It's common rap knowledge that Eminem signed his record deal with Interscope through Dr. Dre's Aftermath label after Jimmy Iovine was given a copy of The Slim Shady EP following a loss at the Los Angeles Rap Olympics, but what isn't as well-known is how his music and persona were presented to Interscope during their initial label meeting.
While researching reviews of Eminem's The Eminem Show, which just celebrated its 15th-anniversary last week, I stumbled across a 2002 article entitled, "Eminem: The show must go on for the man who created a monster," published by The Independent.
In the article, writer David Usborne cites an interview from Austrailian newspaper Sun-Herald with Marky Bass—one-half of the Bass Brothers duo that groomed Eminem at the start of his career, signed a young Marshall Mathers to their independent label Web Entertainment and crafted this incredible press release—who revealed how Eminem was pitched to the label.
"His lyrics were a lot tamer when he first started out. We came up with the idea of shock rap. When we went to Interscope [his label still], we worked him as the Marilyn Manson of rap."
The "shock-rap" version of Eminem is, of course, his alter-ego, Slim Shady, whose backstory was fully revealed in a 2009 cover story for Rolling Stone:
Detroit DJs and radio folks seemed to agree, leaving Infinite well enough alone. “After that record, every rhyme I wrote got angrier and angrier,” Eminem says. “A lot of it was because of the feedback I got. Motherfuckers was like, ‘You’re a white boy, what the fuck are you rapping for? Why don’t you go into rock & roll?’ All that type of shit started pissing me off.” It didn’t help that days before his daughter’s first birthday, Eminem got fired from his cooking job at Gilbert’s Lodge. “That was the worst time ever, dog,” he says. “It was, like, five days before Christmas, which is Hailie’s birthday. I had, like, forty dollars to get her something. I wrote ‘Rock Bottom’ right after that.”
This downward spiral ended one day on the John when Em met Slim Shady. “Boom, the name hit me, and right away I thought of all these words to rhyme with it,” he says. “So I wiped my ass, got up off the pot and, ah, went and called everybody I knew.”
Though Eminem's non-tame approach to rap wasn't strictly manufactured for the sake of being offered a record contract by a major label, his decision in tandem with the Bass Brothers to promote himself as more than just a white emcee who could rap really well was a stroke of marketing genius.
The real Slim Shady stood up and after a meeting at Interscope never sat back down.