Although Eminem continues to work on Shady Records, which he co-founded 18 years ago with his manager, Paul Rosenberg, he has been keeping away from the music industry since the release of his album in 2013, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, that is , until October, when “The Storm,” his freestyle on Donald Trump, was shown at the BET Hip-Hop Awards and immediately viralized.
Now, at 45, Eminem is gearing up to release his ninth studio album, The Revival . Prior to that, he spoke on the telephone from his studio in Detroit with his longtime friend and sincere supporter Elton John.
ELTON JOHN: Hi, Marshall.
EMINEM: How are you, b *** a?
JOHN: I’m fine, you old bastard. Are you in Detroit?
EMINEM: [ laughs ] Yes.
JOHN: You must be very excited about the release of the new album. Tell me about it.
EMINEM: I’ve been working on this for over a year. You know how it is – you make music, and as you do the new ones, the old ones get old and you throw them away. The album is called Revival . It is a reflection of where I am at the moment, but I also feel that what I have tried to do is to diversify. I tried to do a little for everyone.
JOHN: You’re very good at collaborations. We met at Grammy’s when you asked me to perform “Stan.” It was an incredible event for me that I will never forget.
EMINEM: I’ll never forget – and I was stoned.
JOHN: Were you stoned?
EMINEM: Oh, I’m sure I was stoned when we met.
JOHN: I did not know. I was mesmerized by you and your performance; She made the hairs on the back of my arms stand up. It was like seeing Mick Jagger for the first time. I really had not been exposed to that kind of rap in a live performance before, and it was electrifying. And when that shit got thrown at you-about you being homophobic-I just thought, “I do not agree with that. It’s absurd. “I had to defend myself and defend him. This Grammy performance was the beginning of a lovely friendship and I’m grateful for it.
EMINEM: Likewise. It was a crazy moment for me. I do not know if I was really stoned when we met, but it was exactly the beginning of my addiction.
JOHN: You’ve been sober for a long time now.
EMINEM: Yes, nine years.
JOHN: Your first day of sobriety is in my diary. I’m so proud of you. I’m 27 years sober, and when you get sober, you see things in a different way. This makes your life much more manageable. It seems to have made all the difference – I can see that when I talk to you.
EMINEM: Being sober made me grow. I feel as if every year that I’ve been using, I was not growing as a person.
JOHN: Me too. If I had to go through this to be where I am now, then I am very, very grateful. But I just can not believe I did some of this shit. Anyway, talk about your life now. Every artist nowadays is on Instagram or Facebook, is taking selfies, is in the tabloids all the time, but you are not like that. You live a fairly simple life. You’re not such a public person. People think they know everything about you, but they really do not know anything about you.
EMINEM: I studied Dre a lot. I do not know if you call it a mantra or anything, but he believes that if you never walk away, it’s hard for someone to miss you. And I realize that some people see me walking away, “Oh, he’s irrelevant now,” but I feel that if I do not get off the scene, I get tired of myself. It has never been my goal to be in the limelight all the time.
JOHN: People think of you as an aggressive person because of how you are when you talk about rap, but about that, I think you’re a pretty shy person. Let’s go back to the beginning, for The Slim Shady LP . Who was his great influence at that moment?
EMINEM: It had to be Dre. I remember one of the first times I traveled to Los Angeles. I met Dre and Jimmy [Iovine] at Interscope, and I felt so ridiculous and so exaggerated that it was happening. When Dre came in, it was like an out-of-body experience. Nothing in my life had gone well for me, but he put me in the Oakwood apartments and paid my rent to record with him. There was a time when I stayed up writing for 48 hours without stopping and ended up rhyming until six in the morning. I wanted to be prepared for Dre because I thought, “If I’m not prepared for all aspects, that’s just going to be it for me.”
JOHN: That validation and encouragement from him must have meant the world to you. It is so important for a young artist to feel this about someone. That stimulated you in that race, did not it?
EMINEM: Absolutely. The first time in the studio, we did three or four songs in six hours and with whatever beat he put, I had to rhyme for it or write something right there. From that day on, he began to show me things I did not know that I could do with my voice. We did a song called “Role Model,” and it was like, “Do not you want to grow up to be like me?” And he kept going, “No, do it again. Do it again. “So I would do it again and again until finally I was screaming, and he would say,” Yes, there you are. That’s it.”
JOHN: You two are still close, right?
JOHN: You do not forget people like that. Sometimes it’s fate – like when I met Bernie [Taupin] completely by accident. Going back to what you said earlier about the disappearance, it’s like what Prince did. It’s like what Springsteen or Dylan does. They never really disappear, people are always interested in what they do.
EMINEM: Absolutely. There are ups and downs, I did not have a perfect career. I’ve released some albums, looking back, I’m not very proud, but there are also many things that I’m very proud of.
JOHN: That’s just part of being an artist; You can not write great things all the time, because if you do, then you would be inhuman. The human side of people is that sometimes they fail.
EMINEM: You’re not going to hit it every time, which is why, when I record an album, I probably get close to 50 songs. Every song I record has to improve. If it is not better than the last song I did, it will usually take a few more months, and then it will be put in a booze, and then there will be another song I do, and then, often the album does not go.
JOHN: I always tell people, “If you do not understand hip-hop, you just have to see this being recorded.” When you’re in the studio – and I saw you record, I’ve been watching Kanye West and A Tribe Called Quest – is a completely different game. I get upset when people offend, because I can absolutely see the musicality in that. Nowadays, when I listen to songs from hip-hop artists, I listen to the production. It’s surprising how great the productions have become.
EMINEM: With every song, all the elements have to work. First, the hit has to be excellent – you start there. You start with the music, and the ideas follow. Then you start thinking about rhymes, and then you record it, and sometimes – this happens to me a lot – it’s not as good as it came into my head when I first wrote.
JOHN: It’s so frustrating when that happens. I hate that!
EMINEM: Yes, because I get excited, and then I understand and I listen to it, and I’m like, “Oh my God, that sucks.”
JOHN: Do you listen to hip-hop today?
EMINEM: I listen practically everything that appears.
JOHN: Who do you think is doing great things right now?
EMINEM: J. Cole. Travis Scott. Kendrick is great. My friend Royce’s 5’9 “is amazing. Joyner Lucas is really good. Tech N9ne as well.
JOHN: I love your things, too. Let’s talk about “The Storm”, which is an example of someone who actually leaves the couch and says something and spreads around the world. What you said was pretty much what most musicians, I suppose – besides some artists in the country – were probably thinking. You seemed to need to put that out.
EMINEM: It’s something I’m definitely very passionate about. If I’m not in love with it, I can not write. I can not pretend.
JOHN: Let me ask, were you totally out of the cannon or did you write all that and memorize it?
EMINEM: I wrote. The original idea was for me to go to the BET Awards and do it on stage. I went home that day and wrote it all, but at the last minute, the plans changed and we filmed in Detroit.
JOHN: I think it worked better this way.
EMINEM: One of the things we were trying to imitate was the cover of “You’re Gonna Get Yours,” Public Enemy. I do not know if anyone could see it, but this is the feeling of how we were following. My main concern was to try to convey the message and memorize all the words. I have a hard time memorizing things. I’m always in the process of writing a new song, so trying to learn a new one takes a while.
JOHN: Were the people who were with you heard before you started filming?
EMINEM: No, no one heard her.
JOHN: It had to be said. I’ve been to America since 1970, and it’s like my second home, but I’ve never felt such a divided country. I did not think I would get to that point, and it breaks my heart.
EMINEM: It was about having the right to face oppression. I mean, that’s exactly what the people of the military and the people who have given their lives for this country are fighting so that everyone can have a voice and protest against injustice and speak against the shit that is wrong. We are not trying to disrespect the military, we are not trying to disrespect the flag, we are not trying to disrespect our country. But shit is happening that we want to make you know. We have a president who does not care about everyone in our country; he is not the president of all of us, he is the president of some of us. He knows what he’s doing.
JOHN: All he does is deliberate.
EMINEM: As long as he has his base, he does not care about anyone else in America. But guess what? There are more of us than there are of them. I still feel America is the best country to live in. That’s my opinion. But we have problems that we need to work on and we need to do better.
JOHN: I know you’ve done some festivals this year. Are you going on tour for this album next year?
EMINEM: I’m not sure. We usually do mini tours.
JOHN: Do you like to travel?
EMINEM: It used to be difficult. Early in my career when I was more in sharp mode, I was doing two or three shows a day. It was difficult because you begin to feel that you have no life. That being said, I really enjoy doing the shows.
JOHN: It’s the trip that’s the worst. And being away from home.
EMINEM: Yes. This is also difficult.
JOHN: What’s the best advice you’ve ever had and who was it?
EMINEM: I would have to say Dre again. In fact, he gave me some advice. When I first started with Aftermath, we had a lot of discussions about how I wanted to bring my D12 group and put them right away. Dre said, “You need to build your house before you can let your friends in,” and that made a lot of sense to me. Going back in time, the wait was probably better because eventually we had Shady Records and we managed to sign them. He also used to say, “It can be in bad taste as long as it does not have bad taste.”
JOHN: I do not know Dre – I’ve met him once or twice – but he’s a bit like Obi-Wan Kenobi, am I right?
EMINEM: Yes! I also remembered some of the advice Rick Rubin gave me. We were talking about a song or something, and he said, “I really do not consider myself smart enough to know what everyone is going to think, so I just do what seems right to me.”
JOHN: Releasing a song is like giving birth to a child. And when people suggest something in that song that I may not agree with, like changing the chorus or putting the chorus somewhere else, I get so upset. But then I think about it, because it does not make sense to have another band member unless you listen to them. And it’s so infuriating, but usually they’re right, you know?
EMINEM: Oh, it’s definitely Paul.
JOHN: Paul Rosenberg?
EMINEM: Yes, my manager. He and I came to this during the creation of each album, and sometimes we’re on the same page and sometimes we’re not. However, he is generally right. It’s hard when you’ve spent so much time writing and recording, putting on the vocals, getting the rhythm right, making everything look right – you’ve spent a crazy week trying to make it look perfect and someone comes and drops it.
JOHN: You’re so lucky to have someone like that.
EMINEM: Absolutely – because, like I said, he usually ends up being right. When I played “Not Afraid” for the first time, he did not like it very much. So we had a conversation a few days later, and he was like, “Do you think this needs a bridge?” And I was like, “I knew you’d say that.”
JOHN: An excellent editor is the most valuable thing you can have as an artist because, as you said, sometimes you get too close to something. I think beyond your talent, that’s why you have the career you have – because you have great people behind you.
JOHN: When this album comes out, people will want to hear it. It is a tribute to his longevity as an artist, his intelligence, his musical luster and lyrical. I’m so glad you exist in the world, and I’m so proud of you. You’ve worked so hard on yourself, and no one deserves it more than you, Marshall, and I’ve loved you so much from the bottom of the line to the end, okay?
EMINEM: Thank you, Elton. I love you too.