He is perhaps best known for being one of the few successful white rappers in the industry, not to mention one of the most critically acclaimed. He is also famous for the controversy surrounding many of his lyrics, which are said by critics to be homophobic, misogynistic and violent.
Mathers was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and spent most of his childhood moving back and forth between Saint Joseph and Detroit, Michigan.
Interested in rap from a young age, Mathers began performing as early as age 14, later gaining some popularity with a group, Soul Intent. In 1995, he released his first independent album, named Infinite, following it up with The Slim Shady EP in 1997. He became famous in the hip-hop underground because of his distinctive, cartoonish style and the fact that he's white (a rarity in all rap, especially mainstream gangsta rap). Some people called him rap's "great white hope".
It is said that Dr. Dre found Eminem's demo on the garage floor of Jimmy Lovine, the Interscope label chief. Though this did not directly lead to a recording contract, once Eminem won second place vs. Otherwize at the 1997 Rap Olympics MC battle, Dr. Dre agreed to sign him.
Once he joined Interscope, Eminem released The Slim Shady LP, which went on to be one of the most popular records of the year, going triple platinum. With the album's enormous popularity came controversy surrounding many of the album's lyrics. In "97 Bonnie and Clyde", Eminem describes a trip with his infant daughter, disposing of the bodies of his wife, her lover and his son. Another song, "Guilty Conscience" ends with Eminem and Dr. Dre encouraging a man to murder his wife and her lover.
The Marshall Mathers LP was released in May 2000, quickly selling 2 million copies. The album's first single, "The Real Slim Shady", created some buzz by trash-talking celebrities and spilling dubious gossip about them. In the song, Eminem claims, among other things, that Christina Aguilera gave "head" (oral sex) to Fred Durst (of Limp Bizkit) and Carson Daly (of MTV's Total Request Live). In the second single, "Stan," Eminem attempts to deal with his new fame status, telling the story of a fan so obsessed with him that he winds up killing himself and his pregnant girlfriend, mirroring one of the songs on The Slim Shady LP.
With the enormous popularity of Eminem's second album, the controversy surrounding Eminem grew even larger, especially when The Marshall Mathers LP was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. Though Mathers had always claimed that his lyrics were not meant to be taken seriously, and that he had nothing against homosexuals or women, the gay rights group GLAAD organized a boycott of the Grammys against Eminem. Mathers responded to this by singing "Stan" on-stage with gay singer Elton John, ending the performance by hugging John to show that he didn't in fact have anything against homosexuals. Though shocking a lot of people, this gesture failed to appease all of his critics.
As one of six members of the rap group D12, Eminem appeared on the album Devil's Night, released in 2001. The album was certified multi-platinum. The album contained the single "Purple Pills". Another song, "Blow My Buzz", was on the soundtrack for the film The Wash (2001).
Eminem's third major album, The Eminem Show was released in summer 2002. It featured the single "Without Me", an apparent sequel to "The Real Slim Shady" in which he makes derogatory comments about boy bands, Moby, and Lynne Cheney, among others.
Eminem made his Hollywood acting debut with the semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, released in November 2002. He recorded several new songs for the soundtrack, including "Lose Yourself," which won Eminem an Academy Award for Best Song and also got an Oscar.
On November 19th, 2003 new controversy surrounded Eminem when a cassette tape was played during a press conference. The 1988 cassette featured a younger Mathers performing a freestyle rap in which he made disparaging remarks about black women, calling them "stupid" in comparison to white women. The press conference was held by The Source Magazine. Mathers reportedly made the recording after breaking up with his black girlfriend.
On December 8, 2003, the United States Secret Service admitted it was "looking into" allegations that Mathers had threatened the President of the United States after the unreleased song We as Americans leaked onto the Internet. The lyrics in question: Fuck money/I don't rap for dead presidents/ I'd rather see the president dead/ It's never been said, but I set precedents.
Then, in 2004, Eminem made the video "My Band" with D12. The controversial song was the band's sarcastic response to the media's frequent portrayal of D12 as Eminem's band, giving little to no credit to its other members. It also contained various parodies, including that of the Janet Jackson 'incident'.