Eminem: Before the Fame
My name is Jason Mallory and I knew Marshall before he was famous. This is the crazy story of how I met Eminem and helped him get his record deal.
The First Time I Heard Em
I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan about 45 minutes from Detroit. I have been into hip hop since the Sugar Hill Gang and used to go to the now famous Saint Andrews Hall on Friday nights when they would spin hip hop. We use to call it the Shelter which was actually the basement of St. Andrews.
All the hip hop heads in the early 90's went there. DJ Houseshoes use to spin, the cats from Slum Village were there, Proof... everybody.
When I was working as a waiter in a restaurant this kid named Marc Kempf came up to me one day and asked me if I liked hip hop. I said yeah and he said that he had started a hip hop magazine and that he would bring in a copy for me to check out.
The next time I saw Marc he had his “hip hop magazine” which was nothing more than a large piece of paper folded in half with the logo of the magazines name on the cover which was Underground Sounds and a couple of pictures.
The inner two pages of the magazine had some record reviews that he had done, some pictures and maybe an interview with an artist.
The back of the magazine was a full page ad for a local hip hop group. I have to say that when Marc said he started a hip hop magazine I was thinking it was going to be like the Source so I wasn’t very impressed.
I have to give Marc credit though because he grew that magazine to the point where he had a whole staff of writers working with him, a full color glossy cover with interviews from major industry talent. I think it was about 100 pages long when he was done with it and it was distributed nationally on a quarterly basis.
I had always wanted to live in Los Angeles, I hate the snow so I packed up my car and drove across the country. Marc and I kept in contact all the time and he would hit me with the latest albums. Most of the time before they were released (a little perk that comes with running your own hip hop magazine).
So one day I get this cassette (remember those) in the mail from Marc called Infinite by an artist named Eminem. It looked dope and I thought the way he spelled out MnM was clever.
I remember seeing Proof down at the Shelter on hip hop night but I had never met Em back then when I lived in Michigan.
I popped the tape in and the song Infinite came on and I was like yo this kid can flow. Em had a way of rhyming multiple syllable words that was fresh. He was rhyming words that didn’t even rhyme!
There were other mc’s back then in the D that were putting multiple syllable words together like that. There was Proof, this kid called Eye Kyu (iq) who can be heard on the Infinite LP, Fuzz Scooter who was the anchor on “No One’s Iller” from the Slim Shady EP and Scrap from a crew called Indigenous Tribe just to name a few.
Em's Most Hated MC
Which MC did Em hate the most ?
Who is Slim Shady?
I have to admit when I first heard the Infinite cassette I thought Em was black. This was back in ’96 and there weren’t many white kids out there rippin’ the mic like that on a national or international level. There was El-P of Company Flow, the cats with Non-Phixon and Madchild from Swollen Members but nobody in the media’s eye.
So after listening to the tape I gave Marc a call. I was like “yo, this Eminem is dope” and he was like “yeah, he’s a local white rapper that sent his tape into the magazine.”
As time went on Marc became pretty good friends with Em and at one point became his manager. Marc had connections with every major and indy hip hop label through his magazine so it made sense for him to become Em’s manager. Em had talent but he would need help if he was going to make it out of Detroit.
Back then Detroit wasn’t really even on the map as far as hip hop was concerned. You had a couple of mc’s that got deals like MC Breed and Swifty (had an indy deal before D12) but record labels weren’t really lookin’ to sign a hip hop act from Detroit.
A little while later I got another tape in the mail from Marc. This time it was a demo tape of some tracks by “Slim Shady.” I was like who is Slim Shady? As it turned out, Slim Shady was Eminem’s dark alter ego.
Anyway, the tracks included songs that would become the Slim Shady EP. They were very rough cuts but it was clear that Em took his game to a whole new level. His flow was mean, his metaphores were ridiculous… it was all around more edgy.
If you have a copy of the Slim Shady EP you will see my name listed about halfway down on the “thank yous.” It’s also there in the Slim Shady LP.
I have to tell you that Eminem’s tracks from before he got his record deal have some of his hottest verses. There were a number of demos that didn’t make it onto the Slim Shady LP. I still have the demos.
Here is a line from one of the tracks:
“I’m a pitbull terrier/ triple darin’ ya/ scarin’ ya/ with a derringer/ ready to make you wet like the Submariner/ tearin’ your frame out with homicidal lines/ bringin’ the drama and the trauma to your mamas vital signs/ blouww/ a verbal shots fired/ this mics been hotwired/ uppercuts to your chin knockin’ your snot skyward”
Em has a way of writing so that you visualize every line. But the way that he delivers the lines above is really what makes them special.
Later on Em would tell me that the Slim Shady alter ego came out of the frustration of having a newborn to support and dealing with his now famous relationships with Kim and his mother.
Battle at the Hip Hop Shop
First Time I Saw Em Perform
I started getting the word out about Eminem in LA. But people are kinda cynical out there because they are used to seeing stars. Depending on your line of work you may see celebrities on a daily basis out there.
So when I would tell people that there was this kid called Eminem back in Detroit and that he was going to be big people were like “yeah sure.” I was like no, really, the Detroit underground has some of the strongest battle rappers on the planet. People were like sure kid.
I had been to the underground parties in Detroit where they would run a power cord connected to a generator into a burned out abandoned building. There would be like 14 DJ’s each set up with their turn tables. Breakers would break and mc’s would battle. So after seeing and hearing some of Detroit’s best I knew Em was something special.
I came home for Christmas that year and while I was home there was a hip hop show at a record store in Detroit called Da Phat House. There were a lot of acts there to perform. That is where I first saw Invincible (Invincible is a white, female mc but more important is the fact that her flow is tight and her lyrics are hot. Check her MySpace page below). Bizarre performed (he had an EP out in the D at the time) and Eminem was the final act before there would be an mc battle.
I rode in to Detroit with a cat named Bevin Kowal, what up Bev! We met up with a couple more people and then headed over to the show to meet up with Marc Kempf.
When we got there Bizarre was just about to go onstage. Eminem backed Bizarre up on the tracks with some adlibs.
Next Em went onstage and asked Bizarre to back him up and return the favor since he had backed Bizarre up on his tracks.
The first track Em performed was Low, Down, Dirty followed by Just Don’t Give a ****. This was the first time I had seen Em perform live and what stood out to me about his performance was his timing and delivery.
Em’s timing was perfect. Sometimes when you go to underground hip hop shows the mc’s are garbage. I mean their rapping is behind the beat (not on purpose as a stylistic choice) or worse they are ahead of the beat. His timing was dead on and his pronunciation was crisp so you could understand every word.
The last song was No One’s Iller with Swifty, Bizarre and Fuzz. The crowd went crazy on this one. Everyone was rapping along. This was a hit in the Detroit underground way before the Slim Shady LP.
It was like a mosh pit on stage. One kid even pushed Em off the stage while he was rapping, it was bananas!
Da Phat House
I was behind the camera with Bevin who filmed the show.
After the show Marc introduced me to Marshall. We went outside so that we could hear each other over the music booming inside the venue. Outside I spoke with both Marshall and Kim.
Marshall was very humble, unassuming and down-to-earth. He was soft spoken and appreciated the compliments that I gave.
Kim was quiet and almost seemed uncomfortable while we spoke with Em. She pretty much only gave one word answers while we spoke.
I let him know that I was talking about him back in LA and that I would do whatever I could to help promote him because I believed in his talent. Marc was already working hard to promote Em in Detroit as well as around the country.
We said peace and I thanked Marc for everything and then Bevin and I hit the road home.
I caught my flight back to Los Angeles after the holiday vacation. At the time the only connection that I had in the music business was an underground crew that Marc and I met when I first moved to LA.
Marc and I met these kids on Venice Beach selling their tape called Moonshine. Vesuvio, Able and Zinn would later become the Anonymous and would record an underground hit with Em called Green & Gold. More on that later.
Anyway, I went back to the struggle of trying to make it out in LA but Marc and I kept in touch.
I was putting his magazine in the record stores and hip hop shops to help promote Underground Sounds Magazine. I was also doing record reviews and interviews with artists such as Craig Mac.
Scribble Jam '97
So a couple of months go by and Marc tells me that he is driving Em to an MC battle at the Scribble Jam ’97. This would help to get Eminem’s name out of Detroit.
Em had a connection through Bizarre with a crew from NJ called the Outsidaz with Young Zee and Pace Won. But the Scribble Jam would help to establish him on the underground battle scene outside of Detroit.
Marc hit me with a copy of the battle. Em murdered kids at the battle.
It came down to the now legendary battle between Eminem and Juice. They went 7 rounds before the judges gave Juice the victory.
The only problem with the outcome is that the heads running the event were tight with Juice. At one point the DJ even cut off Em’s mic before the time limit. I have to give it to Juice, he got Em in the final round.
Eminem Comes to Los Angeles
The next thing that happened was Marc gave me a call and said that Em had been invited to a mc battle in LA called the Rap Olympics that was put together by Wendy Day. This would be the first time Marshall had ever been to LA or seen the ocean.
There would be an open mic battle followed by a team competition. The team competition was east coast vs west coast. Em was on the east coast squad with Juice, Wordsworth, Quest the Mad Ladd and Thirstin Howl the 3rd. The west coast squad was made up of cats from Project Blowed.
The week that Em, Marc Kempf and Paul Rosenberg were going to be in town I took off from work so that I could drive them around town to the places that they needed to go.
Em had a four track demo that he had recorded with the Bass brothers in Detroit. It was basically the Slim Shady EP without the skits or cover artwork. Just a plain white tape cover that said “Eminem, Slim Shady EP.”
Em, Marc and Paul were staying at a hotel on Sunset Blvd. close to the cross section with La Brea. I had a little old beat up ’85 Honda Accord that I had drove cross country from Michigan that I drove them around in.
Back then Em would rhyme all the time. He would freestyle while we were driving around, while we were walking, eating…
Before the Battle
The Rap Olympics was held at an old jazz club near LAX airport in Inglewood. I had never been there before but Paul Rosenburg had an address and I had my trusty Thomas Guide to get us there.
During the day leading up to the battle there was a music seminar with classes for hopeful unsigned artists.
When we got there we saw all kinds of rappers, demos in hand, promoting themselves. There were kids from all over the country as far away as NY and Florda.
We met up with Thirstin and kicked with him for a minute. He dropped a verse and was like “Em, go ‘head and spit.” So Marshall spit a hot 16 bars.
After the cypher we went with Thirstin to the hotel that Juice, Quest, and Wordsworth were at. So this was the squad including Eminem.
Juice and Em were real cool with each other even though they had battled to the end at the Scribble Jam earlier that year. I think they got along so well because of how much they respected each other.
Em knew Quest from when he went to the east coast. Quest was invlolved in the Lyricist Lounge and was the one that convinced Wendy Day to put Em on the East Coast squad. He had mad respect for Em.
Wordsworth was a cool cat. Young kid, mad skills.
So after we kicked it at the hotel for awhile before we started to head over to the Proud Bird so they could get ready for the battle.
You're A Fan .
Above is one of Eminem's promotional shirts that we all wore when he came to Los Angeles for the Rap Olympics.
Freestyle at the Venue
When we got to the Proud Bird Em started to get ready for the battle. The team battle was after the individual battle.
Em was the only one on the east coast squad that competed in the individual battle. The prize was $500 dollars and Em was broke so he needed to win the battle.
Em and Kim had split at this point and Em had been evicted from his apartment. He needed the money, bad. When he flew back to Detroit he was literally homeless and had to go to his mom’s place.
Marc Kempf, Paul Rosenburg, Em and I were sitting at one of the tables waiting for the battle to begin. Em started freestylin’ to get warmed up for the battle.
The table was covered with flyers, stickers and leaflets promoting different underground artist, record labels, distributors etc. that had attended the conference.
As Em was freestylin’ we would hand him a flyer or sticker and he would work it into his rap. He freestyled non-stop until every flyer that covered the table was on the floor. He spit ill rhymes for like 45 minutes straight!
It wasn’t until after he was done that we thought to record it. He kept going for a little bit and we got like 3 verses on tape.
The Rap Olympics
So that battle was crazy! Em was the only white kid in the battle and everybody thought he was gonna be wack. You could just tell when he stepped on stage.
That all changed the second he dropped the line “What you need to do is practice on your freestyles/ before you come up missin’ like Snoop Dog’s police files.” The crowd went nuts! Em was still spittin’ rapid fire rhymes till the end when he said “cut the machine off/ get a clean clothe to wipe this bloody video screen off.”
What most people don't know is that the first MC that Eminem battled in the video above was from Detroit. I don't remember the kids name but he can be seen in the Phat House video wearing a tan baseball cap with an orange bill.
The emcee for the event went from casually giving Em the mic and saying “go” to snatching the mic from him to stop the slaughter.
Next Em battled a female MC. Well, just check the video above to see the massacre.
I don’t even know what the next kid was thinking going into a rap battle. He had a geri curl, a black Compton hat and he was dressed in all black. Wearing all black at a battle isn’t a bad strategy but this kid’s blacks didn’t match. With those things going against him he never had a chance.
The next MC came in with the Project Blowed crew. Their crew was deep in the crowd. Whenever their people went on stage they made mad noise to influence the judges.
When Em hit ‘em with the Tupac line though, his own boys couldn’t help but to cheer for Em. Then Em sealed the deal with the “fake corduroy” line.
The reason that was so funny was that the kids pants looked like corduroy but when you looked at them close you could see that they weren’t. His pants were made out of material that had alternating stripes that size of corduroy going down the leg.
In the final Em battled another kid from Project Blowed called Otherwise. The emcee and DJ really wanted Em to lose so they put the wackest beat you could imagine on to throw Em off but once again he flipped it on them.
Just look at the emcee’s posture before Em spit his first line. He was standing there holding his breath. Then Em came with the heat and by the emcee’s reaction you can tell he knew it.
The video above only shows one round between Em and Otherwise but they actually went three rounds before they gave it to Otherwise.
The Team Competition
After the individual battle was the team competition. For some reason Em didn’t battle. He was on stage with the east coast squad but he didn’t participate.
Thirstin, Juice and Kwest battled the cats from Project Blowed. If you don’t know anything about Aceyalone and Project Blowed they are what was called abstract rappers.
The styles clashed. The east coast squad were punchline rhymers while the west coast were abstract rappers.
Because the styles were mismatched it wasn’t a very good battle. Neither squad respected what the other was doing. Since the cats from Project Blowed were deep in the audience I would say that they won based on crowd judging.
The abract rapping style doesn’t perform well in battles. It can be cool on wax but it doesn’t come off well in a battle so I thought the east coast squad should have won the battle.
The Wake Up Show
Later that night Wendy Day got the mc’s on Em’s squad invited up to the Wake Up Show with Sway and Tech.
Sway and Tech were having sort of a battle over the radio with Marly out in N.Y.
I drove Em, Marc, and Paul up to where the show was done on Wilshire Blvd.
Juice and Kwest went on the mic first and then Eminem hit the airwaves. Juice and Kwest were calling for Em and then Sway finally let him on the mic.
They definitely were not ready for what came next.
Em fired off two of the hottest verses ever on the Wake Up Show that night. You can check them out in the video below.
When Em came back down out of the building I took everybody back to their motel on Sunset Blvd. and we kicked it a minute.
The next day Em, Marc and Paul flew back to Detroit and like I said, Em had been evicted so he literally had nowhere to go when he got back to Michigan but his mom’s.
That following Monday, just two days after Em’s first appearance on the Wake Up Show, kids were talking about him on the streets of L.A. I literally heard some kids talking on Monday about this rapper called Eminem that they heard Saturday on the Wake Up Show!
Back in Detroit
A few days later I gave Em a call to let him know that there was a buzz on the streets of LA about him already. He had given me the number to his mom’s before he flew back to Detroit.
When I called Debbie answered the phone. I asked for Marshall and she said “hold on” and called Marshall.
After about 30 sec Marshall picked up the phone. I said what up and let him know that the word was getting out. He said thanks for everything that I had done for him while he was in LA. I was like “no problem.” We kept the conversation short and I let him know that I would be in touch with Marc.
Marc was steady working on promotion for Em while Em was working on mixing down the Slim Shady EP with the Bass brothers.
Marc is a graphic artist who has worked with too many rappers to count. He was working on the artwork for the EP.
Marshall wanted to portray an image of an MC “that has problems” as he put it. From the cover image of him smashing a mirror with his fist to the inside cover picture of him sitting on the floor in desperation holding his head in his hand to the image on the CD of him looking down into the camera. That was the concept.
I think that it is pretty obvious now looking back that the reason he wanted to put that image out there was because he really did have problems. From struggling to make it in hip hop, to providing for his daughter, to dealing with Kim and his mom. Now that’s STRESS.
Marshall's Second Trip to L.A.
Now here is where things started to get real crazy.
Eminem planned to come out to LA to promote the Slim Shady EP for a week but he ended up getting a record deal instead.
After the Bass brothers finished mixing the Slim Shady EP and Marc had completed the artwork I got a call from Marc saying that they wanted to come out to LA to promote.
I got in touch with Vesuvio from Moonshine a.k.a. the Anonymous and ran the idea by him of having Em guest appear on one of their tracks. I stopped by his place and let him hear some of Eminem’s demos. Vesuvio was feelin’ all of Em’s stuff so he sent the tracks that they wanted Marshall on out to Detroit so he could write some lyrics.
The beat that Em agreed to do the guest spot was for the track Geen & Gold which spent 15 weeks on the Rap Chart and reached #9.
Marc had set up meetings with record labels in Los Angeles so the plan was to hit as many A&R’s and labels with the EP as possible. We also went to as many hip hop shops that we could.
The meetings at the record labels didn’t go too well. At the majors we either couldn’t get in and could only drop off an EP or we couldn’t even do that.
We did meet with people at a couple indies. At one they even through the tape in to give it a listen. But like I said earlier, people in LA don’t really get star struck, especially if they work in the business, so no one seemed to get too excited when they heard it while we were there.
I took the week off from work like I did the first time so I could help them get around. They were going to be flying out that Sunday so we took care of all the leg work during the week.
Marc got in touch with Sway & Tech up at the Wake Up Show to see if Em could get on the mic again. They were like no doubt, bring him through !
The Call from Dr. Dre
So on Saturday we took Em to the Anonymous’ home studio in Venice Beach to record. Em had not written lyrics for the track like he was supposed to. He wrote them at the studio on the spot while Zinn was preparing the boards to record.
Em read the lyrics off of this piece of paper that he had written them on when he was in the sound booth. It was kind of funny because as he was rappin he was turning the paper in a circle. We were lookin at him like what are you doing? As it turned out he had written the lyrics starting from the center in a spiral outwards.
The session went well and we left their place in the late afternoon. We didn’t really have too much time though before we had to be up at the Wake Up Show.
There was a hip hop show in town that night with Gangstar, Smif & Wessin and Defari and they all came up to the show to get on the mic.
Guru went on the mic first and Em followed him. Guru was lovin’ Em and wanted to hear him spit “more of those rapid fire rhymes.” Sway & Tech wouldn’t let Em go either. Marshall was still rapping after every other MC came and went.
So a crazy thing happens. While Em is on the show Dr. Dre hears him on the radio and calls up to the show to talk to Marshall ! Dr. Dre wanted to meet with him that night in order to talk about a record deal. It was like 2 or 3 in the morning so Marshall said that it would have to wait until tomorrow.
I couldn’t believe it ! He actually told Dr. Dre to wait until the next day to talk about a deal. At this point Em had already gotten a couple of offers including one from Buckshot of Black Moon but this was Dr. Dre !
Em Stays in LA
So the next day which was Sunday Em went to Dr. Dre’s house to meet him and talk about a record deal.
While they were there Dre did an impromtu recording sessions with Marshall.
Dr. Dre through the beat together for “My Name Is” in like five minutes. Then Em spit three verses over the beat. These were totally different verses than what ended up on the album.
They recorded 3 songs in six hours which is ridiclous. Anyone that has recorded in a studio will know that to do three songs in six hours is insane.
One of the songs I call “Till Hell Freezes Over” had a monsterous beat. A Dr. Dre exclusive.
The other song was this crazy haunted house, ICP type rhyme.
Horror Core was big in Michigan at that time. ICP were self made millionairs before they ever got a major label deal. The third song was kinda Em’s way of showing ICP up in that genre in my opinion.
Em was suppose to fly out Sunday night back to Detroit but Dr. Dre got Interscope to put Em up in a condo at Oakwood. They wanted to keep him out in LA so that they could complete the deal and get contracts signed.
I met up with Marshall at the condo the day after the recording session with Dre. We kicked it there for a while and he told me all about meeting Dre, his house and the recording session.
Marshall had a copy of the three songs that he recorded with Dre so I was like “yo, can I get a dub?” Em was like no problem.
I still have the tracks including My Name Is with all different lyrics.
Hollywood Athletic Club
Em's first show in LA
So Em was at the condo just hangin’ out for a couple of weeks. I would go by and hang with him a bit. My friend Cemar and I played basketball with Em at the court behind the condo. Stuff like that.
Em would go to the record stores during the day to get beats and records that he could sample for his album. I took him a tape of beats that Vesuvio from the Anonimous a.k.a. Moonshine had put together. When Em heard this one beat you could tell by the look in his eye that he was feelin’ it. He never ended up using Vesuvio’s beats though. Started making his own under the tutelage of Dr. Dre.
Next thing you know the contracts were signed and Em went into the studio to start work on the Slim Shady LP. I had to work during the day so unfortunately I never got a chance to go and watch a recording session.
Along the way I met a kid that knew Bigga B ( R.I.P. ) who was an A & R for Loud records. Bigga B use to put on lots of hip hop shows in LA at Unity and other places.
My friend told me that Bigga B was puttin’ on a show at the Hollywood Athletic club on Sunset Blvd. with the Mystic Journeymen and Souls of Mischief. We were going to watch a Hollyfield fight that weekend and Bigga B was going to be there.
At one point during the fight I told Bigga B about Em and asked if he would put Em in the show. Without hesitation he was like ‘yeah’. At this point I am sure the word was all around the industry that Em was recording with Dre.
So the next day I called Em at the condo and asked him if he wanted to do the show and he was like ‘yeah’. So I gave him Bigga B’s number so he could call and set that up.
There’s a little more to the story, I will finish telling here one day …
End of the Line.
A lot of people have sent me messages asking me to finish the story. Here is the abbreviated version for now.
Em’s first show in L.A. was with the Mystique Journeymen and Souls of Mischief. It was a trip because Marshall asked me to go onstage with him and do backing vocals. I'm not a rapper so I had to say no.
When Em went onstage all the cats from Souls and Mystique Journeymen were at the side of the stage checking him out. As if they wanted to see what all the hype was about with the white boy. He did three or four songs if I recall right. Hi My Name is, Bonnie and Clyde and Murder, Murder if I recall correctly.
I went to the record release party which was at the House of Blues in L.A. on the Sunset strip when the record came out. I was at the entrance for the artists at the top of the hill right off Sunset and waited for Em to arrive. When he got to the venue I yelled out ‘Marshall’ and he looked around funny like ‘Who’s using my real name.’ Then he saw it was me and waived to security to let me through.
All kinds of stars were there. The biggest one being Shaq… literally.
The last time I saw Em was at the House of Blues when he was there on the Lyricist Lounge tour. He hooked me up with some free shirts which was cool. I haven’t seen or talked to him since.
Marshall had a falling out with my friend Marc Kempf who was his first manager back in Detroit that I won't go into here so it would have been weird to stay in contact. Plus, that dude literally went around the world and back.
That’s it for now without all the ‘he said, then I said’.