Eminem's ascension to superstardom started with a demo tape and ended with countless platinum plaques. While his connection to Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine is well documented, the actual person/people responsible for putting his music on their radar isn't as well-known. In our latest #HSTBT series, we explore those integral in making Eminem a cultural phenomenon.
As part of GQ's December issue, they focused on a number of "men of the year" - including the likes of Steve Carrell, Michael Sam, Dave Chappelle and Jimmy Iovine. Buried deep inside a profile on music mogul Iovine, was a small revelation into the Phoenix-like ascencion of Eminem from underground Detroit rapper to global star.
Iovine recalled: "Everything was fuckin' upside-down. And my assistant got married, so they put in a temp. And the kid had balls. He said, 'I went to this rap battle last night. I saw this kid who was incredible.' I said, 'Figure out how to get a CD from that kid, and I'll play it for Dre.' Next day, he comes back: 'Here it is.' I listen to it, and I go, 'I have no idea what the fuck this is.' This guy is screaming about his mother; he wants to kill his mother. I come from a place where you don't kill your mother. Right? I saw Dre, and I gave it to him. The rest is a fabulous story. His name was Eminem."
While the connection between Eminem, Dr.Dre, and Jimmy Iovine isn't surprising, the inclusion of a mysterious "temp" into the equation is something that isn't often talked about. It's never been disputed that Dre and Jimmy Iovine were the ones who gave Eminem the tools to craft The Slim Shady LP, but they weren't the ones to witness firsthand Eminem's lyrical prowess. But who was?
The 1997 Rap Olympics were a chance for a then unknown Eminem to showcase his talents. Having had notable battles and losses to MC Juice both at the same event and at Scribble Jam in Cincinnati, Eminem and his manager Paul Rosenberg were looking for another opportunity to make their mark in a pre-internet-saturated landscape where word-of-mouth was still a face to face transmission. "This guy named Other-Wize beat him [at the 1997 Rap Olympics]," Rosenberg recalls in the book, Whatever You Say I Am: The Life and Times of Eminem. "Two Interscope assistants, Dean Geistlinger and Evan Bogart, son of deceased disco kingpin and Casablanca Records founder, Neil, approached [us] after the Rap Olympics. We stayed in touch with them."
"I was at Jimmy's house and he played the tape for me," Dre says. "He asked me what I thought of it and I said, 'find him. Now.' I thought the tape was incredible. In my entire career in the music industry, I've never found anything from a demo tape."
Today, Evan Bogart is responsible for much more than just Eminem's career and introduction to the principle movers and shakers at Interscope. As a seasoned and successful songwriter, he's penned songs like Beyoncé's "Halo," Rihanna's "SOS," and other pop hits. In an interview discussing that fateful discovery he said, "I am a talent finder. I was actually very instrumental in finding Eminem early on when I was younger, with his first album, and I helped discover Maroon 5, and I got One Republic their first deal. Before being a hit songwriter myself, I really starting cutting my teeth in this business as somebody who found talent very young."
When Eminem really hit it big and connected with a diverse cross-section of hip-hop listeners, the press on him was immense. While the rags-to-riches discovery for Dre and Iovine grew as if folklore, the mentions of Bogart and specifically Dean Geistlinger were few and far between. A cover story in The Los Angeles Times from 2000 titled "Has He No Shame?" expanded on Eminem's big break - crediting Geistlinger as the one who discovered him. They wrote, "He [Geistlinger] forwarded some Eminem demos to label co-founder Jimmy Iovine, who has shown a remarkable ear for talent over the years."
In the above interview Geistlinger says: "How Eminem's tape came to be in Jimmy's [Iovine] hands was that I went to the '97 Rap Olympics which is a [rap event], I used to go out and still do go out to a lot of clubs and a lot of freestyle battles cause I'm into more rap than alternative or rock music. I went to the '97 Rap Olympics aware that it's a big freestyle contest with rappers and there's about a hundred MCs there battling against each other and it's just kind of a tournament with judges, and Eminem came in second place that night. I just happened to be there and met him afterwards and got a demo tape, kind of a demo of his demo, that he was putting out on the street, like his independent release, and I brought that to Jimmy and told him it was just something that you can't pass up."
A week after The Los Angeles Times piece ran, they included a letters to the editor section called "Rapping About Rap" where people could mainly voice their distaste for Eminem,"a Gen-X skank who dumbs down culture and conveys nothing but violent and offensive imagery and words." Buried inside the section was a rebuttal from Evan Bogart himself, who stated, "Eminem was not solely discovered by Dean Geistlinger. While working for Interscope Records, we both attended the 1997 Rap Olympics, received a demo from Eminem--the demo that was eventually passed on to Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Interscope--and the rest is all she wrote."