GUY RAZ, host:
Speaking of Shakespeare, the BBC once described my next guest as quote, something approaching a modern-day Shakespeare. His name is Marshall Mathers, but he's better known as Eminem. He's the best-selling artist of the last decade. He's won 11 Grammys and an Academy Award, and he holds the record for the fastest-selling solo album in history.
(Soundbite of song, "Not Afraid")
EMINEM (Rapper): (Singing) I'm not afraid...
RAZ: Now, you can dismiss all of this. You can argue that violence and explicit lyrics sell. But there's lots of shocking and explicit stuff out there, and a lot of it never gains any traction. So what is it about Eminem? Why did Vibe magazine call him the greatest rapper of all time? How did he become one of Rolling Stone's 100 most significant artists?
(Soundbite of song, "Not Afraid")
EMINEM: (Singing) You could try and read my lyrics off of this paper before I lay 'em. But you won't take the sting out these words before I say 'em. 'Cause ain't no way I'ma let you stop me from causin' mayhem. When I say 'em or do somethin I do it, I don't give a damn what you think.
RAZ: This is "Not Afraid," the first single off Eminem's new record. It's called "Recovery." And in it, you will find the story of a man trying to come to terms with his inner demons.
Marshall Mathers - Eminem - joins me from Detroit. Welcome to the program.
EMINEM: Thank you. Thank you.
RAZ: What's been happening in your life that led to an album called "Recovery"?
EMINEM: That's a very broad question. There's a lot that's happened in my life that's led to this. I went through a pretty long period of struggle with addiction. And in coming out of that addiction and being clean and sober now for a little over two years, I put out a record last year called "Relapse," but kind of felt like I've done a lot of growing up, and I don't really feel like the last album really reflected where I was at mentally.
RAZ: The first single of this album, "Not Afraid," there's a line in there and it says: It was my decision to get clean. Did you hit a point where you were scared for yourself and for the people you love?
EMINEM: Definitely. I actually overdosed in December of 2007. And it was one of those things where they actually said that had I got to the hospital two hours later, that I would have died. And I actually was unconscious for most of it so I don't really - I didn't really remember it, and I didn't really experience the overdose, I guess you would say.
I don't think I actually realized the totality of what had happened. So after I got out the hospital - I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks - and when I got home, I kind of went right back to using again and kind of scared the (beep) out of myself.
RAZ: What were you taking?
EMINEM: Valium, Ambien, Vicodin and methadone. I started taking methadone around early December, which led to the overdose right before Christmas. And I didn't actually know that it was methadone. Somebody had given it to me and said, hey, you should take these. These aren't as hard on your liver as Vicodin is. And I don't think I actually stopped to even care what I was taking.
And at that point, had someone told me it was methadone, I probably still would have took it and, you know, overdosed and made it through and went back, relapsed about a month later. And within that month, had ramped right back up to where I actually was that caused the overdose. And just got scared and just went to some people and just said, yo, I've got a problem and I need help.
RAZ: Was it you or was there somebody else who said, you've got to look in the mirror?
EMINEM: Well, everybody around me knew that I had a problem. I think for a while, I thought I was fooling people, but I guess I really wasn't. You know, everyone else can be ready for you to get clean. But if you're not ready then it's not going to happen, so.
RAZ: The theme on this album, obviously, is right there in the title, "Recovery." And you return to that thread on a lot of the tracks, pretty dark times and sort of the struggle to find a way out. And you can hear that on a track, "Talking to Myself."
(Soundbite of song, "Talking to Myself")
EMINEM: (Singing) God, it feels like I'm going psychotic. Thank God that I didn't do it. I would've had my ass handed to me and I knew it. But proof isn't here to see me through it. I'm in the booth popping another pill, trying to talk myself into it. Are you stupid? You gon' start dissing people for no reason especially when you can't even write a decent punchline even. You're lying to yourself, you're slowing dying. You're denying, your health is declining with your self esteem. You're crying out for help.
Is anybody out there?
RAZ: This is about a really dark place that you sound like you were trapped in. You write that you were wondering whether you were going insane.
EMINEM: In this song, I'm talking about basically the way that I was feeling while I was in active addiction. I felt all kinds of things. I was in a really dark place. I felt like it was over for me. I felt like...
RAZ: Over for your professionally or for your life?
EMINEM: You know, professionally more so. You know, just - I felt like I had really bad case of writer's block. I couldn't write anything down. My thoughts were just so crammed up in my brain. You know, it was just like, music is my therapy. Music is so therapeutic for me that if I can't get it out, I start feeling really bad about myself.
And at that point in time, a lot of self-loathing, I was in active addiction, I knew that I couldn't control it anymore. And me knowing about these things but not being able to tell nobody, just for the simple fact that I was, you know, so embarrassed about it. I mean, nobody wants to admit they're weak but especially in hip-hop, you know, it can be perceived as weakness. So I felt like, I'm going to keep this problem to myself. But I literally couldn't tell anybody, except maybe the people that I was buying drugs from. They would know that I had the problem - but who's going to tell me because they're making a killing off me.
RAZ: You say that in the hip-hop community you can't show weakness but you're really revealing a lot of yourself - not weaknesses but things you've been through. Why did you decide to do that?
EMINEM: Well, I think that the weaknesses that I'm revealing on this record, I think that...
RAZ: But you call them weaknesses. Are they weaknesses? I mean, confronting...
EMINEM: Well, I think that a lot of the weaknesses that I talk about on this record have also become my strengths. Like, I've turned them into strengths. You know, it's also part of my recovery process, and it's one of them things that if you admit you have a problem, then you take that problem's power away.
RAZ: My guest is Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem. His new album is called "Recovery."
Marshall Mathers, a lot of people listening to this interview, who've heard your music and read your lyrics, might be forgiven for wondering whether what you have said in the past is what you mean. I know you've parodied some of the criticism of you. But I'm wondering whether you can see that some of your lyrics might be painful for certain people to hear. Does any of that make sense to you?
EMINEM: Well, it makes sense. I mean, not everybody's going to like what I have to say. And early on in my career - and I kind of said it - I've kind of always said it throughout it - is if you didn't let me get to you so much, you would take away all my ammo. And throughout my career, I kind of just fed off the fuel of people not being able to understand me and just kind of saying it just to try to get your goat. If you were to stop letting it, then I guess I wouldn't do it anymore.
RAZ: Marshall Mathers, there probably isn't another rapper in the world whose lyrics had been studied and poured over as closely as yours have. And a lot of ink has been spilled over the complexity of your rhyme schemes. I think a really good example on this album is in the track "No Love." Let's take a quick listen.
(Soundbite of song, "No Love")
EMINEM: (Singing) (Unintelligible) for the greatest verse of all time. So you might wanna go back to the lab tonight, and um, scribble out them rhymes you were gonna spit and start off from scratch and write new ones. But I'm afraid that it ain't gonna make no difference when I rip the stage and tear it in half tonight. It's an adrenaline rush to feel the bass thump from the place all the way to the parking lot fellas. Set fire to the mic and ignite the crowd. You can see the sparks from hot metal. Cold-hearted from the day I Bogarted the game I so started, a rock, fella and I'm not even in my harshest. You can see you'll get roasted 'cause Marshall's not mellow. So on top fill it from the top...
RAZ: I hear this, and I don't know how you do that. As you heard in my introduction, lyrically you've been compared to some of the great poets. What do you make of that? Is that strange for you to hear?
EMINEM: It is strange for me to hear because in the world that I live in, it's just hip-hop to me. There's a lot of rappers who have complicated rhyme schemes that are out today that have been out. I get so...
RAZ: But you work on it. It doesn't just come easily to you - or does it?
EMINEM: Well, it's definitely - it's a craft that I've worked on over the years. And I just - I think that I've been doing it so long that it does come pretty natural to me.
RAZ: Do you study other rappers? Do you sort of think about ways to bend words to fit a rhyme pattern?
EMINEM: I do watch what's going on in the game, and I look at other rappers and kind of see what's going on in hip-hop. And as far as bending words and things like that, I've done that throughout my career where I try to - words don't have to rhyme exactly on paper, the way you look at them. A lot of it has to do with enunciation, the way you enunciate a word. So, there's a lot of words that you can make rhyme when you just - if you enunciate them right.
RAZ: You say that's just hip-hop but, I mean, are you comfortable with this idea that hip-hop is increasingly seen as a really important form of American cultural expression?
EMINEM: Oh, definitely, definitely. It's about time, because for so many years when hip-hop first started, it wasn't taken serious as an art form. And it is an art form. You know, not everybody can do this.
RAZ: That's Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem. His new record is called "Recovery." He joined me from Detroit.
Marshall Mathers, thanks so much, and Happy Father's Day to you this weekend.
EMINEM: Oh, thank you. Are you a father?
RAZ: I am, indeed.
EMINEM: Happy Father's Day.
RAZ: Thank you.
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