Drug Addiction, Zane Lowe, and the 'Marshall Mathers LP 2': Deconstructing Eminem

There's been a universal sense of missing the point.

Nov 22 2013, 11:12am

Zane Lowe has done extended interviews with two of the biggest rappers in the world: Kanye West and JAY Z. On Monday night he rounded off his rap interview trilogy in the form of an hour long chat with Eminem.

The JAY Z and Kanye West interviews were both incredibly revealing. Jay told Zane how he and Kanye had a four day fall-out while making Watch The Throne, and Kanye aired his thoughts on everything from Lady Gaga - “what the fuck does she know about cameras?” - through to racial limitations, flip flops, and VERSACE VERSACE VERSACE VERSACE VERSACE. After these quotable megalith interviews, the premise of an extended chat with Eminem could have provided the biggest scoop of all, a moment to bring to light an artist that resides in relative publicity darkness. He’s over an addiction, and has just released one of the most revealing records of his career. Zane, with his encyclopedic knowledge and fandom, could provide the big interview that ESPN College Football couldn’t quite muster.

It’s not like Eminem needs the press. He’s sold upwards of 220 million records worldwide, making him the best selling global artist of the 2000s. His latest record, the Marshall Mathers LP 2, has had the second-best first week sales of 2013, topping everyone from Daft Punk and Bowie through to Yeezy and Miley Cyrus.

Monday was the night that we’d see beyond the numbers, the lyrics, and the bleach blonde hair. It promised an in-depth character profile. an exciting in-depth insight into the psyche of one of modern music’s most perplexing, outrageous, and autobiographical artists.

But, it wasn’t. This is because of a universal sense of missing the point. Eminem, as an artist, has revealed almost everything through his music and won’t expand further on questions that he’s already lyrically answered. On the outside, he’s a recovering addict, reclusive and reserved. It’s been thirteen years since the original Marshall Mathers LP. He isn’t the chainsaw mask, dungaree-wearing caricature that he was, and the new album isn’t a continuation of that character. It’s the next chapter in Eminem’s personal story, rather than an attempt to recreate the shocking, FBI-scaring semantics of early Eminem that many critics have lazily painted it as.

Every review of the Marshall Mathers LP 2 has pitted his new work against the old. Rolling Stone analysed it as being “about pissing off the world from a less cynical place”. Pitchfork called it “a display of how much [Eminem] has let himself go since [his] glory days”. But to just juxtapose Eminem’s artistic offerings from the past with the present and neglect to delve into personal context is to intently disregard and misunderstand the foundation of his music.

On April 11, 2006, Eminem’s long-term hype-man, best friend, and life-partner, Proof, died. Already battling with several long-term drug addictions, Eminem spiralled further down the well of substance abuse, consuming “anywhere from 40 to 60 Valium [in a day]. Vicodin, maybe 30,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010.

I asked Joshua Dickson, a psychotherapist at the Start2Stop clinic in London, what effect this many pills would have. “If you or I took this amount, we’d be comatose,” he told me.

But because an addict’s highs diminish over time, Eminem’s drug usage increased. In 2007, he overdosed on methadone, the equivalent of four bags of heroin leaving him two hours away from dying. At the same time, cross addiction started to develop. At one point, Eminem weighed in at 230 pounds. He would go to Denny’s and eat by himself regularly, and was unrecognisable due to his added weight.

Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, they’re all legends who became victims of drug addiction. But we never found out what they were like on the other side of it, five years clean, and three albums on.

“Heavy addicts that get clean get their feelings back,” Josh told me. “It’s managing life on life’s terms. You put the drugs down, and all the things you’re using the drugs for, start appearing. If you’d had some sort of trauma, those feelings will start to resurface. You have to deal with it”.

The anguish of Proof’s death, the decade long tirade against his mother, his relationship with Kim, will have all manifested in recent years. They formed the basis of both Relapse and Recovery. In many ways, both those two records contributed as self-help treatment. Relapse helped Eminem smash his writing block and Recovery was dedicated in the linear notes "2 anyone who's in a dark place tryin' 2 get out” [sic].

The Marshall Mathers LP 2 comes full circle. Eminem apologises to his mother (“Headlights”), writes empathetically from the perspective of Kim (“Stronger Than I Was”), and is introduced fully “back to the land of the living” (“Evil Twin”). Alongside, the record is also an incredibly self-aware autobiographical portrait of his current positioning within the music industry, tackling everything from his new-found lack of shock-tactics and pressure from over-expectant Stans through to his awareness of mortality and potential lack of relevance. It’s schizophrenic, switching from pop-smashes (“Monster”) to comedic self assessment (“So Far”) and technical rap portraiture (“Rap God”).

So to neglect to look at the record within the personal framework that it was created, while incessantly placing it against a changed worldwide cultural framework, isn’t fair.

The Zane Lowe interview didn’t reveal much, and coupled with lacklustre live performances and various other televised appearances, people have targeted Eminem’s supposed lack of interest. But the Marshall Mathers LP 2 proves that Eminem has a deep interest, perhaps much further than the majority of artists making music. It constantly references old work, other artists work, and provides a full insight into the next chapter in the Marshall Mathers. More than anything, it proves that Eminem is excited again.

The big reveal is that Eminem, at least on the outset, is doing okay. If we continue to look for a peroxide blonde artist to talk about “dumping a dead body inside of a fucking trash can”, we’ll never get it. He’s also never going to evolve into a drug-dealer cum businessman, or a self proclaimed higher-level deity. But, he does have a new start. A chance that Winehouse, Houston and Jackson weren’t allowed. His confessional is his music, and the interview is his meeting.

He’s already revealed almost everything through his music. It’s there if you want to look for it. But he’s not going to talk about it sitting awkwardly across from Zane Lowe while his own music plays at deafening volume in the background.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanBassil

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