Marshall Mathers — better known as Eminem — burst onto the airwaves in 1997 and soon established himself as one of the top rap recording artists in history. In honor of Slim Shady's 45th birthday on Oct. 17, 2017, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at his life. Join us as we journey through the incredible (and, at times, painful) journey that made Eminem the man he is today. Keep reading to learn more…
Born Marshall Bruce Mathers III on Oct. 17, 1972, in St. Joseph, Missouri, the rapper known as Eminem experienced hardship from an early age. His father, Marshall B. Mathers Jr., abandoned his family early on, leaving his son in the care of his 17-year-old mother, Deborah Mathers (seen here with baby Marshall in 1972). Young Eminem (whose nickname began as M&M for his initials but was later spelled phonetically) grew up in poverty, moving from city to city and state to state, often living in housing projects before eventually landing in one of the seedier areas of Detroit. The rapper has said that as a child, one of the hardest parts of his life was having to move, sometimes multiple times, during the school year.
In 1986, Eminem's mom, Deborah, gave birth to the rapper's half-brother, Nathan Mathers. Eminem (seen here with Nathan in a photo from 2001) has claimed that he practically raised his brother by himself due to their mom's instability and unreliability. Things weren't just rough at home either. At school, he was the target of bullying and was once knocked in the head so hard he broke his nose and developed chronic headaches. The dysfunctional home life and playground harassment made school one of Em's least favorite places.
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In 1987 when Eminem was just 15, he met the girl who would become the love of his life — and one of the most talked-about subjects of his rap music: Kimberly Scott. Kim, an identical twin, had also had a difficult childhood and fell fast and hard for the would-be rapper when she first saw him while at a mutual friend's house party. The pair instantly hit it off and soon Kim, who was only 13 when they met, ran away to live with him at his mom Deborah's house. Kim's twin sister Dawn came to live with them soon after, allegedly escaping an abusive step-father back home. While we don't know much about those early years, from Eminem's songs, we learned the couple (seen here together in 2004) struggled to make ends meet.
Although Eminem had the love of a beautiful girl and knew he was smart (he read the dictionary to learn new words and devoured comic books), he struggled academically and failed ninth grade three times before finally dropping out of school for good when he was 17. By then, Eminem had developed a passion for music and was listening to pioneer gangster rap group N.W.A. religiously. Without a high school diploma or family resources, Eminem had to find a way to survive in the world on his own, and he had a plan. A combination of Eminem's love for language and his passion for rap music led him to enter Detroit's rap battle competitions. Eminem (seen here during a performance in Los Angeles in 1999) quickly developed a talent that set him apart from the other competitors. For once in his life, he felt like he was truly good at something and finally earning respect from his peers. Then, in 1992, brothers Jeff and Mark Bass signed Eminem to their indie label, Web Entertainment.
In 1995, Kimberly Scott delivered Eminem's first and only biological child, a little girl named Hailie Jade Mathers. As Eminem scrambled to make ends meet, he focused on turning his natural talent for rapping into a profitable career. In 1996, after spending a year recording, Eminem released his debut underground hip-hop album, "Infinite." His best friend, fellow rapper DeShaun "Proof" Holton, helped Eminem with the beats and also appeared on several tracks while Jeff Bass and Mark Bass of Web Entertainment and Denaun "Mr." Porter served as producers. Commercially, the album was a flop. Encouraged to make the music "radio friendly," Eminem (seen here performing in 1999) felt he wasn't able to fully explore his talent. Already planning his next album, he created the alter ego Slim Shady, who was far less restrained and able to say exactly what Eminem felt whether radio stations liked it or not.
In 1997, Eminem released his sophomore album, "The Slim Shady" with the same team that produced his first album the year before. The sound of his new effort was completely different. This album was gritty and hard, full of profanity and violence, with references to suicide, drug abuse and family dysfunction. In essence, Eminem had finally found his signature style. The EP was popular around Detroit, but Em knew he had to get the backing of bigger producers if he was going to make it as a rapper. While Kim stayed home with daughter Hailie in their tiny, crime-ridden trailer, Eminem headed out west to Los Angeles to participate in the Rap Olympics, hoping a win could land him a record deal. Although Eminem ultimately placed second, his sound caught the attention of Interscope Records CEO Jimmy Iovine and former N.W.A. rapper-turned-producer, Dr. Dre (seen here with Eminem and Jimmy in 2017). After listening to "The Slim Shady" in late 1997, Dre knew he'd found his next recording star.
In 1999, the world met Eminem when he released his third album (but first major label endeavor), "The Slim Shady" — an LP from Interscope, Aftermath (Dr. Dre's label) and Eminem's longtime music production crew, Web Entertainment. The album, which included hit rap singles like "My Name Is" and "Role Model," debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 and eventually went quadruple platinum. That year, Eminem was nominated for three Grammy Awards and won two (for best rap solo performance and best rap album). He also started his own label, Shady Records, alongside his manager, Paul Rosenberg. It seemed like overnight, Eminem had become a major player in the music industry.
Fame, money and positive reviews after the 1999 release of "The Slim Shady" LP meant Eminem's life and the lifestyle of his family changed drastically. Shortly before going on his "Up in Smoke" tour with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Eminem married Kim Scott, his longtime girlfriend and the mother of his child, but opted to leave her back home in Detroit. Both Kim and Eminem's mom, Deborah Mathers (seen here with Eminem and daughter Hailie Jade in 1997), weren't happy with some of the violent, angry lyrics in Eminem's songs, particularly the ones referencing them. After Eminem spoke openly in interviews about his childhood of abuse, including his mother's alleged addiction to pain pills and a Munchausen by proxy diagnosis that led the courts to remove her youngest son, Nate Mathers, from her care, Deborah filed a $10 million lawsuit against her son claiming slander and defamation. Eminem never publicly commented on the case but his manager, Paul Rosenberg, released a statement saying, "This lawsuit does not come as a surprise to Eminem. His mother has been threatening to sue him since the success of his single 'My Name Is…' It is merely the result of a lifelong strained relationship between [them]. Regardless, it is still painful to be sued by your mother…"
As Eminem's rap lyrics suggested, his relationship with wife Kim Scott was volatile. In June 2000, the couple, who'd only been married a year and were already on the outs, hit a low point when Eminem saw Kim kissing another man outside a Michigan nightclub. Eminem allegedly pulled out a 9mm pistol and beat the man, a rapper named John Guerra, over the head, resulting in Eminem's arrest. Although Eminem claimed he only used his fists, it didn't help that he was arrested again just weeks later for brandishing a weapon during an argument with a rival rap crew, the Insane Clown Posse. Eminem was able to avoid jail time and sentenced instead to probation and community service. His marriage, however, was over. Kim filed divorce papers shortly after the nightclub incident and the couple officially divorced in 2001.
In 2000, Eminem released his fourth album (although only his second major-label endeavor), "The Marshall Mathers LP." Critics immediately took issue with lyrics that seemed to glorify violence, drug abuse, homophobia and misogyny. Even the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) protested in response to one of the songs on the album, "Criminal," which used homophobic slurs. While the media seemed intent on tearing Eminem's work down, his sales skyrocketed. "The Marshall Mathers LP" sold faster than any rap album in history and spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Eminem won three Grammys that year, including best rap album, best rap solo performance and best group rap performance. The next year at the 2001 Grammys, Eminem performed alongside one of his biggest fans, Sir Elton John, who's gay. Their duet was aimed at silencing critics who continued to accuse Eminem of homophobia.
Staying true to a promise he made while still an up-and-coming rapper in Detroit, Eminem signed his friends and fellow rappers D12 (short for "The Dirty Dozen") to his Shady Records label in 2001. D12, which began as a rap group in 1996, included Eminem (seen here performing with D12 in 2001), Mr. Porter (who'd worked with Em on his first two albums), Bizarre and Eminem's best friend, DeShaun "Proof" Holton, among others. The group's first album, "Devil's Night," dropped the same year. The album went double platinum and reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, even though critics widely panned it, with the British music journal NME calling it "Eminem's most misogynistic, homophobic, violent and anally fixated trip to date."
In 2002, Eminem starred in the movie "8 Mile" as Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith. While the story was inspired by his early life in Detroit, the movie wasn't considered an actual biographical account. The film co-starred Kim Basinger as Jimmy's mom, Mekhi Phifer as Future (based on Eminem's real-life best friend, DeShaun "Proof" Holton) and the late Brittany Murphy as Alex, Jimmy's love interest. Rumors of a romantic connection between Brittany and Eminem surfaced, but a relationship was never confirmed.
Of the five of the songs Eminem performed on the soundtrack to "8 Mile," one stood out among the rest. "Lose Yourself" (which he also co-wrote and produced) was widely considered Eminem's crowning achievement, not just in the movie, but in his career. It spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (from Nov. 9, 2002 to Jan. 25, 2003) making it his longest reign on the charts.
Between 2001 and 2002, Eminem said he met with Mariah Carey to discuss a possible collaboration for her "Charmbracelet" album. The rapper claimed the two had a romantic fling, which Mariah vehemently denied. Although details are scarce, the relationship apparently soured and the pair never ended up working together. In fact, their mutual disdain became fodder for their later songs. In 2009, Eminem released "Bagpipes From Baghdad" in which he rapped about being locked up in Mariah's basement, wondering why they broke up. Mariah's response was a clear diss: Her song "Obsessed" had shade-throwing lyrics like "Why you so obsessed with me? / And boy I want to know, lyin' that you're sexing me." Ouch.
Riding high from his "8 Mile" success, including the critical acclaim of hit single "Lose Yourself," Eminem signed a new star to his Shady Records label in 2002 — a relative unknown from New York by the name of Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent, seen here with Eminem in 2003). Eminem spent the next year working with Fiddy to develop his first album, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," which would be released in 2003.
In addition to signing 50 Cent in 2002, Eminem also rekindled his relationship with his ex-wife, Kim Scott. In '02, Kim gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Whitney with a man named Eric Hartter. After breaking up with Eric, Eminem not only accepted Kim back into his life but took on the role of Whitney's father, raising her as his own. He formally adopted Whitney as well as Kim's niece Amanda Scott, who was the daughter of Kim's drug-addicted twin sister, Dawn. Both girls took the legal last name Mathers and Amanda's first name was changed to Alaina. Fans of his songs might recognize Alaina by her nickname, Lainey. Eminem has long stated that the two girls, in addition to his biological daughter, Hailie Mathers (seen here with Eminem in 1997), are his daughters and always will be.
Not many rappers can claim they have a shiny Oscar, but Eminem can. In 2003, his hit single "Lose Yourself" from the "8 Mile" soundtrack was nominated for best original song and won. Eminem, who has a long history of not showing up to awards ceremonies (including many Grammys telecasts) was not there to accept his statue. In his place, Luis Resto, who co-wrote the song with Eminem and Jeff Bass, accepted the Academy Award. Later in an interview, Eminem confessed to not understanding (at the time) how major the award was and what it meant for his career. Instead, he'd opted to stay home and sleep. Eminem (seen here in 2003 at a hip-hop summit) also won two Grammys that year for the same song.
While Eminem had once promised he would never marry again, on Jan. 14, 2006, he re-wed his ex-wife and baby mama, Kimberly Scott (seen here with Eminem in 1997). The couple kept the Rochester, Michigan, ceremony private, inviting only their closest friends, including the members of D12. Sadly, less than three months after their nuptials, Eminem filed for divorce for a second time, claiming the marriage was irretrievably damaged. To make matters worse, just a week later, Eminem's best friend, DeShaun "Proof" Holten, was shot and killed in a Detroit nightclub on 8 Mile Road, leaving the rapper devastated.
At the end of 2007, Eminem had a life-altering experience when he nearly died from an overdose of methadone — the medication used to help wean heroin addicts off the drug. Of the night he's said, "If I would have got to the hospital two hours later, that would have been it." The rapper (seen here in 2006 with Dr. Dre and friends) had battled addiction before, going to rehab in 2005 to get clean from a sleeping pill dependency, but spiraled downward with alcohol, pain pills and sleeping aids following his divorce and the death of his best friend in 2006. Thankfully, Eminem returned to rehab and got clean. He claims his recovery, which influenced his later music, also caused him to gain weight. He turned to exercise as a way to slim down and stay sober.
In 2008, Eminem (seen here in same year) experienced something of a renaissance in his career. Clean and sober, he released an autobiography titled "The Way I Am," followed by the 2009 album "Relapse" (which won a Grammy for best rap album). While his music was on the upswing, a sudden and unexpected loss caused Eminem to reflect on his previous struggles. In December 2009, the rapper's alleged one-time girlfriend Brittany Murphy died from complications from pneumonia and a drug overdose, which hit him hard. Eminem told a reporter that her death "haunted" him, but also reminded him of why his own sobriety was so important.
In 2010, Eminem returned to the studio to release his next album, "Recovery" — featuring the hit song "Love the Way You Lie" with vocals from Rihanna (seen here performing with Eminem at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards). The song became Eminem's best selling single of all time and earned five Grammy nominations. "Recovery" earned Eminem two more Grammys for best rap album and best rap solo performance for his powerful ballad "Not Afraid" (which also debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100). Once again, Eminem was on top of the world.
In 2013, Eminem (seen here the same year) released "The Marshall Mathers LP 2," which debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 1 and became the second-highest-selling album of the year. The following year, Eminem celebrated the 15-year anniversary of his label, Shady Records, by releasing "Shady XV" — a collection of the most popular songs they'd produced over the years. That was also the year Eminem's daughter, Hailie Mathers, graduated from high school and enrolled at Michigan State University. Things were mostly quiet from his camp until 2015, when it was reported that ex-wife Kimberly Scott had attempted suicide by car crash, but, thankfully, survived. In a later interview, Kim said she was getting treatment for her depression and that Eminem had been extremely supportive of her while continuing to raise their three children.
Amidst rumors he was dropping a new album in 2017, Eminem reached out to fans on Sept. 19, 2017, to launch a week-long hurricane relief fund with Detroit-based shoe manufacturer StockX that raised nearly $300,000. On Oct. 10, Eminem made headlines once more when he made a rare appearance at the BET Hip Hop Awards to perform an old-school freestyle rap that left no question as to his political leanings. In the four minute and 33 second performance, Eminem called out Donald Trump for stoking the fires of racism, insulting military veterans (including POWs) and leading us into a "nuclear holocaust" while minimizing the devastation in Puerto Rico and the need for gun regulation by turning the public's attention toward the NFL and the take-a-knee movement. Never one to mince words, Em made it clear in his closing lyrics exactly how he feels about fans who support the president, saying: "Any fan of mine who's a supporter of his / I'm drawing in the sand a line / you're either for or against / And if you can't decide / who you like more in your split / on who you should stand beside / I'll do it for you with this / f— you." No word (yet) from the president, but we're checking his Twitter feed hourly.