Eminem’s Road To Relapse, Part 1: The Rise

The rapper's overnight success was built on a foundation that took years to create.

As the May 19 release of [url id=”http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/eminem/artist.jhtml”]Eminem[/url]’s long-awaited Relapse album approaches, MTV News is taking a deep dive into our extensive Eminem archives and examining each phase of the MC’s storied career. Here we take a look at the first phase, the Slim Shady era.

He introduced himself with four simple words: “Hi, my name is …”

And seemingly, it wasn’t long after Eminem got through his first verse — filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, over-the-top threats and too many “Wait, did he really just say that?” lines to keep count — his “Slim Shady” alter-ego was a household name and a superstar was born. “My Name Is,” Eminem’s first single from his 1999 debut album, The Slim Shady LP, took the rap sensation, a skinny white kid from a trailer park in the Midwest, to the forefront of not only the hip-hop community, but pop culture at large.

The song was the first rap record to top MTV’s “Total Request Live” countdown. He premiered the clip for “My Name Is” on “TRL” alongside Mark Wahlberg — who was on the show promoting his latest movie — in a memorable moment of low-brow comedy and awkward tension. “We’ll just all stand together like a happy, fun bunch,” Em quipped of himself, host Carson Daly and a surly seeming Wahlberg. The joke was in reference to Em’s single, where at one point he puts down the white rappers that came before him — including Wahlberg, who earlier in his career rapped under the name Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

But Eminem’s overnight success, as is usually the case, was built on a foundation that took years to create.

He released his first-ever album, Infinite, in 1996, and another independent collection, The Slim Shady EP, a year later. Both projects showcase a raw Marshall Mathers, still working to discover his voice. On Infinite, in particular, only traces of his distinctive lyrical cadence and flow are evident; at times Shady sounded more like a Nas or Jay-Z. On The Slim Shady EP, however, the young MC began to find his footing. The EP included songs like “Just the Two of Us,” one of the first songs he made about his tumultuous relationship with his on-again, off-again wife Kim that later would form the basis for ” ’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” as well as “Just Don’t Give a F—,” both of which were included on his major-label debut.

Success and accolades came fast for Eminem following the release of The Slim Shady LP. He won the Best Rap Album Grammy for the project. He also gained notoriety for pushing acceptable boundaries and soon found himself the target of activist groups that claimed his lyrics were hateful, filled with misogynist and homophobic barbs.

Everything was happening so fast for the Detroit native. During his first-ever MTV interview, at the now-defunct New York nightclub Tramps, Eminem discussed his entry into the music business. His defiance foreshadowed what was to come.

“I don’t care if you like me or not,” Em said. “You ain’t gotta like me, I’m not asking you to like me, I ain’t begging anybody to like my stuff. I’m gonna do what I do. I’m gonna do the music I love and that I grew up on. Nobody is gonna tell me I can’t do that music. ”

As a white rapper, Eminem fought furiously to overcome the the handicap his lack of melanin gave him in the hip-hop world. He took part in rap battles in Detroit that his friend and D12 group member Proof, who was killed in 2006, introduced him to. His pre-Slim Shady LP work helped Eminem land in The Source’s “Unsigned Hype” column, where he joined well-known names like Notorious B.I.G. and Common as alumni of the column that, at the time, all but guaranteed professional success. And he had the backing of Dr. Dre, who signed the MC to his Aftermath imprint after Eminem placed second at the now-defunct 1997 Rap Olympics.

Still, nothing could prepare Eminem for the roller coaster he was about to get on.

During a return [url id=”http://www.mtv.com/bands/archive/e/eminemfeature99.jhtml”]visit to his hometown with MTV News’ Kurt Loder[/url], Eminem attempted to show a grounded look at his upbringing. Maybe the hype surrounding the kid with the bleach-blond locks and dirty mouth was hitting everyone else but him at that point. But when a car blasting one of Eminem’s songs pulled up alongside Em and Kurt, who were in a vehicle with tinted windows concealing them, reality set in. Slim Shady was about to pop …