‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ 15 Years On: How Eminem’s Stark, Violent Portrait Of American Life Shook the Mainstream

For years, Eminem – real name Marshall Mathers – had been a jobbing Detroit MC, scrubbing dishes by day and honing his skills in rap battles at local hangout The Hip-Hop Shop by night. Then Mathers found his voice: a new, unhinged alter ego, Slim Shady. Eminem’s major label debut ‘The Slim Shady LP’, released 15 years ago today pricked liberal consciences with its rhymes about violence, murder and drug-taking. Peppered with swearing and casual misogyny but delivered with snappy punchlines and ferocious technical ability, it hit Number Two on the US Billboard Chart and scooped a Grammy, so expectations for the follow-up, recorded in a two-month “creative binge” with producers Dr Dre, Mel-Man and old Detroit compadres the Bass Brothers, were high. Here’s everything you need to know about the record.

Story behind the sleeve

A black-and-white portrait of Eminem sat on the porch of his childhood home at 19946 Dresden Street, not far from Detroit’s infamous 8 Mile. Eminem reprised this image in front of the now-abandoned house for the cover his 2013 LP ‘The Marshall Mathers LP2’. Shortly after that album’s release, the house was destroyed in a fire.


Five facts

1. Privately, Eminem’s label Interscope worried the album lacked singles – so after the first delivery of tracks, Eminem returned to the studio and wrote both ‘The Way I Am’ and ‘The Real Slim Shady’.

2. One title considered for the album was ‘Amsterdam’, inspired by a trip Mathers and friends took to the famously liberal Dutch capital.

3. The clean version of ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ excises the 16th song, ‘Kim’, entirely. Hardly surprising: it’s a murder fantasy in which Eminem abducts and kills the titular Kimberly Scott, his high school sweetheart and mother of his daughter Hailie. The song was reportedly written while Kim was refusing Eminem access to Hailie, although come the release of ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ the pair had married.

4. Also censored on the record is a line on ‘I’m Back’ that made reference to the Columbine High School massacre of April 20 1999.

5. The single ‘Stan’ revolves around a hook sampled from British singer-songwriter Dido’s song ‘Thank You’. And Dido has good reason to be thanking Eminem. Her album ‘No Angel’ sold modestly on its 1999 release – but after she made a cameo in the ‘Stan’ video, it was rereleased and went on to shift 22 million records worldwide.


Lyrical analysis

“Dear Slim, I wrote you but you still ain’t calling/I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom” (‘Stan’): One of Eminem’s finest storytelling moments, ‘Stan’ is told through the words of an obsessive fan who, ignored by his idol, kills himself and his girlfriend.

“Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records/Well I do, so fuck him and fuck you too!” – The Real Slim Shady

Smith gave a speech at the 1998 Grammy Awards criticising gangsta rap. Other celebrities in the crosshairs on ‘The Real Slim Shady’ include Pamela Anderson, Tommy Lee, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

“I’m a criminal/An animal caged who turned crazed/But how the fuck you supposed to grow up when you weren’t raised?” – Criminal

Eminem believes in nurture, not nature. If he’s a monster, it’s all Mom’s fault.

What we said then

“’The Marshall Mathers LP’ may be the white noise of America’s Most Unwanted, but it is also the product of a talent supremely untouchable.” – 9/10, Steve Sutherland

What we say now

Darker and more introspective than its predecessor, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ mixes shock horror and social critique, stark autobiography and twisted fantasy to make something toxic but undeniably thrilling. The reference points have aged, but the sparse, haunting beats still feel fresh. A problematic masterpiece.

Famous fan

“I think what Eminem brought to the game was extreme self-awareness. In a way, he’s like the anti-R Kelly.” – Chilly Gonzales

In his own words

“It’s probably my favourite. I think some of them are my favourites for different reasons. Hate to even say that about my own record, but I mean the first three records, I think they may have captured a time period.” Eminem, Rolling Stone, 2013

The aftermath

‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ was both a critical and commercial success, and sold 1.76 million records in its opening week, the fastest-selling studio album by any solo artist in American music history. But the record was also broadly criticised for its homophobic and misogynistic content. In a conciliatory gesture, Eminem performed ‘Stan’ at the Grammys with Elton John, after which the pair embraced. It remains Eminem’s best-selling album, and a 2013 sequel of sorts, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP2’, was widely hailed as a return to form.