Eminem is one of the best-selling artists in music history, easily the biggest crossover success ever seen in rap. To call him hip-hop's Elvis is correct to a degree, but it's largely inaccurate. Certainly, he was the first white rapper since the Beastie Boys to garner both sales and critical respect, but his impact has exceeded this confining distinction. On sheer verbal skills, Eminem is one of the greatest MCs of his generation: rapid, fluid, dexterous, and unpredictable, capable of pulling off long-form narratives or withering asides. And thanks to his mentor Dr. Dre, he's had music to match: thick, muscular loops evoking the terror and paranoia conjured by Em's lyrics. To be certain, a great deal of the controversy Eminem courted -- during the turn of the millennium, there was no greater pop cultural bogeyman than Marshall Mathers -- came through in how his violent fantasias, often directed at his mother or his wife, intertwined with flights of absurdity that appealed to listeners too young to absorb the psychodramas Eminem explored on his hit albums, The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. With hits "My Name Is" and "The Real Slim Shady," he ruled the airwaves, but it wasn't long before some detractors acknowledged his depth, helped in part by singles like the mournful "Stan," written from the perspective of an obsessed fan. Eminem capitalized on this forward momentum by crossing over onto the big screen with 8 Mile, earning acclaim for his performance and an Oscar for the film's anthem, "Lose Yourself." A number of demons have led him to withdraw periodically, but he's always returned with mid-career rejuvenations like 2009's Relapse or 2017's Revival.
Born Marshall Mathers in the Kansas City, Missouri suburb of St. Joseph, Eminem spent his childhood between Missouri and Michigan, settling in Detroit by his teens. At the age of 14, he began rapping with a high school friend, the two adopting the names "Manix" and "M&M," which soon morphed into Eminem. Under this name, Mathers entered battle rapping, a struggle dramatized in the fictionalized 8 Mile. Initially, the predominantly African-American audience didn't embrace Eminem, but soon his skills gained him a reputation, and he was recruited to join several rap groups. The first of these was the New Jacks, and after they disbanded, he joined Soul Intent, who released a single in 1995. This single also featured Proof, and the two rappers broke off on their own to form D-12, a six-member crew that functioned more as a Wu-Tang-styled collective than a regularly performing group.
InfiniteAs he was struggling to establish his career, he and his girlfriend Kim had a daughter, Hailey, forcing him to spend less time rapping and more time providing for his family. During this time, he assembled his first album, Infinite, which received some underground attention in 1996, not all of it positive. After its release, Eminem developed his Slim Shady alter ego, a persona that freed him to dig deep into his dark id, something he needed as he faced a number of personal upheavals, beginning with a bad split with Kim, which led him to move in with his mother and increase his use of drugs and alcohol, capped off by an unsuccessful suicide attempt. All this Sturm und Drang was channeled into The Slim Shady EP, which is where he first demonstrated many of the quirks that became his trademark, including his twitchy, nasal rhyming and disturbingly violent imagery.
The Slim Shady EP opened many doors, the most notable of them being a contract with Interscope Records. After Eminem came in second at the 1997 Rap Olympics MC Battle in Los Angeles, Interscope head Jimmy Iovine sought him out, giving the EP to Dr. Dre, who proved eager to work with Eminem. They quickly cut Em's Interscope debut in the fall of 1998 -- during which time Marshall reconciled with Kim and married her -- and The Slim Shady LP appeared early in 1999, preceded by the single "My Name Is."