What is it about Slim Shady that captivates people so much? Well, let’s dive into his storied career, image and successes, and see why he’s become such an icon.
1. He moves records.
We’ll get this one out of the way fast – Eminem knows how to sell music. The Marshall Mathers LP sold 1.76 million copies in its first week, making it the fastest-selling hip-hop album in history. Those numbers are utterly huge – today, a debut of 100,000 is considered very good. Eminem just blows it out of the water, and ten of his albums have hit number one on the Billboard 100.
2. He can rap with the best of them.
Eminem’s extremely tight lyricism won him accolades among hardcore and casual fans of hip-hop alike. The speed at which he rattles off syllables impresses to this day, and was showcased in his track Rap God, which pretty much saw Eminem declare himself a deity.
3. He came up with Dr. Dre.
Perhaps the most golden endorsement in hip-hop is the approval of Dr. Dre. A member of NWA, Dre went on to work with Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and now Kendrick Lamar. He discovers geniuses, and he works with geniuses. That’s what Dre does. He picked Eminem, the white boy, and took the risk for it – and it paid off dividends.
4. He was ‘the white rapper’.
Eminem’s race was both a blessing and a curse. As a white guy, he had a lot to prove before rap culture could fully embrace him. But also as a white rapper, you got lots of suburban dads and moms, who to this day, say “I don’t let my kid listen to rap…except for Eminem”. That unique position as the only mainstream white rapper who was a top-tier lyricist enabled Em to spread hip-hop to a whiter audience, whatever one makes of the contradictions in only letting the white rapper into the home.
5. He told stories in his songs.
Everyone knows about Eminem’s personal struggles. He had classic songs like Stan, which have gone down as legendary songs for telling a coherent emotional narrative across his verses, getting into the head of an insane fan and telling that story through music. Even songs like I’m Not Afraid tell a story of Em being inspired by his own fans to believe in himself.
6. He aired out family grievances.
We all know about Eminem’s twisted verses ranting against his mother and the mother of his child. But a lot of people found catharsis in taking out their anger against their families through Eminem’s music. He was the voice of the angsty, rebellious youth, and that made him a counterculture icon.
7. He played the villain.
Everyone loves an anti-hero. Eminem, in songs like Without Me, fully understood his place within pop culture – he made things interesting, and he was violent, aggressive and crude. He was the anti-PC voice of George Carlin resurrected in rap, an anti-hero, a villain, a symbol of rebellion in rap music.
8. He was always political.
Songs like White America called out his own fanbase, and Eminem was dissing George W. Bush long before Donald Trump thought of entering the Oval Office. He was the white rapper with a lot of white fans, but he always called right-wing white America out. And yet, many conservatives still loved him. He was able to manage his views and his fanbase expertly.
9. He captured the emotions of his fans.
Playing the villain, being political, and telling stories in music all amounts to one thing – emotional identification. Eminem got his fans to emotionally identify with him, which is the key aspect for any artist to succeed. White kids, black kids, women and even adults all understood the emotion and outrage of Eminem. Capturing that emotion took him to the top.
10. Every other rapper likes him.
He’s got the backing of his peers. Of course there’s Dr. Dre, but everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Nicki Minaj has said that Eminem was a major influence on their music. His peers understand that he’s one of the best.
11. He signed Slaughterhouse.
Some of the best MCs alive right now are in a group called Slaughterhouse, signed to Eminem’s Shady Records. Joell Ortiz and Royce da 5’9″, while not mainstream names, spit some of the best bars in rap right now, and Eminem signed them because he knows how to put talent on, and keep the expert nature of the craft alive, even if only on the outskirts of culture. He sees the future of lyricism, and wants it protected. That’s what the greats do – they pass the keys to others.
12. 8 Mile.
Of course, who could forget 8 Mile? Casting himself as B Rabbit, Eminem’s movie about a young rapper trying to make it in the Detroit battle rap scene has become a classic piece of pop culture cinema. It’s remarkable that Eminem himself played B Rabbit. His talents are not limited in the slightest.
13. He’s still hungry for more.
Even after age 40, he’s still releasing projects and freestyles with the hunger to surpass himself more and more each time. Retirement is just not a word in his vocabulary. A true artist never quits.