Eminem’s secret sauce in his prime was controversy. Slim Shady was the straw man onto whom square America projected its most deranged insecurities about the fragility of its youth, as a white rapper with bottle-blonde hair and boy-band looks who liked to joke about indoctrinating children with antisocial thoughts. By the time he released Relapse, his 2009 comeback record following years of heavy pharmaceutical use, his most violent bars felt like the work of an institutionally entrenched artist playing the hits. After all, millennials who had listened to Eminem’s early records in middle school were now in various stages of young adulthood, and the vast majority of us had done well.
As he approached his second decade of fame, Eminem adopted a new persona: an extremely famous, super-intense dude who rapped extremely complicated raps. But, beyond this fundamental foundation, he evolved into a chimera, his body of work an amalgamation of frequently disparate personas, subject matter, and sounds. At times, he chased trends and attempted to re-enter the zeitgeist; at others, he retreated inwards, reflecting on his legacy or devising new ways to recreate past selves.