Johannesburg - Eminem, who will be in the country for the first time this week, is one of hip hop’s most talented artists of all time.

The rapper, a 13 Grammy award-winner, faced resistance when he first arrived on the scene in 1990 – because he was white.

At the time, rap music had been the preserve of artists such as Run DMC and the Ice Cube, Easy E, Dr Dre and NWA.

MC Hammer was also in the game, offering a cleaner brand of rap music to attract a market outside hip hop culture. Future legends such as Notorious BIG, 2Pac, Nas and Jay-Z were starting to make waves.

It is against this background that Eminem, a white boy of German, Swiss and English descent from Missouri, was trying to get into the rap game.


Despite being white, he had the right ingredients: sharp and fresh rhymes coupled with unmatched delivery.

He had the right attitude (rappers are always angry about something) and he skilfully let the world into his dysfunctional family, which could have passed for a reality TV show.

He resented his mother, he adored his daughter, and he had a love/hate relationship with his daughter’s mother.

Several albums made reference to these family members, thereby helping fans get to know the troubled rapper.

DJs in Detroit would not play his material in the early days. Eminem would later admit that this rejection period shaped his later material.


At the time, Eminem was struggling to raise a newborn baby as he would constantly lose his jobs at local restaurants where he cooked and washed dishes.

At some point, he had no option but to live in his mother’s trailer home along with his then wife Kim Scott and baby girl Hailie.

All this was later documented in his hit autobiographical movie, 8Mile.

Through blind perseverance, Eminem found himself at the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles where new rappers converge to showcase their talent.

Eminem was placed second, and scouts from Interscope Records sent his demo to Dr Dre, who at the time had never discovered anyone via demo tapes.

Upon hearing Eminem, Dre was sold and he asked his people to track down the young rapper.

In the face of dismay from the rap community, Dre made it known he didn’t care about the race of any artist – all he wanted was the talent.

And a triple-platinum album later, no one doubted that Eminem was a legend in the making, and in turn this affirmed Dre’s mentoring prowess.

On one hand, a black hip hop community had to accept that a white boy had made it into their midst, while white America considered him a traitor and labelled him a “wigger”.

Today Eminem is ranked by many music magazines as one of the greatest of all time.

He has sold more than 50 million albums – a figure other active rappers will never achieve.

After developing his dark alter ego, Slim Shady, Eminem was criticised for his disturbing lyrics.

On Guilty Conscience, with Dr Dre, the rapper cleverly urges a troubled man to kill his wife. It was this sort of material that made American parents uneasy.

However, the more bad press Eminem received, thedarker his material became – and the more albums he sold.

His second album, The Marshall Mathers LP, sold 1.76 million units in the first week and is considered the fastest-selling solo album in the US.

With that success came a lot of controversy, including his broken relationships with his mother and his wife.

From the beginning of his career, he made it known that he despised his mother, Debbie Mathers.

He apologised to her for all he had said and done over the years in the song Headlights on his recent album MMLP2, which was released last year.

Worse was his relationship with Scott, who he married and divorced several times.

Outside his family controversies, Eminem was also notorious for homophobic lyrics.

Worse was the discovery that he had used the N word in one of his earlier works.

While black rappers use the word, it is an unwritten rule that white rappers can’t. He apologised and said he was young and irresponsible at the time.

* Eminem’s first tour to South Africa will see him perform for two nights only – at Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday and at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday.

He will be supported by Jack Parrow and US rapper Action Bronson.

Tickets range between R400 and R1 250.

Sunday Independent