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Eminem: A cultural rebel to the core

The Grammy winner, who grew up fatherless, hates his mom, loves his daughter but will sing about killing and raping women.

music Updated: Jan 17, 2006 13:55 IST

Grammy winner Eminem is more than just a rapper. The singer, whose greatest hits album Curtain Call released last month, is a true cultural rebel.

Eminem, who grew up fatherless, hates his mom, loves his daughter but will sing about killing and raping women. He is a gay-hater, fantasises murdering, and sometimes is just plain creepy. Eminem has courted more controversy than any other pop icon in the past few decades. He makes oodles of money glorifying rape, drugs and murder but explains it all away by claiming that it is just an act. He defends it as an artistic expression.

His new album features hits like Stan, The Real Slim Shady, Lose Yourself among others and three bonus new songs.

But Eminem has raised speculations that he might just walk away from all the fame and notoriety that he has generated over the past few years of his career.

Like most famous people who make it seem like they just came out of nowhere to create storms, Eminem's career had a slow and painful start.

First there was the quiet and skinny Marshal Mathers. He had to move from school to school by his somewhat unstable and overprotective mom. Then there was the phase where he was M&M.

Later still was Eminem, the verbose outcast who turned his back on his white suburban classmates and joined Detroit's black rap scene. But now finally there is Slim Shady. He is the most vile and trenchant rapper who ever stood up to anyone.

There are as numerous reasons to his rise to fame as there are fans but for one reason more than any, Eminem will stand out - he says it like it is.

Like most great artists who draw from personal pain to create great art, Eminem drew from more than his share of horror. His life was a struggle even before he was born.

His mother Debbie Mathers-Briggs married his father Marshal Mathers Jr. when she was just 15. Three years later she gave birth to her first son and almost died after surviving a 73-hour labour.

After living a childhood where he had to endure bullying by being beaten up almost unconscious and picked on for being weak and sickly, he finally came to a kind of a breakthrough in his rapping style. He called it the "inside rhyme".

At that time in the still early days of rap, if even two lines rhymed it would be enough. But Eminem moved it to a whole new level. His aim was to put in as many words into a line as he could fit.

As he perfected this method, he got his first break when a local producer heard him on a Detroit radio station. Within a few hours he was in a studio and put out his first record. It bombed. It was called Infinite and featured songs of love, unity and struggling to survive against all odds.

Eminem soon created a new musical persona and that made all the difference. He turned to that untapped bank of anger and hatred and created his alter ego - Slim Shady. Shady deals drugs, is a thug, who fantasies murder, rape and lives by a set of rules only applicable to the worst dregs of society.

His real life is no less dramatic. In many ways it more than reflects his art by sometimes actually feeding it. He has had troubles with the law, his wife attempted suicide and he once beat up some guy in a parking lot when he suspected him of kissing his wife.

But Eminem and his defenders say all this is not Mathers, but the Slim Shady character. Shady supposedly is the real culprit.

Another astonishing accomplishment of Eminem is his ability to be so offensive and still be loved by critics. At the time Eminem came out, most critics were just grateful because he ended the reign of boy bands and pop princesses. He was already being touted as the most compelling force in pop music.

The problem simply wasn't that he was explicit or suggestive in his lyrics. Others were already doing that but Eminem took it into a whole other realm.

Eminem differs from others in that he is rarely reflective or apologetic. He just bludgeons with his lyrics. He is easily the most offensive towards certain sections of society like the gays and lesbians.

Critics see all this as him being funny and even fearless. Even when he insults other pop stars like Puff Daddy, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears and N'Sync, he is allowed to get away with it.

No matter what step he chooses to take next, Eminem has left such an indelible mark on music and pop culture that he will always be remembered. He actually just might be the biggest star since Elvis Presley.

First Published: Jan 17, 2006 09:00 IST