He may have dropped the curtain last fall, but whether it’s rehab tales or plans to run rap (again), it seems the Eminem show must go on. Thankfully, Shady brought the homie Obie Trice, fresh outta I.C.U., along for the sequel, and apparently, the second round’s on him. This is Pay-Per-View, punks!
By Noah Callahan-Bever. Photographs by Kenneth Capello
Eminem is in a weird place. No, not Detroit—although judging from the strip off 11 Mile, where today’s photo shoot is located, it is a strange place, indeed. No, the weird place 33-year-old M dot Mathers currently occupies is his own head. It’s been a long ride. He ascended to the pinnacle of celebrity, thanks to his undisputed musical genius, and to the marketing genius of those behind him, and found it—unfortunately, if somewhat predictably-unsatisfying. But even as he’s backed away from fame to focus on family, teasing retirement, he’s remained mired in tabloid fodder.
His last two records, Encore, a studio release, and Curtain Call, a greatest hits collection, have both met with mixed response and modest sales (to be fair, modest for Eminem is a smash by other standards). In addition, Em abruptly cut short the Anger Management 3 tour, issuing a press release that he’d admitted himself into rehab for an addiction to sleeping pills. With his legacy on the line, Em is set up for either a J.D. Salinger-esque disappearing act or monster comeback.
As he contemplates his future, Em is now clean and sober-and happily re-married to Kim-and, frankly, quite placid. Where he once lived in emotional extremes, he now seems staid and detached, concentrating on launching the careers of Shady acts Obie Trice, Stat Quo, and Bobby Creekwater.
However, today Em’s transitory energy is buoyed by the unabashed enthusiasm of protégé Obie Trice. You see, Obie has plenty of reasons to be excited. First of all, he’s alive. After getting shot in the back of the head on New Year’s Eve, young Trice is no worse for the wear, all praises due. Then there’s that, through a combination of funny hijinx-like the Eminem-gifted sofa that he tried to sell on eBay-and quality material, Obie has created honest-to-goodness buzz. On top of which, there’s his new album, Second Round’s On Me, which is good, really good. Oh yeah, and finally, he’s shooting a cover with his best bud.
The duo sat down with Complex to discuss all of the above, as well as Jimmy Iovine’s bullshit detector, Obie’s bubble-boy aspirations, and the mall in Eminem’s house.
Let’s get right into some social science. When rappers get shot and live-like 2Pac (the first time), 50 Cent, or Cam’ron-it seems to make them rap a lot better. Em, you’ve been in the studio with Obi, Is there any truth to this?
Eminem: [Smirks, not sure if the question is serious]
Obie Trice: I think I was always dope! [Laughs]
Em, a lot of rappers-turned-execs have had a hard time breaking artists out of their shadow. How do you plan on doing it with Obie this time?
Eminem: I’m here to help, and I’m here to produce records and make the music all it can be, but they can do it themselves. 50 did it himself. All I did was put the push. And that’s all I’m doing with Obie. All the listener has to do is pick up the album.
Obie Trice: Marshall opened the front door, now I’m having a barbecue in the backyard. So it’s just like, you have a plate of food, he set the plate for you, but you gotta pick up a fork and eat it. And I don’t expect nothing else from this man. To me, he’s been a great friend. He helped me out.
He gave you a couch.
Obie Trice: He gave me a couch! [Laughs]
Buy it now! The sectional is still available-$2,000 on eBay.
Who told you about that?
Eminem: Uh, Obie. I don’t look on the Internet. I don’t go on-[gestures as if typing]-the computers. I’m not into all that stuff, because when you get into the chat rooms and you hear all this stuff that people are saying about you, you can get caught up.
Obie Trice: I wasn’t even really trying to sell the couch. That was one of my homies-we play crazy jokes on each other. So he put me on front like that. It was funny, I admit it.
Em, you mentioned avoiding chat rooms and people’s opinions. Do you ever feel like it becomes hard to make music being out of touch with the fans? Does it make you feel like you exist in a bubble?
Eminem: Yeah, it can feel like that.
Obie Trice: Let me feel like that. [Laughs]
Eminem: It was cool to go to the mall, at first, and get noticed. It’s a good feeling when it’s one or two people, but when it becomes the entire mall following you, and you gotta run out of the mall, literally, that’s not fun. I love my fans, but yeah, sometimes I do feel like I’m in that bubble, where I just kinda exist. My existence is coming home to my kids, after a 9 to 5 shift at work, producing my ass off, and making as many tracks as I can. But it does feel like this bubble-type-thing. I had an experience, where-Obie, if you ever get this, this’ll fuckin’, this is when you’ll know that life is crazy. I got out of my car a couple of years ago, determined to pump my gas. I was just determined to pump my own gas-
Obie Trice: [Laughs]
Sorry, that was juvenile. Continue.
Eminem: Yeah, all I wanted to do is pump my own gas. I go into pay and there was one lady who recognized me, so I gave her an autograph-that was cool. And then I went out to the pump, and somebody slammed on their brakes too hard, and the person behind them rear-ended them. I caused an accident. I was like, This is fuckin’ insane. And that’s when I realized, if I wanna take my daughters to the movies, we gotta rent out the whole theater. We can’t do normal people things-and we’re the most regular people.
Living in a bubble, is it hard to gauge your own relevance or the quality of your material? Who was the last person to tell you that a song you made wasn’t good?
Eminem: Uh…[Laughs] I don’t know if he’d like me to say this, but Jimmy Iovine told me some of the songs for Curtain Call, in a roundabout way, weren’t up to par with—
These are the ones that actually made the album?
Eminem: Yeah, the new ones. The label was like, “We ready to put this record out? Is it ready?” And me, just coming out of rehab-that whole experience taught me a lot, but it also gave me an incredible amount of writer’s block. It was just so ridiculous, like Dre came into town, and we tried to work together to get a song for Curtain Call. Like, we couldn’t come up with anything. Not because of Dre, but because of me. I just couldn’t. My mind was on block, like, I can’t write at all and there’s so much to say, how do I say it? “When I’m Gone” came at the very last minute.
So Iovine objected to that song and the others that made it, too?
Eminem: All the records made it. It was just a question of-
Whether it was necessarily your best work?
Eminem: Yeah. Jimmy, he’s a good bullshit detector. If you’re gonna put out some bullshit, he’ll be the first to tell you. I mean, he ain’t gonna say, “Marshall, this is bullshit.” But in a roundabout way, he will tell you how he feels. And it’s one of the things that I appreciate about him, because whether he ends up being right or wrong, he always tests that boundary, asking you, “Is this good enough?” I got the question with “When I’m Gone” of, “Did we already visit this with ‘Mockingbird?’” I felt like, well, I talked about Kim and Hailie throughout my entire career, but this is my song to the public saying, This is the guilt that I felt. My life was being pulled and I was being tugged, in 18 million different ways. I felt like I was neglecting, especially Hailie, at that time, because of everything else. Going through a porce, criminal cases, and you know, “Daddy don’t leave.” It was a tough situation. So that was the song where I explain to people why I’m going away for a while. And that was the message I was trying to convey to Jimmy. It was like, Yeah, we’ve been down this road before but it’s never been told like this.
Were the other records on Curtain Call the last of your Slim Shady-ish material?
Eminem: That’s for you to know, and me to find out. [Laughs]
You mentioned having a hard time creating because of rehab. What was that like?
Eminem: I won’t get into too much detail. All that stuff is private, but I’ll say it was an eye-opening experience that-whew-it was a kick in the ass. I had to do it; I was on a downward spiral. The pressure and stress. For almost eight years-just being that dude, the pressure of just being that dude, I didn’t want to be that dude no more. So I cracked.
What was the moment that made you want to stop being that dude?
Eminem: There was a lot of moments. But it was just having a sleep disorder to the point where-I always call it trains, planes, automobiles. The craziness of touring, it’s hard to sleep. You’re on the bus, the bus is moving, shaking, and you gotta get sleep so that you can be on point for the next show. Plus, I was flying home to Detroit to see the kids. Half the tour they were out on the road with me, as well as my wife. And half the tour they was at home, so I was going home to see them between shows. So I had to, right after the show, get on a plane to go see them, and it’s a five-hour flight. I’d hope I could sleep on the plane, get there just as they’re waking up, and spend the day with them. But then it’s wake up at 6 the next morning to catch back up with the tour. Not landing until like 20, 30 minutes before I gotta go on stage. It drove me insane. I just medicated myself to death. It was like, I’m gonna fucking die if I keep this up.
So now you’re taking it easy?
Eminem: Nah, I just-I don’t know man. I’m just trying to fall back.
Speaking of falling back, after going real hard at the gym for the last couple of years, it looks like you’ve been taking it easy-
Eminem: Thanks a lot, you motherfucker! [Laughs] I went through a little slacking phase, but I just got back into my regimen last week. So, I eat some nachos, and drink a Mountain Dew, and then I go hit the gym ’cause I just know I fucked up. [Laughs]
Hey, you’re semi-retired. You gotta relax.
Eminem: Yeah, you gotta relax but you gotta worry about your health, and stay up on it. As long as I stay in the right frame of mind, I can do anything I wanna right now. I got the gym in my house; it’s just a matter of me going in it.
Obie Trice: You got the movies at your house, too. You got the zoo at your house-[Laughs]
Eminem: I got a Ferris wheel at my house.
Obie Trice: You’ve got the mall at your house, too.
Get the fuck outta here.
Obie Trice: What, you don’t have the mall at your house? [Laughs]
Getting back to you taking it easy, Em, are you happy being semi-retired?
Eminem: I feel like I’m taking a different road right now. A lot of rappers, I think, they get bored with rap, but I don’t see myself ever getting bored with rap. Now when I wanna write, I just call Obie.
I noticed in the other room you’ve got a notebook with pages and pages of rhymes stuffed in it. Is it possible for you to really retire and not rap?
Eminem: It’s impossible for me to not think of-like, it is impossible for me to not have thoughts.
Thinking-yeah, most people have to do that.
Eminem: Yeah, most people have to do that. [Laughs] Only a bullet can take that away.
Speaking of which, how’s that been going for you, Obie?
Obie Trice: [Laughs] I’m good. My toes are wiggling, my fingers are wiggling. I’m walking. I’m talking. I’m here.
What exactly do you remember?
Obie Trice: It’s just crazy. It was New Years’ Eve. I was expecting to bring in my New Year’s better than that. Just being in the emergency room, seeing all the blood-
So you’re sitting in the car, and then-
Eminem: I get a phone call at 4 a.m., first of all, with my wife hollering up the stairs. I’m sleeping and she comes running up like, “Obie just got shot in the head!” I’m like, “You gotta be fucking kidding me.” And I run down the stairs so fast that I trip and I slide on my ass down the stairs. And I get on the phone, and there’s this girl saying, Obie got shot in the head. And I’m thinking the worst-case scenario, death or paralysis. But then she’s like, It’s okay. He’s talking. He’s talking to the doctors. He got on the gurney himself. And I’m like, Nobody’s going to sleep here, so if you hear anything, let us know. And then we got a call later on, that Obie was released.
Obie Trice: It’s good to be here man, good to put out this album.
We’re glad to have you here. When was the last time you guys heard a rapper out of the crew kick a rhyme and you were like, Damn, I wish I thought of that?
Obie Trice: Nate!
Eminem: [Laughs] He’s talking about my little brother. Well Andre 3000, you know, when he was rapping.
Nothing recently? You haven’t turned on BET and thought, T.I.-that guy can write.
Eminem: I like T.I., I like Jeezy-
Not to put you on the spot about them, in particular, but-
Eminem: Nah, there’s a lot of rappers out there that I like, that just have a completely different style. And there’s a lot of rappers that simplify their stuff maybe for the listener or whatever. There’s a lot of simple stuff out there that I can still appreciate.
So you’re saying other rappers are simpler? [Laughs]
Eminem: No, I didn’t say that! [Laughs]. That’s a misquote! But uh-
Basically they all suck.
Eminem: No! [Laughs] But there is a mixtape and Obie’s on the cover with 50. There’s a rapper on there, he counts backwards-
Obie Trice From 100 to one.
Oh, the kid Axel.
Eminem: Yeah, whoever that is, I was like, Damn. We try to listen to a little bit of everything, But Shady and Aftermath got so much coming, it’s a lot to listen to. This year is gonna feel similar to 2003-the momentum.
Do you think you can feel like that again? You’ve been through a lot since then. Can you get yourself mentally and emotionally into the same zone you were in 2003?
Eminem: I feel like, well, yeah, there’s a lot of shit I’ve been through, but also at the same time I feel like if I ever wanna kick into that gear again, I could. But I haven’t decided whether or not-or even if I’m gonna do that again. Do I think I could do it? Yeah, I definitely think I could do it again. My ultimate goal is just to be able to sit back and produce artists that I love to listen to.