And over three wildly successful albums, het let us in. He painstakingly mined every aspect of his personal life for musical material. His life was an open book, his music a journal that all of America read. Audiences knew his wife, his mother and his daughter as well as they knew him.
But after the release of his semi-autobiographical movie “8 Mile”, Eminem faced a problem familiar to any memoir writer. He made his career by telling the story of his life, but now there was no longer any story left to tell.
So he turned to drugs for creative inspiration. The result, as he admits at the beginning of his latest album “Recovery”, was a disaster: “Hit my bottom so hard I bounced twice / Suffice this time around / The last two albums didn’t count / Encore I was on drugs / Relapse I was flushing ‘em out.”
What then would a sober Eminem rap about? “Recovery”, 17 self-loathing songs about the life of a depressed rap star, shows he still can’t look outside of himself. Fame and depression seem to have shrunk his world to the confines of his rap studio, and what at first sounds like self-reflection quickly becomes self-absorption.
The music matches the album’s dreary tone: dark beats with ominous instrumentation and far too many of his own attempts at singing. Not even a Lil’ Wayne assisted sample of Haddaway’s “What is Love” can bring much levity to the proceedings.
On “25 to Life”, he compares his relationship with rap to that of a battered spouse and fantasizes about leaving it behind: “Don’t think I’m loyal? / All I can do is rap / How can I moonlight on the side? / I have no life outside of that.” The irony is until he can find a life apart from rap, he will have distressingly little to actually rap about.