|Nominate a Cosmic Baseball Player|
Success, American Style|
On May 23, 2000 hip-hop rap artist Eminem released his Marshall Mathers album. Within a week over 1.7 million copies were sold making it the most successful debut of a hip-hop rap album ever. Not only was it successful at the cash registers but music critics gave the new work very positive reviews. Newsweek wrote that Eminem was "arguably the most compelling figure in all of pop music." "The new album from Eminem is absolutely outrageous. And I mean that in the best possible sense," wrote Neil McCormick, music critic for the Daily Telegraph in London. There have been a couple of dissenters. Eric Boehlert in a piece posted at the salon.com website described Eminem as the "John Rocker of hip-pop." Someone identified as "Patriot" wrote to an internet message board that he hoped people "will realize that Eminem is sending out bad messages and that his music is a bad influence." The United States Senate and several other keepers of morality weighed in with harsh criticism of the rapper. But by and large Eminem's appearance on the culture's radar screens has to be seen as a success story for the young artist.
And why begrudge success to a young man who apparently lived a difficult, poor and unhappy childhood?
Eminem was born Marshall Bruce Mathers III on October 17, 1974 in Kansas City, Missouri. (1974 was the same year Gil Scott Heron released his outstanding proto-rap song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.") His mother Debbie was 16 years old and apparently the young Marshall never really lived with or knew his father. Studies have shown that children who grow up not knowing their father have a more difficult time becoming successful adults. When he was 10 Mathers moved with his mother Debbie to the Detroit, Michigan area. There he attended Lincoln Junior High School and Osbourne High School but dropped out of the formal educational system when he was in the ninth grade. Just before he dropped out of school he met a girl Kimberly Scott. He was 15, she was two years younger. They became a couple.
Mathers' childhood was problematic. He has a younger brother. He has described himself and his family as poor white trash living in a mostly black neighborhood on the east side of Detroit. Rich people don't understand this shit but when you are poor the one thing you want more than anything is money. Money makes the poor man happy. Happiness breeds success.
Cause all I do is yearn a life without a concernMoney may be the root of all evil but in America it's also the route to success. You don't need to go to school to understand that. If you are young, poor and insecure it also helps to have some talent or the bitterness will do you in. Marshall Mathers found his talent while holding a microphone spitting out hip-hop rap rhymes describing his hard times. He submerged himself in the robust Detroit rap underground and earned distinction as a man with a way with words.
Hip-hop originated in the black neighborhoods of the South Bronx in the 1970s. It served as a more positive and creative alternative to the rampant gang wars that erupted so violently in the depressed urban communities. Hip hop innovators like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa found a way to channel hostility from the self-destructive thrust of the knife and gun fights to battles performed in front of microphones where one's poetic and musical wit became valued and respected. Hip-hop was an avenue of success for individuals who otherwise might have been killed on the streets fighting in gangs.
Mathers drank in the essentially black Afro-centric music emanating from the Bronx in much the same way Elvis Presley drank in the gospel and blues styles of the 1950s. Some see this as exploitation but it is really more appropriation. Like Presley before him, Mathers uses music as a survival strategy. That they succeeded far beyond mere survival is no doubt because of a combination of factors, not the least of which is talent.
Mathers spent five years working various odd jobs, mostly in restaurants in and around the Detroit area. After work he performed in clubs fine tuning his rap technique, participating in the so-called MC battles, establishing a local reputation. He wasn't making much money. On December 25, 1995 his girlfriend gave birth to a baby girl, Hailey Jade.
If you are young, poor and insecure it helps to have some talent and luck.
Eminem's debut album, Infinite, released locally in Detroit in 1996, did not bring him success. He has said the album was " me trying to figure out how I wanted my rap style to be, how I wanted to sound on the mic and present myself. It was a growing stage. I felt like Infinite was like a demo that just got pressed up." Eminem gave Rap Coalition's Wendy Day a copy of the Infinite album at a chance meeting and she helped him secure a spot at the Coalition's 1997 Rap Olympics in Los Angeles. Mathers won second place in the freestyle competition. As a result of that success he had an appearance on Sway and Tech's "Wake Up Show." The "Wake Up Show" is possibly the most successful hip-hop oriented radio program ever. Based in San Francisco it premiered in 1991 and today commands an estimated 13 million listeners a week.
It was at this point that Marshall Mathers' luck really changed and success came rapping at his door. Apparently legendary hip hopper Dr. Dre heard Mathers on Sway and Tech's show. (There is an alternate version suggesting that Dre first heard Mathers while listening to a demo tape he found on a friend's garage floor. The friend, by the way was Jimmy Iovine, president of Interscope Records, a major hip-hop label.) In January 1998 Mathers signed on with Dre's Aftermath label. Success was but a beat away.
99% of my life I was lied toOn February 23, 1999 the Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope label released Eminem's Slim Shady LP produced by Dr. Dre. It climbed the Billboard record charts and settled at the number two spot. Reviews were mostly positive. Spence Abbott writing for Wall of Sound pointed out that "Eminem delivers twisted verse after twisted verse like a demented cartoon character on hallucinogens...It's meant to jolt, jerk, and scare you; a nasty, yet devilishly engaging slice of politically incorrect escapism that doesn't take itself too seriously." Davida Arnold-Tretout in an MTV Online review wrote, "For everybody who likes to laugh at all the wrong things, this album is for you. A commentary on just how ill life can be, The Slim Shady LP is a hot addition to the annals of rap."
Mathers and his longtime girlfriend got married during the summer. At the 1999 Grammy Award Mathers won the Best Rap Solo ("My Name Is") and the Best Rap Album (The Slim Shady LP)awards. Starting April 7, 1999 in Chicago Eminem went on a 32-city tour finishing up in Los Angeles on July 10. Good reviews. More success. Fame. The kid who grew up poor, disenfranchised, had by dint of will and talent become successful.
Eminem's second album The Marshall Mathers LP was released in May 2000. It was even more dramatically successful than the first. It topped the charts almost immediately and sold more records in its first week than any other hip-hop album in history.
When I was just a little baby boyEminem's ability to speak forcefully and bluntly about his experience hits a chord with many of his youthful fans. Some critics have described his lyrics as "blatantly hateful, vengeful and violent." And songs like "Kim" which are full of rage and bitterness support their case. Where is the line to be drawn between art and reality? Does singing a song about murdering your wife act as a catharsis or should it be construed as something more sinister?
Since the arrival of success and fame Mathers has endured a number of public problems. His mother sued him for ten million dollars, his wife tried to commit suicide and later the two separated and divorced. His grandmother told the Detroit News newspaper that her grandson was "a bitter boy with sad songs who wants to make fame." And the critics have had a field day analyzing and demonizing his work.
What is money?Now that he is successful (and rich) Eminem (or Slim Shady, Mather's supposed alter ego) has a direct line to all those kids who have been fucked up by a culture where the myth of success is measured in dollars and cents. But who wants to begrudge a man for making a success of himself? And remember, those kids are listening for a reason.
and there's a million of us just like me