So it kind of makes sense that after almost five years spent out of the spotlight dealing with a nearly fatal addiction to prescription medication and a year after an attempted relaunch of his career with the Relapse album, Em is headed into Sunday night's show with the second-most nominations, the promise of yet another sure-to-thrill performance and a chance to reclaim his VMA throne. He may even slip into third or fourth place on the all-time list.
Behind only Lady Gaga's record 13 nods, Eminem banked eight bids, including Best Male Video and Video of the Year for the emotional "Not Afraid."
It's fitting that Shady gets resurrected after a nearly fatal car crash in his VMA promo, since just a year ago, some of his fans were wondering if Eminem had lost the golden touch that has earned the Detroit MC more than 80 million in global sales and made him one of the biggest breakout music stars of his generation. Though Relapse notched the biggest Billboard debut at one point in 2009 with 608,000, some critics noted that it lacked some of the lyrical crispness of Em's past work.
Though he's since said Relapse was recorded while he was still struggling to emerge from the fog of his addictions, Eminem showed he still had a sense of humor, taking it in stride at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards when gay Austrian fashion reporter Brüno landed in his lap backside up. It would prove to be one of the rare public appearances by the rapper in 2009, as a hoped-for joint tour and album with pal 50 Cent never materialized.
In a sign of his hard-won maturity, he uncharacteristically stepped aside from a continued battle with alleged ex Mariah Carey, even after she appeared to dress up as the rapper for her "Obsessed" video. OK, he did release the harsh comeback "The Warning," but otherwise Shady tried to downplay the ongoing beef, preferring instead to focus on delivering the breakout verse alongside Lil Wayne, Drake and Kanye West on Drizzy's "Forever."
He did some method acting with Tracy Morgan at the 2009 VMAs, where he also won for Best Hip-Hop Video for "We Made You" and presented the Best New Artist Moonman to Gaga. With Relapse easily crossing into platinum territory, Em had another hit on his hands, but the disc failed to create the groundswell of support his past efforts had, so by September, there was already rumbling about a more "emotionally driven" and "maniacal" sequel due by year's end.
While he was in the lab, the rapper performed his only full live gig of the year at November's Voodoo Fest in New Orleans, even as news emerged that Relapse 2 would drop in December. And then ... nothing. Amid a flurry of leaked songs like "Taking My Ball," "Elevator" and "Buffalo Bill," and "Hell Breaks Loose" and "Drop the Bomb on 'Em," no official word on the new album was forthcoming and prospects seemed grim.
December came and went, Shady shared the stage with Drake and Lil Wayne at February's Grammys for a run through Drizzy's "Forever" and teamed with Weezy for the "Drop the World" video, but no Relapse 2.
Then, without warning, on April 14, he said the album sequel was killed and he announced a few hours later that a brand-new effort, Recovery, would be released in its place.
Em took credit for the "ehh" sound of Relapse on the first single from Recovery, "Not Afraid," which marked one of the first times the MC had led with an initial single that didn't have a jokey, dis-heavy vibe. "Not Afraid" smashed the charts, debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 at an amazing #1 and Em followed that with the announcement of a series of hometown shows in Detroit and New York with Jay-Z.
Anticipation for Recovery continued to build as news emerged that it would feature tracks with Rihanna, Lil Wayne and Pink, and even when it leaked two weeks early, Eminem held firm on the release date and was rewarded with yet another highest-debut-of-the-year honor when Recovery smashed onto the Billboard album charts at #1 with sales of 741,000. That debut week run would turn into a rout, as Shady would hold onto the pole position for seven non-consecutive weeks during the summer as Recovery steamed past the 2 million mark and stayed in the top three 10 weeks into its run.
With the emotionally ripe "Afraid" already winning praise for its depiction of Em's struggles to come back from the ledge of self-destruction, fans were primed for an even more raw take in the video for his "Love the Way You Lie" collabo with Rihanna. The hard-hitting clip, starring "Lost" alum Dominic Monaghan and former "Transformers" hottie Megan Fox, struck a number of nerves with its depiction of a battling love affair that has clearly resonated with both artists' fans, as the single racked up #1 status on the Billboard 100 and iTunes singles' charts for several weeks.
After surprise live jump-ups at shows by Rihanna and Drake, Marshall rounded out his year of sporadic live appearances with a coronation of sorts. The kickoff of his four-show hometown tour with Jay-Z last weekend cemented his status as one of the biggest and most admired MCs of the modern era, as fans traveled from all over the country to catch a rare glimpse of him in concert and legends like mentor Dr. Dre came out to show their support.
It was a long struggle, but Em is back where we like him: on fire, making killer videos and ready to take on the world, with a gang of VMA nominations at his back.
The 27th annual MTV Video Music Awards will be broadcast live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday. The party starts with MTV News' VMA Pre-Show at 8 p.m., followed by the main event at 9 p.m. ET.