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 second phase, the Marshall Mathers LP era.
To say Eminem’s life was turned upside down after the release of The Slim Shady LP would be a gargantuan understatement. Suddenly, the “Angry Blonde” — as he was called in one biography — was the subject of much debate, including his rank in the pantheon of the hip-hop greats, but mostly about his potential harmful affect on the decency of young America. Em often included himself in his own crude jokes, but as he grew into the spotlight of fame, he found at times that the glare was shining back a bit too brightly on him. And it revealed that not everyone shared his sense of humor.
As the first white rapper to successfully garner both critical acclaim and commercial viability, Eminem faced unique challenges and pressure.
He was a pop star now, mentioned among the likes of ’NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and Blink-182. Eminem — the rap-battle tested MC that scraped tooth and nail to gain respect — became “chopped liver” compared to Slim Shady, the zany, cartoonish character with a knack for attacking celebrities. Somehow Eminem had to find a way to balance the two factions of his musical identity. Along came his sophomore album, 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP, often heralded as the best work of his career.
|»Part 1: The Rise|
|»Part 2: Stardom|
|»Part 3: ’8 Mile’|
|»Part 4: Encore And 50 Cent|
|»Part 5: The Hiatus|
The two defining singles from project were singles “The Real Slim Shady” and “Stan,” the latter a tale of a fan-gone-wrong that directly touched on activists’ fear of Eminem.
Both records turned into iconic pop culture moments during live performances.
At the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, Eminem cemented himself as a moving force in entertainment, when he entered New York’s Radio City Music Hall with an endless array of Slim Shadys following him like soldiers. The flood of blonde heads and white T-shirts mimicked the video for “The Real Slim Shady,” but the gesture on live TV with the country tuning in upped the Shady quotient. It’s as if he drew a line in the sand and dared anyone against him to cross it and face the wrath of his ardent followers.
Later that year, however, activists got wind of some of Eminem’s lyrics on The Marshall Mathers LP, particularly the graphic nature of “Kill You” and “Kim,” and a protest was ordered against him. And not just any demonstration, but the National Organzation of Women (NOW) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliace Against Defamation (GLAAD) announced they would picket the Grammy Awards. Em’s biting words against women and gays, though meant as creative riffs to the rapper, had crossed the line for many.
Eminem was finally backed into a corner, Slim Shady army or no.
Would NOW and GLAAD force the superstar’s hand? Would he dial back the style that made him the top selling rapper out? Would he even show up to the Grammys?
All these questions were resoundingly answered. Elton John, an openly gay musician, surprised everyone as he came to Eminem’s defense. The flamboyant entertainer defended his fellow entertainer’s use of words as artistic license. Many were shocked by John’s pledge of support.
Their jaws dropped even further when John joined Eminem onstage for “Stan,” substituting for the song’s original guest, Dido. “Stan” was a tragic tale of an overzealous Eminem fan who took Slim Shady at his every word. The final stanza featured Eminem in Marshall Mathers mode, explaining his lyrics are just jokes and encouraging Stan to take responsibility for his life before he ends up like a lost soul who recently made headlines for taking the life of his pregnant wife. As we all know by now, as Eminem utters the song’s final words he realizes the weight of his influence with a single word, “Damn.”
John’s bluesy vocals during the Grammy performance pierced the audience’s emotion. Em joined hands with the singer after the song ended, with John raising their arms in triumph. Em, not satisfied with just the final word, offered a middle finger to the crowd as well.
He was officially on top of the world. He beat back his antagonizers.
Next up for Em: Hollywood.