Eminem covers Billboard magazine for the first time ever. Surprising considering he’s like the artist of the last decade…. Full article text below.
“Make some noise for a gentleman who’s come a long way.” It’s a muggy, breeze-less June night in New York, and some 200 fans have pressed into Bowery Ballroom under the pretense of watching local rappers with questionable names like Kosha Dillz and Quest McCody berate each other with questionable lines, like, “You sound like a character from ‘The Legend of Zelda.’ ” Really, though, everyone is here for Eminem.
The rap superstar was rumored to be headlining this freestyle battle event, Red Bull EmSee: The Road to 8 Mile, named after his own Detroit origins and the Academy Award-nominated 2002 movie that chronicled them. Now, the night’s host has finally confirmed that Marshall Mathers will take the stage.
From the moment he does — with “Despicable,” a freestyle that was leaked in April to hype his new album, “Recovery” (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope) — Eminem looks furious. Neck pulsing, eyes alight, he plows through bars with the intensity of someone who has spent the past five years fighting just to stay alive, which, in fact, he has, due in large part to a lengthy and near-fatal addiction to prescription medications including Vicodin, Valium, Ambien and methadone. “Better not let up, better not let them breathe,” he spits. “Last shot, give it all you got/Try to turn me down, bitch, get fucked with the volume knob/Fuck all you snobs.”
His set ends not 10 minutes later, after performing two tracks from “Recovery”: “On Fire,” produced by his onstage hype man Mr. Porter, and the explosive “Won’t Back Down,” featuring pop outlier Pink on the chorus. Only when he says goodbye does Eminem hint at the calmer, now more sentient artist behind the lethal-as-ever rhymes.
“I do realize, man, for real, that if it were not for you guys I would not be standing up here right fucking now,” he tells the crowd. “Honest to God, man — thank you to each and every one of you.” As he leaves, fans scream and chant “Encore, encore!” to no avail.
Eminem has good reason to feel grateful: June 21 marked the release of “Recovery,” his second studio album in as many years after a long and turbulent hiatus. The first one, “Relapse,” was released last May and followed 2005’s “Encore,” which sold 5.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Perhaps more so for Eminem than any other artist, “underwhelming” is a relative term when it comes to sales. At 2 million copies, “Relapse” has sold significantly less than his previous sets but was the top-selling rap album of 2009, affirming the continued loyalty of his fans and his music’s ability to withstand leaks. All told, Eminem has sold 35.7 million albums in the United States in slightly more than 11 years and was the best-selling artist of the last decade. In its first week of release, “Recovery” is projected to add around 600,000 copies to his grand total.
“I don’t think I’ve actually stopped to think about it,” Eminem says by phone from his home in Detroit, while on a brief break between trips to promote “Recovery.” “I never thought that my life would amount to this. But to be able to sit back and digest it is so strange to me, because I still feel so regular. I don’t understand what people think the big deal is about me. It’s a very strange relationship that I have with fame.”
What Eminem has spent a great deal of time thinking about, however, is artistic merit. He continues to speak openly about what he believes is the mixed quality of his last two albums. “I was pretty much in full-blown addiction while I was creating [“Encore”],” he says, “and as far as ‘Relapse,’ when I first got sober I got really happy because I was not a prisoner of addiction anymore, so life was brand-new to me. I was like, ‘Shit, man, trees are beautiful again. What a nice day it is.’ I don’t think I was paying attention to what the average listener might like or not like.”