Despite not having released a solo studio album since 2013’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem’s name and reputation as an emcee is never far from the minds of hip-hop fans. He was and still always will be a game-changer in many regards – introducing the world to narratives and vulnerability not usually associated with the genre – equally masked with both humor and pain.
This week marks the 18th anniversary of his debut project, The Slim Shady LP, which Rolling Stone ranked as the 33rd best album of the ’90s’ – sitting alongside other legendary albums of the decade like Wu-Tang’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Nas’ Illmatic, Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, Outkast’s Aquemini, Biggie’s Ready to Die and Dr Dre’s The Chronic.
For those of a certain generation, The Slim Shady LP was the soundtrack of their adolescence. For a younger generation, the album can potentially be viewed as rather mundane and commonplace in a post-Internet music landscape where nothing is shocking anymore.
But most will agree, when Eminem introduced himself to the world with that nasally – albeit skillful cadence – no one could have predicted that he would go on to sell 155 million worldwide and outperform legends like Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Metallica.
To honor the anniversary of The Slim Shady LP, we’ve dug up some obscure facts to either coax old school heads to put it back in rotation, or to entice a younger generation to discover what all the fuss was about.
The origins for “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” began while he was a cook
While working as a cook at Gilbert’s Lodge in St. Clair Shores, a suburb of Detroit, Eminem was often seen with headphones on as he manned the grill at the Motown staple which first opened its doors in 1963.
“We used to send back orders to him and he’d rap them,” said waitress, Sue DuPont, of Eminem’s $5.50-an-hour profession.
While the world would later come to understand that Eminem used his music as therapy, those around him at work noticed how his mood would shift when he dealt with his girlfriend, Kim , – with whom he had a child with in 1995 – as well as his strained interactions with his mother.
According to The Los Angeles Times, “His mother would call him at work so often the waitresses automatically hung up. After each call, the waitresses said, Mathers’ mood would darken and he’d pull on his headphones. The anger he buried eventually found its way into rage-filled lyrics he recorded and brought in for the Gilbert’s crew to hear.”
In one song, he fantasized about killing Kim – which would later become the basis for two of his most notable songs – “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” and “Kim.”
“I told him it was morbid killing your baby’s mother,” recalled Lynn Hunt, a waitress at Gilbert’s. “He told me, ‘yeah, but it will get me somewhere someday.'”
Eminem ultimately got fired from his cooking job at Gilbert’s Lodge.
“That was the worst time ever, dog,” he said. “It was, like, five days before Christmas, which is Hailie’s birthday. I had, like, forty dollars to get her something. I wrote ‘Rock Bottom’ right after that.”
Marilyn Manson was supposed to appear
Although Eminem and Marilyn Manson would eventually collaborate on “The Way I Am” on The Marshall Mathers LP, the two controversial artists were actually slated to work together on his debut.
Shockingly, it was Manson who thought that Eminem was too controversial for his own personal brand despite he himself having a $24 million USD lawsuit hanging over his head for allegedly assaulting SPIN editor, Craig Marks, and threatening to kill his family.
“He asked me to sing on his first record, and I would have, except that the song he asked me to sing was – and this might sound strange – too misogynistic,” Manson recalled in 2007. “It was the one about killing his girlfriend and putting her in a trunk. It was on a record I could listen to, but it was too over-the-top for me to associate with. It didn’t represent where I was at.”
His daughter, Hailie, is on the album
While one might think that Eminem and Dr. Dre would have opted to bring in a young actress to assume the role of Em’s daughter on the aforementioned song, “’97 Bonnie & Clyde”, which chronicled the death and subsequent cover-up involving the murder of the matriarch of the family, they instead opted for authenticity over decency.
“I lied to Kim and told her I was taking Hailie to Chuck E. Cheese that day,” he recalled. “But I took her to the studio. When she found out I used our daughter to write a song about killing her, she fucking blew. We had just got back together for a couple of weeks. Then I played her the song, and she bugged the fuck out.”
Hailie Mathers was only 4-years-old at the time. Despite the subject matter, Eminem admitted that he had played her his debut record – albeit he knew she didn’t understand the lyrical content.
“When she gets old enough, I’m going to explain it to her,” he said. “I’ll let her know that Mommy and Daddy weren’t getting along at the time. None of it was to be taken literally. Although at the time, I wanted to fucking do it.”
“Ghost Stories” was one of the first records he and Dr. Dre made
Dr. Dre’s output when he gets in the studio is stuff of legends. Not surprisingly, he and Eminem’s first session together not only resulted in the smash hit, “My Name Is,” but two other songs as well despite occurring during a chaotic six-hour period.
“The point where I actually knew that I made it was the first day I went to Dre’s house and we recorded three songs in less than six hours,” Eminem told MTV News in an interview from 2000. “It was like every beat that he made, I had a rhyme to either go with it, or sat down and wrote one right there and went in the studio and just spit as best as I could. I was really out to impress him, to show him what I could do. And when I saw Dre nodding his head and laughing at some of the things that I was saying, I was like, ‘I’m in. I made it.’ That’s finally when I realized, ‘This is my big break.'”
One of the earliest songs, “Ghost Stories, never made it onto the album or any other subsequent projects.
The music video for “My Name Is” was made by the same person who directed the Tupac Hologram
From a visual standpoint, there was no better representation of Eminem as an artist than his debut music video, “My Name Is,” which introduced the world to his self-deprecating humor and willingness to buck normal hip-hop stereotypes.
Whereas director Philip Atwell gave life to a new artist, he also is the man responsible for one of the biggest concert phenomenon’s in recent memory.
2012’s Coachella festival will probably be best remembered for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s performance alongside a hologram likeness of Tupac Shakur.
The ambitious concert-going experience was spearheaded by Attwell – a longtime Dr. Dre confidant – who had previously made the concert film, Up In Smoke, with Eminem, Snoop, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
In the immediate aftermath, Google search results for “Tupac hologram” exceeded 50 million. Tupac Shakur album sales jumped 500% and downloads of his song “Hail Mary” rose 1,500% after the two performances.
The performance also won Atwell a a Titanium Award at the 59th annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
In addition to helming Eminem’s “My Name Is,” – which Billboard named the sixth best music video of the ’90s – Atwell also directed other notable music videos for the rapper like “The Real Slim Shady,” “Lose Yourself,” and “Stan.”
He still lived in a trailer following the album’s release
When The Slim Shady LP hit shelves in February 1999, the impact was nearly immediate. The Detroit emcee sold 283,000 copies – debuting at number two on the Billboard 200 chart.
Despite the success, Eminem still technically lived in a trailer in April of that same year.
“After I got my record deal, my mother moved back to Kansas City,” he told Rolling Stone. “I took over the payments on her trailer, but I’m never here.”
His bully on “Brain Damage” was based on a real person
One the best and earliest examples of Eminem’s mixing of humor with autobiographical elements is “Brain Damage” in which he recalls being beaten unconscious by a bully who he namecheck as De’Angelo Bailey. Not only was it a true event, but he actually used his tormentor’s real name.
“Motherfucker used to beat the shit out of me,” Eminem recalled. “I was in fourth grade and he was in sixth. Everything in the song is true: One day he came in the bathroom, I was pissing, and he beat the shit out of me. Pissed all over myself.”
After Eminem’s ascent to the heights of superstardom, Bailey also recalled the specifics as it related to his interactions with a young Marshall Mathers.
“He was the one we used to pick on,” said Bailey. “There was a bunch of us that used to mess with him. You know, bully-type things. We was having fun. Sometimes he’d fight back — depended on what mood he’d be in. We flipped him right on his head at recess. When we didn’t see him moving, we took off running. We lied and said he slipped on the ice.”
Two years after The Slim Shady LP debuted, Bailey changed his tune and filed a million dollar lawsuit against Eminem for defamation of character which he said hurt his ability to launch his own rap career.
Bailey’s attorney at the time wrote, “Eminem is a Caucasian male who faced criticism within the music industry that he had not suffered through difficult circumstances growing up and he was therefore a ‘pretender’ in the industry. Eminem used Bailey, his African-American childhood schoolmate, as a pawn in his effort to stem the tide of criticism.”
In 2003, Macomb County Circuit Court Judge, Deborah Serviette, ruled that the lawsuit had no merits. To punctuate her points, she actually resorted to rhymed stanzas in her ruling, stating, “The lyrics are stories no one would take as fact. They’re an exaggeration of a childish act.”
Labi Siffre owns 100 percent of the publishing of “My Name Is”
Eminem’s breakout hit, “My Name Is,” contains elements of Labi Siffre’s 1975 song, “I Got The…” In an almost ironic twist of fate, Siffre is an openly gay singer and poet who gained attention for his lyrics about homophobia and racism (whose other works would notably be reappropriated by the likes of Jay Z and Kanye West).
There was a lot of back-and-forth between Siffre, Eminem and Dr. Dre as the latter two attempted to clear the sample.
Eminem recalled the specifics in his autobiography, The Way I Am, writing, “Well, another problem with that album was that the main sample interpolated in ‘My Name Is’ was originally written by (I was told) a gay activist who’d moved to South Africa, and he was not going to let us use the song unless we changed the line, ‘My English teacher wanted to fuck me in junior high, only problem was my English teacher was a guy.’ I ended up having to change it to ‘My English teacher wanted to flunk me in junior high, thanks a lot, next semester I’ll be 35,’ but I wasn’t happy about it. At first Dre and I went back to the studio and tried to create a new beat so we wouldn’t have to use the guy’s song, but we couldn’t do it. We were sure the song was going to be a hit, so we had to make it happen. We had to have that sample. I don’t make a penny off of writing on ‘My Name Is.’ Nothing. That guy owns all of the publishing on that song.”
One of the most prominent fan theories relating to the album is that if you play “My Name Is” in reverse, listeners can hear the Detroit rapper saying, “It’s Slim, It’s Eminem.”
The album artwork was created by Danny Hastings
Photographer and Slim Shady LP designer, Danny Hastings, has crafted some of the most iconic album covers in hip-hop history – including Big Pun’s Capital Punishment, Wu-Tang’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Gangstarr’s Hard to Earn and Moment of Truth, Nas’ I Am and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
The NFL nixed a campaign featuring “My Name Is”
According to Chris Widmaier, a spokesperson for the NFL at the time, the league licensed a portion of Eminem’s “My Name Is” for a series of ads aptly called “My Name Is Joe” that detailed the career highlights of former stars Joe Montana, “Mean” Joe Green, Joe Namath and Joe Gibbs.
“The focus on music in those spots is no accident,” The New York Times noted at the time. “The tunes, particularly the hip contemporary ones, make the commercials broadly appealing not just to the core fans but also to casual fans as well as random viewers.”
Ultimately, the league removed Eminem’s music after discovering that there was a whole lot more to the song’s lyrical content than it’s infectious hook.
- Featured/Main Image: Jonathan Mannion