Marshall Mathers, better known to the world as Eminem, had an upbringing filled with ups and downs. The Detroit-bred emcee started rapping as a teenager and looked up to artists like LL Cool J and N.W.A. In 1996, he released his debut album Infinite, but it barely made a splash upon its release.
Eminem got his start rapping at open mics
Eminem reflected on the making of Infinite in the short documentary Partners in Rhyme: The True Story of Infinite. To get his name out there, he participated in many open mic nights around Detroit. “I think I was about 20 and I’d started going up to a lot of open mic spots. And one was called the Hip-Hop Shop, the most infamous open mic spot there was, especially at that time in Detroit,” Em recalled. “I started going to them open mic spots and just making a name. Making a name for myself and coming up in there and just f***ing ripping it and being the only white kid in there. You know, that was the talk: the white boy, this and this.”
Eminem released his debut album ‘Infinite’ in 1996
Eminem started recording Infinite after learning that his future wife Kim Scott was pregnant with their first child. Eminem worked with the production duo the Bass Brothers, who would go on to produce much of Eminem’s music throughout his lengthy career. Because he had a child on the way, Eminem sought to make radio-friendly songs that would hopefully get played on local radio stations. As a result, the music barely resembles the fiery raps of Slim Shady that he became known for just a few years later. “It was right before my daughter was born, so having a future for her was all I talked about,” he said in a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone. “It was way hip-hopped out, like Nas and AZ — that rhyme style that was real in at the time. I’ve always been a smart-a** comedian, and that’s why it wasn’t a good album.”
Infinite was released on November 12, 1996 through the Bass Brothers’ independent label, WEB Entertainment. Eminem was 24 years old at the time.
Infinite was released on cassette and vinyl, but the album failed as far as sales go: it only sold approximately 70 copies. After Infinite flopped, Eminem doubted he could make a career as a successful rapper. “During that time, it seemed it was just crashing ’cause nobody was listening,” he said in Partners in Rhyme. “I said, ‘this is the best thing I can do. If this doesn’t work, then what am I gonna do? It’s not gonna happen.’” He soon ditched the radio-friendly demeanor as he got to work on writing more music. “After that record, every rhyme I wrote got angrier and angrier,” Em told Rolling Stone. “A lot of it was because of the feedback I got. Motherf***ers was like, ‘You’re a white boy, what the f*** are you rapping for? Why don’t you go into rock & roll?’ All that type of s*** started pissing me off.”
His sophomore album ‘The Slim Shady LP’ was a turning point
Eminem released his sophomore album The Slim Shady LP in 1999. With the production help of the legendary Dr. Dre, Eminem was primed to take over the world of hip-hop. His Slim Shady alter ego was notably more violent and descriptive in his lyrics than Eminem had previously been, and songs like “My Name Is” and “Role Model” proved he was here to stay. The Slim Shady LP earned Eminem a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, while “My Name Is” won for Best Rap Solo Performance. His follow-up album, The Marshall Mathers LP, released the following year, solidified his spot in the industry. Two years later, he earned an Academy Award for Best Original Song for his No. 1 single “Lose Yourself” from his semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile. In 2022, Eminem and Dr. Dre — along with Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar — built on their legacy with an unforgettable Super Bowl halftime show.