In 2004, Eminem released Encore, his fourth major album, which was eventually certified platinum seven times. (That means he shipped over 7 million albums.) It was just the latest achievement in a career coursing with critical praise and commercial superstardom. Eminem was, it seemed, on top of the world.
And then the world tilted.
Eminem quit touring in 2005, in part because of drug problems. Rehab followed, but the program didn’t take. “Basically, I went in, and I came out,” he told XXL magazine. “I relapsed, and I spent the next three years struggling with it. Also, at that time, I felt like I wanted to pull back, because my drug problem had got so bad.”
The following year he remarried Kimberly Scott—a marriage that lasted just 11 weeks before ending in a second divorce. Shortly thereafter, he watched his close friend and fellow rapper DeShaun “Proof” Holton die after an altercation in front of a Detroit nightclub.
“Everyone felt his loss, from his kids, to his wife, to everyone,” Eminem told XXL. “But, for some reason, in hindsight, the way I felt was almost like it happened to just me. … Maybe at the time I was a little bit selfish with it. I think it kind of hit me so hard. It just blindsided me. I just went into such a dark place that, with everything, the drugs, my thoughts, everything. And the more drugs I consumed, and it was all depressants I was taking, the more depressed I became, the more self-loathing I became.”
That self-loathing was more than evident in Eminem’s brooding 2009 return to the music world, Relapse. So the question now is this: Where do things stand with Eminem today? His latest chart-topping hit, “Not Afraid,” offers a glimmer of light that’s been rare in the rapper’s work.
“I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one,” Eminem raps, implying that he’s in a better, more positive spot now—perhaps as good as it’s ever been. Significantly, he goes on to tell his fans that he’s free of drugs: “It was my decision to get clean, I did it for me/Admittedly, I probably did it subliminally for you/So I could come back a brand new me/You helped see me through.” He insists there will be “no more drama from now on,” and he says he wants to “focus solely on handling my responsibilities as a father.” And there’s more: “Starting today, I’m breaking out of this cage/I’m standing up, Imma face my demons.”
But the “brand new” Eminem still sometimes sounds like the old Slim Shady. He’s trying to deliver a socially conscious, even grandly positive message, but it’s still replete with f-words and s-words, as well as crude references to bowel movements, the male anatomy and some wordplay alluding to gun violence (“F‑‑‑ your fillings/Instead of getting crowned you’re getting capped”).
Eminem insists that he’s “not afraid to take a stand.” He even believes he’s earned the right to help others walk their own hard roads: “Everybody, come take my hand/We’ll walk this road together, through the storm.” I think taking him up on that kind offer might be a tad premature.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.