Cerebral Knievel – Eminem and the World of Slim Shady
Words by Jerry Lawrence Barrow
Photo by Annalisa
This article was originally published in The Source Magazine, April 1999 (Issue #115)
Imagine, if you will, a place where Natural Borne Killers meets Pee-Wee’s Play House in a demented lyrical orgy. A place where South Park’s Catman teaches at the temple of hip hop and brings in the severed head of a bitin’ MC for show and tell; where the only thing held sacred is a bag of shrooms and a microphone. Welcome to the world of Slim Shady. After years of battling on the underground circuit, Detroit native Eminem has turned a disturbing gift for describing the macabre into a record deal with Aftermath Records and their former dead-man-walking CEO, Dr. Dre. Not content to be just another Caucasian sensation, Eminem stabs you in the funny bone with lines like: ‘My brain’s dead weight/ I’m tryin’ to get my life straight/ But I can’t figure out which Spice Girl I wanna impregnate.” Offended? Good. Cuz Eminem wants you to know that he Still Don’t Give A F*ck.
The Source: How did you come up with the name Slim Shady?
Eminem: I was takin’ a sh*t. I swear to God. And the f*ckin’ name just popped into my head. Then I started thinkin’ of twenty million things that rhymed with it. Everyone in my click had an alias. They was like: “You can’t just be Eminem. You gotta be Eminem a.k.a. somebody else.” Slim Shady is just the evil thoughts that come into my head. Things I shouldn’t be thinkin’ about. Not to be gimmicky, but people should be able to determine when I’m serious and when I’m f*ckin’ around. That’s why a lot of my songs are funny. I got a warped sense of humor I guess.
You released one album independently, Infinite, and the Slim Shady EP before finally hooking up with Dr. Dre. How’d you land your deal?
In 1997 I was in the Rap Olympics in L.A. and I took second place in the freestyle competition. Then I was doin’ a Lyricist Lounge show tryin’ to promote the EP and there was some kids from Interscope Records there and I handed them a copy. They slept on it for a minute. But I went back out to L.A. to do a radio show and Dre caught up with me. I signed in January of last year.
What’s it like working with Dre?
Nobody’s f*ckin’ with Dre, as far as rap producers. As soon as we went in the studio we knocked out four songs in six hours. Every beat he would make, I had a rhyme for. Two of them songs is going on the album. For some reason he knows what type of beats I like. We got good chemistry together.
Both of your videos do some spoofing of the middle-America, “Trailer Park” type of white folks. Did you grow up in that type of environment?
No I’ve lived in trailer parks before, but I grew up on the East Side of Detroit. I come from a nutty family. Besides two bikers next door, me, my moms, and my little brother were the only white people on the block.
What are your influences or motivations for the way you rhyme?
The way my style is now, I pretty much have my own sh*t. When I was growin’ up, I wanted to rap about sh*t people were scared to rap about. Some people will say stuff just for shock value. [But] if I’m thinkin’ it, I’m gonna say it. I make a lot of my own personal business public. There are things I’m gonna say in my life that other people will think is embarrassing to them.
Where’s the strangest place you’ve written a rhyme?
I like to throw my ideas just scattered onto paper. When I was busing tables I’d write ’em on my hand or on receipts. I wrote rhymes on the way in my old house right above my bed. I did it in pencil but one time when I went to wipe it off, it wiped off the paint. My mom f*ckin’ flipped.
You worked your way through the underground battlin’ MCs. What’s your secret for success?
I never got into a battle and didn’t freestyle. That’s how I won all my battles. I cant see anybody winning a battle with written raps. That sh*t is so f*ckin’ corny to me. I don’t wanna be known as an underground battle MC, but you gotta start in the underground. If you don’t build a foundation, your ass is through.