On 1999's “My Name Is,” Eminem entered the public imagination with a mandate: “God sent me to piss the world off.” From his provocative early work to the redemption narratives of 8 Mile and beyond, he’s more or less stayed true to form, holding a mirror to the American psyche—and his own—with an incisiveness rarely matched before or since. Raised in working-class Detroit, the artist born Marshall Mathers in 1972 got his start as a battle rapper, reaching the ears of then-Interscope Records CEO Jimmy Iovine and future mentor Dr. Dre; only months before, he had been fired from his job as a line cook, where he worked nearly 60 hours a week to support his infant daughter—an origin story that set the tone for his career. Dark, funny, and frequently violent, his breakthrough albums (1999’s The Slim Shady LP and 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP) established him as pop culture’s premier bogeyman, a bleach-blond devil traumatized by circumstance who rapped about killing everyone from his mentor to his mother with such ferocity and wit that you’d almost forget he had the wrong idea. The result was a sound that reached beyond hip-hop into the heart of suburban America: rap not as social reportage but as primal-scream therapy; punk for a generation addled by reality TV. Even as he's matured—fame, stability, sobriety, an Oscar (for the 8 Mile centerpiece, “Lose Yourself”)—he's retained his edge, taking shots at politics and society (2017’s Revival) with a frustration that's bordered on relentless. Still, however tough he's been on the world, Em has also tended to reserve his harshest words for himself, refracting his insecurities—about his family, his music, his cultural relevance—into verses that have only made him seem more human.
- St. Joseph, MO
- October 17, 1972