It was 23rd May 2000 when the entire world finally noticed one of the fundamental rappers of the third millennium, and main subject of numerous tattoos…
The release date, how could we ever forget, was 23rd May 2000. Exactly twenty years ago, give or take a day.
The previous offering, The Slim Shady LP, the debut album from Eminem had hit the record shops in early 1999, already announcing the talent of the rising star of white rap, but the follow-up The Marshall Mathers LP was something even more dangerous and groundbreaking. The title, which bore the real name of Eminem), spoke loud and clear: this time the impoverished dishwasher from Detroit would be going much further when it came to personal confessions and controversial opinions. It promised to be gloves off in this verbal fight.
And the wider public (not just the hiphop community) would realise this straight away seeing as how The Marshall Mathers LP sold nearly one million eight hundred copies in the US alone within one week of being released. Over time, it would sell a dizzying twenty million copies worldwide.
Winning a Grammy in 2001 for Best Rap Album, this second album from Eminem is still listed today in the most authoritative music press as a must have for the new millennium, and – together with The Eminem Show which came out in 2002 – is deemed the artistic masterpiece of the peroxide blond rapper.
Which, it so happens, the artist himself agrees with, in a famous interview in 2013 going so far as to say: “Want to talk about The Marshall Mathers LP? Ok, it’s probably my favourite album of the all the work I’ve done. I hate to admit it, it sounds a bit pretentious, but I think my first three records really captured and described an era”. Hard to argue with that.
Even the cover, in this case, is totally iconic. A black and white photo of Eminem sitting on the steps of his childhood home, the notorious 19946 di Dresden Street, not so far from the famous 8 Mile Road in Detroit. One of the most dangerous and ill-reputed neighbourhoods in the States.
The house remained unsold and abandoned for many years until Em had the brainwave of putting it on the cover of The Marshall Mathers LP 2 in 2013: his great comeback to the scene after years of a loss of artistic focus brought on by the use of many, too many over the counter drugs. And it just so happened that the building was burnt down in a fire a few months later. So long, 19946.
It seems hard to imagine now, but there was a crucial moment in all this story where the album got a poor reception (to put it mildly) from the record label, Interscope Records, which one fine day in spring 2000 actually threatened not to release it at all.
They said it lacked commercial appeal and would never go down with the mainstream public. Eminem, offended by the criticism, went back into the studio and overnight came up with two fantastic singles: The Way I Am and The Real Slim Shady. Two tracks that are firm fixtures in any of his live performances ever since.
And then there was that famous title. The Marshall Mathers LP, obviously was perfect, a revelation; yet, initially Eminem had been thinking of calling it Amsterdam. In fact it was in the Dutch capital of vice that much of the record was composed during a wild “working holiday” the rapper took with his crew, the notorious D12.
Not to mention the censorship, which always rears its ugly head when it comes to Mathers. In the “clean version” of the album, the sixteenth track Kim was actually left out because it recounted the story (in gory detail) of a murderous dream.
A morbid fantasy that Eminem nurtured about Kimberly Scott, his then girlfriend and mother of Hailie, the daughter of the troubled couple who would end up marrying on the wave of success of The Marshall Mathers LP. So luckily it was a false alarm.
Finally, the best-know and celebrated track of them all, the one we know and that we have all sung along to: the melancholy Stan which tells of an insolent, troubled fan (Stan even gets his idol’s name tattooed on his chest) and ends with his committing suicide.
The winning chorus was the work of another singer (a virtual unknown named Dido) and came from a song of hers called Thank You which featured on an album she had released the previus year to a lukewarm reception. After the rap treatment by Eminem and the massive success of the that moving track Stan, that record, No Angel – would end up selling twenty-two million copies…
I’ll say that again: twenty-two million. Mind-boggling. About two million more than The Marshall Mathers LP we’re celebrating today with a gallery of tattoos dedicated to Eminem and a record that was surprising, outrageous, dark and introspective from the first day of its release two decades ago.