Chocolate On The Inside from SPIN Magazine, May
The most promising new rapper of the year is a cartoonishly
angry welfare kid from the Detroit ghetto. Oh, and by
the way, he's white.
by CHARLES AARON
Give this kid a magazine rack, because he's got a lot
of issues. For starters, there's race (he's the "corny-lookin'
white boy" who got his lunch money stolen at his inner-city
school and never forgot), drugs (he's well acquainted
with mushrooms, weed, etc.), and women (he envisions his
mom as a drug addict with no breasts, fantasizes about
murdering his baby's mother, and advises a husband to
cut off the head of his adulterous wife). For 23-year-old
Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Eminem, a.k.a. Slim Shady, whose
major-label debut, The Slim Shady LP, is the shocker pop-hit
of 1999 (entering the Billboard 200 at No. 2 with more
than 280,000 first-week sales), life is a bitch who needs
to die, now! He's so angry his "dance" song features a
line about Kurt Cobain committing suicide. But by outrageously
spoofing every fear every parent ever had about his/her
child, the album also defies any pat answer as to why
this runty dude is so pissed off. And it implicitly ridicules
anybody who tries to label his music as either "positive"
Less than a year ago, Eminem was a little-known, if nastily
skilled, MC from Detroit, with only an independently released
album and EP to his name. Now, after hooking up with Dr.
Dre (he'll soon appear on Dre's Chronic 2000 album), he's
been known to give shout-outs to Interscope boss Jimmy
Iovine onstage. Since early '99, MTV has been endlessly
rotating the uproarious video for his single "My Name
Is," in which Eminem impersonates Marilyn Manson and Bill
Clinton, as well as a publicity bit featuring Missy Elliott
and Dre giving the rapper props (Interscope also bought
commercial time to play the video during Howard Stern's
Saturday night CBS TV show). He's getting spins on hip-hop
radio stations, extremely rare for a white artist, and
is even recording a song for Limp Bizkit's new album.
All those years he spent fighting for his right to be
white finally paid off.
Spin: From listening to your album, you get the impression
that your childhood was pretty much a living hell. What
was it really like?
Eminem: I was born in Kansas City, and my dad left when
I was five or six months old. Then when I was five we
moved to a real bad part of Detroit. I was getting beat
up a lot, so we moved back to K.C., then back to Detroit
again when I was 11. My mother couldn't afford to raise
me, but then she had my little brother, so when we moved
back to Michigan, we were just staying wherever we could,
with my grandmother or whatever family would put us up.
I know my mother tried to do the best she could, but I
was bounced around so much-it seemed like we moved every
two or three months. I'd go to, like, six different schools
in one year. We were on welfare, and my mom never ever
worked. I'm not trying to give some sob story, like, "Oh,
I've been broke all my life," but people who know me know
it's true. There were times when friends had to buy me
fuckin' shoes! I was poor white trash, no glitter, no
glamour, but I'm not ashamed of anything.
Spin: These were mostly African-American neighborhoods
where you grew up?
Eminem: Yeah, near 8 Mile Road in Detroit, which separates
the suburbs from the city. Almost all the blacks are on
one side, and almost all the whites are on the other,
but all the families nearby are low-income. We lived on
the black side. Most of the time it was relatively cool,
but I would get beat up sometimes when I'd walk around
the neighborhood and kids didn't know me. One day I got
jumped by, like, six dudes for no reason. I also got shot
at, and ended up running out of my shoes, crying. I was
15 years old and I didn't know how to handle that shit.
Spin: Were most of your friends black?
Eminem: When you're a little kid, you don't see color,
and the fact that my friends were black never crossed
my mind. It never became an issue until I was a teenager
and started trying to rap. Then I'd notice that a lot
of motherfuckers always had my back, but somebody always
had to say to them, "Why you have to stick up for the
Spin: When did you first get into hip-hop?
Eminem: The first hip-hop shit I ever heard was that
song "Reckless" from the Breakin' soundtrack; my cousin
played me the tape when I was, like, nine. There was this
mixed school I went to in fifth grade, one with lots of
Asian and black kids and everybody was into break dancing.
They always had the latest rap tapes-the Fat Boys, L.L.
Cool J's Radio-and I thought it was the most incredible
shit I'd ever heard.
Spin: What'd you think when you first heard the Beastie
Eminem: That's what really did it for me. I was like,
"This shit is so dope!" That's when I decided I wanted
to rap. I'd hang out on the corner where kids would be
rhyming, and when I tried to get in there, I'd get dissed.
A little color issue developed, and as I got old enough
to hit the clubs, it got really bad. I wasn't that dope
yet, but I knew I could rhyme, so I'd get on the open
mics and shit, and a couple of times I was booed off the
Spin: Your single ("My Name Is") is getting played on
both Modern Rock and Urban radio. Are you surprised at
how quickly you're being accepted?
Eminem: Thing is, I'm not really a commercial rapper.
My whole market, my whole steez, is through the underground;
if those hip-hop heads love it, I'll rise above. It's
like, you hardly ever hear a Wu-Tang song on the radio,
but they rose from the underground on word of mouth. Spin:
Has being white really affected the way you see yourself
as a rapper?
Eminem: In the beginning, the majority of my shows were
for all-black crowds, and people would always say, "You're
dope for a white boy," and I'd take it as a compliment.
Then, as I got older, I started to think, "What the fuck
does that mean?" Nobody asks to be born, nobody has a
choice of what color they'll be, or whether they'll be
fat, skinny, anything. I had to work up to a certain level
before people would even look past my color; a lot of
motherfuckers would just sit with their arms folded and
be like, "All right, what is this?" But as time went on,
I started to get respect. The best thing a motherfucker
ever said about me was after an open mic in Detroit about
five years ago. He was like, "I don't give a fuck if he's
green, I don't give a fuck if he's orange, this motherfucker
is dope!" Nobody has the right to tell me what kind of
music to listen to or how to dress or how to act or how
to talk; if people want to make jokes, well fuck 'em.
I lived this shit, you know what I'm sayin'? And if you
hear an Eminem record, you're gonna know the minute that
it comes on that this ain't no fluke.
Spin: Did you ever come close to quitting?
Eminem: About three or so years ago, not that long after
my daughter [Hailie Jade Scott] was born. I was staying
in this house on 7 Mile Road, and little kids used to
walk down the street going, "Look at the white baby!"
Everything was "white this, white that." We'd be sitting
on our porch, and if you were real quiet, you'd hear,
"Mumble, mumble, white, mumble, mumble, white." Then I
caught some dude breaking into my house for, like, the
fifth time, and I was like, "Yo, fuck this! It's not worth
it. I'm outta here." That day, I wanted to quit rap and
get a house in the fucking suburbs. I was arguing with
my girl, like, "Can't you see they don't want us here?"
I went through so many changes; I actually stopped writing
for about five or six months and I was about to give everything
up. I just couldn't, though. I'd keep going to the clubs
and taking the abuse. But I'd come home and put a fist
through the wall. If you listen to a Slim Shady record,
you're going to hear all that frustration coming out.
Spin: Could you see why some black people might be not
be so enthusiastic about a white kid trying to be a rapper?
Eminem: Yeah, I did see where the people dissing me were
coming from. But, it's like, anything that happened in
the past between black and white, I can't really speak
on it, because I wasn't there. I don't feel like me being
born the color I am makes me any less of a person.
Spin: Did you ever wish you were black?
Eminem: There was a while when I was feeling like, "Damn,
if I'd just been born black, I would not have to go through
all this shit." But I'm not ignorant-I know how it must
be when a black person goes to get a regular job in society.
Music, in general, is supposed to be universal; people
can listen to whatever they want and get something out
of it. Personally, I just think rap music is the best
thing out there, period. If you look at my deck in my
car radio, you're always going to find a hip-hop tape;
that's all I buy, that's all I live, that's all I listen
to, that's all I love.
Spin: How do you feel about other white rap fans?
Eminem: Say there's a white kid who lives in a nice home,
goes to an all-white school, and is pretty much having
everything handed to him on a platter-for him to pick
up a rap tape is incredible to me, because what that's
saying is that he's living a fantasy life of rebellion.
He wants to be hard; he wants to smack motherfuckers for
no reason except that the world is fucked-up; he doesn't
know what to rebel against. Kids like that are just fascinated
by the culture. They hear songs about people going through
hard times and want to know what that feels like. But
the same thing goes for a black person who lived in the
suburbs and was catered to all his life: Tupac is a fantasy
for him, too.
Spin: Should suburban white kids, who don't have any
firsthand experience of the way black people live, really
be identifying so closely with hip-hop?
Eminem: Well, whether a white kid goes through as much
shit as I did, or didn't go through any trouble at all,
if they love the music, who's to tell them what they should
be listening to? Let's say I'm a white 16-year-old and
I stand in front of the mirror and lip-synch every day
like I'm Krayzie Bone-who's to say that because I'm a
certain color I shouldn't be doing that? And if I've got
a right to buy his music and make him rich, who's to say
that I then don't have the right to rap myself?
Spin: Do you think that hip-hop culture can open up their
minds at all?
Eminem: I don't know, man. Sometimes I feel like rap
music is almost the key to stopping racism. If anything
is at least going to lessen it, it's gonna be rap. I would
love it if, even for one day, you could walk through a
neighborhood and see an Asian guy sitting on his stoop,
then you look across the street and see a black guy and
a white guy sitting on their porches, and a Mexican dude
walking by. If we could truly be multicultural, racism
could be so past the point of anybody giving a fuck; but
I don't think you or me are going to see it in our lifetimes.
Spin: What do you think will happen if your album blows
up and becomes a huge hit?
Eminem: I imagine I'll go through a lot of this same
racial shit, but that'll just make my second album better-because
I'll have even more to rap about.