everyone’s automatically making comparisons? Obviously, to an extent, it is. That’s what everyone is gonna be looking for: Does he sound like Eminem? But I was flipping through the channels, and I caught something on spring break [with him performing], and I heard a song I had never heard before, and I was like, This dude sounds nothing like me.

Let’s talk about your new album. The early material to come out seems like a return to the crazy, twisted, psychopathic stuff you first came out with 10 years ago on The Slim Shady LP. Like, a serial-killer-type theme.
There’s a lot of stuff on there like that. When I came home from Orlando, out the blue, just the title, Relapse, hit me. Just the word stuck in my head… I kinda wanted to go back to what got me here in the first place. I’d asked Dre, “What do you think people want to hear from me anymore?” He’d be like, “People want to hear you lose your fuckin’ mind again.” Not only does Relapse mean coming out of rehab, but I wanted to go back to Proof’s idea of, “Let’s just say the most fucked-up shit that we can.” So I’ve kinda gone back to that direction.

Besides Dre, you’ve been working with 50 Cent again, too. How is your relationship with 50? He’s going through this whole battle with Rick Ross, with this Pimpin’ Curly stuff. How do you view all of it?
Mine and 50’s relationship has always been the same. It’s always been good. If anything, we’ve gotten closer in the last few years. 50 will just come to my house and just stay the night. Stay the weekend in one of the bedrooms and just hang out. And we talk about shit. I mean, a lot of our talk is about music, you know. But we just—we talk about shit, and we just make jokes and hang out. It doesn’t always have to be about business. You know, he’s going through this Rick Ross thing, which is kinda his thing. I guess, you know, at the moment, it’s just, let 50 do 50. I think that the Pimpin’ Curly shit is fuckin’ hilarious, though. I’m sorry, to me, that’s when 50’s at his best. When he’s doing just the funny shit. In real life, 50’s a fuckin’ clown, man. He’s actually a really funny dude.

Pictures of you came out last year where it looked like you’d gained a lot of weight. You’re back looking real chiseled now. What happened?

I gained a bunch of weight in my time off. I got lazy. I was eating a lot, just because the pills make you feel hungry. Then, just this past year, I got clean, I got sober, and I started running. I had a knee surgery last year, but as soon as I could, I hit the treadmill. So I run every day. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been up to 10 miles a day. I’ve been trying to really push myself. Just to see how much I could actually run, but I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. At the end of the day, I’m an addict. So I have addictive behavior. So I’m obsessive-compulsive about a lot of things. I’m obsessive-compulsive about my music, you know. Now I’m obsessive-compulsive about working out. I can’t do nothing in moderation… You’d think that the signs, like, all the addiction that runs in my family, I would have been a little more hip to that. But I just—I guess I wasn’t.

With all the hype surrounding your comeback, and with the terrible state of the record business, the hip-hop business in particular, do you feel like you’re coming back to save your label, or hip-hop as a genre, or even the music industry as a whole?

I don’t know if I feel like I’m coming back to save anything like that. I mean, obviously, if I can, you know, save the label and help generate more money for that, that’s great, too. But the truth is, I get bored just sitting around. I’m ready to be back out there. I love to be respected for the music that I make, and that’s what I’m in it for. The beautiful thing about this record is, I don’t expect it to do anything… Money is not necessarily something that I need anymore, so I’m doing it because I want to do it. I’m doing it because I want people to hear the music and like the music… If people like it, cool. If they don’t, they don’t. I certainly would like the benefits of what would come with it. If it could help generate more money for the label, then that’s good. But, at the end of the day, it’s just about the music.

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