Sunday Book Review: Exploring the Origins of Eminem, Slim Shady, and Marshall Mathers


Sunday Book Review is a recurring feature devoted to bridging the gap between music fans and music books. We aim to give you a taste of new and classic books that dive deep into the psyches of musicians. Tweet requests @nmcalone.

This week Eminem dropped "Berzerk," the first cut off his eighth full-length album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, which is due out November 8. The title of the album suggests a return of sorts to his roots, to the spiritual (if not sonic) tone of his second major release, 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP. Because of this, now seems the perfect time to revisit the era Eminem is trying to recall, to explore the formative years of Slim Shady, Eminem, and Marshall Mathers.

In 2004, Three Rivers Press published a book by Anthony Bozza titled Whatever You Say I Am: The Life and Times of Eminem. Bozza, who would later help pen Slash’s autobiography, published a Rolling Stone cover story about Eminem in 1999 that helped catapult him into the role of respected journalist and Eminem into rap superstardom. Though Bozza was one of the first and only journalists to have unfettered access to Eminem, the book he produced is not a juicy tell-all dripping with gossip on Dr. Dre and just how much ecstasy Marshall Mathers was dropping.

Instead, Bozza takes on the project of trying to place Eminem in context and analyze his relationship to American society. It’s an ambitious goal, and one of the smartest things Bozza does is enlist the help of other critics to fill out the arguments, notably Sasha Frere-Jones, formerly of the Village Voice and now The New Yorker. At its best, this book brings together the opinions of music scholars to provide a compelling picture of not just what Eminem did, but what it means to us. This question is more relevant than ever now, as we look back on Eminem’s legacy and try to make sense of it. Though the book can get dry at points, we've cut through the more plodding portions to bring you the meat of Bozza’s sweeping book. Read on.

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