As the May 19 release of
Before the world knew who Slim Shady was, MTV News sat down with a fresh-faced Eminem backstage at Tramps nightclub in New York for his first-ever interview with the channel. It was 1999, and the newly signed Detroit lyricist was weighing in on a segment for the now-defunct show "MTV News 1515" titled "Whatever Happened to the White Rapper?" At the time, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst was fusing rock and rap, the Beastie Boys were leaning more toward punk, and Everlast left House of Pain to do his Whitey Ford thing.
Former MTV News producer Darin Byrne went around asking LL Cool J and Mos Def, among others, about the state of white rappers, and a few folks told him about this new kid Dr. Dre was working with.
"No one knew how he was spelling his name at the time," Byrne recalled. "The assumption was 'M&M,' like the candy."
Byrne set up a shoot with Em at an Outsidaz show in Manhattan. Royce Da 5'9" was also at the show. He and Em — an honorary Outsidaz member — were supporting the New Jersey collective during their performance. The very next day, Eminem's video for "My Name Is" would get a "first look" on "Total Request Live." The bleach-blond MC would soon go from underground sensation to international superstar.
Here, Byrne recalls the Shady one's early MTV News interviews, his first thoughts on the rapper's potential and what it was like doing the early interview with Eminem.
"My first few interviews with him, he talked about Tupac a lot, how he was his inspiration and his favorite rapper. Eminem was a lot more serious and a lot more guarded then. He's become a lot looser, and he's realized that he's a funny guy and he can use humor in interviews and stuff like that. But I remember when I interviewed him, he was a lot more serious and a lot more about being true to the game, so to speak.
"I thought he was very good. He reminded me a lot of — like his wordplay and flow and hearing him onstage — I thought he was like a white Nas. I honestly didn't think he was gonna become a superstar. Even though I heard 'My Name Is,' I didn't think it was gonna blow up as big as it did. And I didn't think he was gonna have that huge pop appeal. I thought 'My Name Is' was novelty. But lyrically and his flow both were very good. I didn't think he was like one of those Young Black Teenagers, 'Tap the bottle and twist the cap' type of rappers. I didn't think he was a flash in the pan.
"After interviewing him, I thought he would definitely have staying power, at least in the underground, because you saw the underground out there that night. I thought he was gonna have a couple of hits, but I didn't think he was gonna become the superstar that he became. ... When I heard 'The Way I Am' and 'Stan,' I thought they were both very good examples of songwriting. I felt like his ability to tap into that pulse of what's going on, that's when I was blown away. His ability to tap into what's going on culturally, and he's always been able to do that, tap that pulse. All good artists are gonna have staying power if they're able to do that. 'The Way I Am,' the way it came off, the ferocity of that song, especially when it came out, I think it was right after Columbine. It was taking chances.
"I've never been the kind of producer or reporter that likes to put me into the story. But it's always interesting when I talk about my career at MTV, that's one of the things that I mention. But for me, it was just about the right timing. I wanted to do a story about white rappers ... and he basically came in. Obviously, there was a void that he filled. I feel good about it, and I feel good about the shows we did on him. We did a show, 'American Made' with Sway, that was a very good show. I've always had a good relationship with [Em's] manager, Paul [Rosenberg]. And with Eminem, he's always been an artist that if you're objective and you tell the right story, he's gonna respect it. I've always respected that about Eminem and his camp.
"The fact that it's been 10 years since his first album, wow. It's been a minute for him now. It bugs me out to think about it that way. To see that kid in a white T-shirt at Tramps doing that interview in a background with graffiti all over the wall and to fast-forward to see where he is now, you got to tip your cap to him."