Will his revealing new album, 'Relapse,' put him on top again?
Eminem is running late: 1,200 fans are packed in front of an outdoor L.A. stage for the taping of the rapper's May 15 "Jimmy Kimmel Live" appearance, waiting for a set that should have started 45 minutes ago. It's Eminem's first major U.S. music performance after a mysterious 4-year absence from public view - or at least it's supposed to be. But hey, what's a few more minutes when fans have been waiting for this comeback for so long, wondering where the world's most famous rapper had disappeared to?
At last, Eminem bounds onto the stage, joined by his touring DJ, the Alchemist, and rapper (and longtime pal) Denaun Porter. The crowd chants along as he tears through a few tunes from his long-promised album, "Relapse" (which will hit stores four days later, on May 19). When Eminem finishes, they plead in vain for "one more song!"
They're not the only ones hungry for more. In the weeks leading up to its release, "Relapse" has been hailed by critics and fans - many of whom heard it when it leaked earlier this month - as a landmark in the 36-year-old rapper's career, a stunning return to form from the man who is arguably contemporary rap's most talented lyricist. Even the competition is impressed. "I think that the 'Insane' song is genius," Kanye West tells EW, referring to one of "Relapse's" most outrageous tracks.
"Relapse" is already shaping up to be one of summer's most talked-about albums - and, quite likely, one of its biggest. Two early singles have made digital history. In February, "Crack a Bottle" sold a record 418,000 downloads in its first week. It was Eminem's first No. 1 since 2002's "Lose Yourself." Two months later, another song, "We Made You," racked up 758,000 views on MTV.com in its first 24 hours alone, the highest single-day total by far in the site's history. The weekend before its release, "Relapse" was streamed more than 7 million times on MySpace Music.
Yet for all that, the album almost didn't get made. As Eminem launches into his big comeback, he's finally opening up about the past four years, when he shunned the spotlight amid dark rumors of drug abuse and depression. The scariest part is how many of those tales turned out to be true. Tonight, Eminem is back. But he had to go through a personal hell to get here.Troubled times
In August 2005, Eminem was in trouble. Just over a month into the massively successful "Anger Management 3" tour, he abruptly canceled all 10 remaining dates. "Exhaustion," he claimed at first. But the truth was far more worrisome: Eminem was headed to rehab. All through the tour, he'd been popping dozens of powerful prescription pills every day.
"I was taking Valium, Ambien, and Vicodin," he writes in a remarkably revealing first-person essay recently published in Vibe magazine. "And I was taking a lot. If I was to give you a number of Vicodin I would actually take in a day? Anywhere between 10 and 20. Valium, Ambien, the numbers got so high I don't even know what I was taking."
Alan "The Alchemist" Maman, a pre-fame acquaintance who started working as Eminem's DJ on that ill-fated tour, was surprised at the time to learn of Em's drug abuse. "That was one of the worst parts of his addiction," he says now. "He knew how to disguise it." Eminem lasted only about two weeks in rehab, ditching the program and diving right back into drugs.
That's when things got really bad. In the spring of 2006, Eminem's life seemed to fall apart all at once. First he split up with his wife, Kim, filing for divorce on April 5, just 82 days after their second wedding (they had previously divorced in 2001). Theirs had been a notoriously troubled union, marked by public disputes, lawsuits and Eminem's lyrical fantasies about gruesomely murdering her. Eminem agreed to share custody of their daughter, Hailie Jade, then 10 years old.
The very next week, Eminem's best friend was gunned down during a bar fight on Detroit's 8 Mile Road. DeShaun "Proof" Holton was the skilled rapper who'd provided the basis for Mekhi Phifer's character in 8 Mile. He had been Eminem's closest confidant since the age of 14. "I have never felt so much pain in my life," Eminem wrote in his 2008 memoir, "The Way I Am." "His death brought me to my knees." Source: MSNBCEminem performs during a free concert to celebrate the release of "Relapse" at the MotorCity Casino's Sound Board Theater May 19 in Detroit, Mich. "Relapse" is already shaping up to be one of summer's most talked-about albums.