It said on BET and MTV that there are rumors spreading about Em and his record label. Even it showed Em saying that rumors are rumors and he aint done for a minute. He's definitely got producing in his sights, True.
BY BRIAN McCOLLUM
On Eminem's new summer tour, a tense video storyline is woven through the Detroit rapper's show. Following a montage of visuals encapsulating his vast celebrity -- magazine covers, TV footage, limos, crowds -- the star is seen alone backstage, aiming a loaded pistol at his image in a mirror before turning it toward himself.
The climax is abrupt: With the gun to his temple, Eminem pulls the trigger. The screen goes black.
When the dressing room eventually fades back into view, the audience sees that the rapper sits unharmed; the gun has misfired. Eminem looks into the camera.
"This is how you go out with a bang, baby!"
At a casual glance, it might come off like the latest shock attack in a career defined by controversy. But dig a bit deeper and you'll come upon a revelation even more startling, one that has been known only to the artist's closest friends and associates.
Marshall Mathers is ready to get rid of Eminem.
Here's what it could mean, say those close to the rapper: When he steps off the stage Sept. 17 in Dublin, Ireland, he will have made his final concert appearance. "Encore," his slyly titled 2004 release, will stand as the final Eminem album. The reign of Eminem, and his alter ego Slim Shady, will have been voluntarily vanquished.
It wouldn't be a mere name game, in the hip-hop fashion that let Puff Daddy become P. Diddy, or the fanciful indulgence of a superstar toying with personas, like Prince. Nor would it be some gimmicky farewell stunt, say hometown friends and professional associates, many of whom asked not to be named in this story, citing sensitivity about the issue deep within Eminem's record label and management camps.
What it would represent, say those friends, is a dramatic life shift for a celebrity grown weary of public commotion -- and an artist who feels trapped by musical expectations.
"Em has definitely gotten to the level where he feels like he's accomplished everything he can accomplish in rap," said rapper Proof, Mathers' right-hand man onstage. "He wants to kick back and get into the producing thing."
Detroit producer Jeff Bass, who won an Academy Award for cowriting Eminem's "Lose Yourself," said while he won't rule out the possibility of further solo albums from Mathers, "the Eminem part of his career isn't going to be at the forefront anymore."
If Mathers is truly set to shake things up, exactly where he goes from here is unclear. He's not doing interviews this summer, and his spokesman at Interscope Records in Los Angeles declined to comment. Manager Paul Rosenberg said there's been "no official decision" about the future. But he acknowledged that some kind of recalibration is likely, adding that Eminem's latest multiplatinum record is "certainly the cap on this part of his career."
Others by his side, from business partners to fellow rappers in D12, say Mathers is ready to embark on a path like that of mentor Dr. Dre, who upon reaching his 30s eased away from the microphone for a successful career as a producer and star-maker.
Such a move by Mathers would shake the tectonic plates of pop culture. At 33, he is now the best-selling hip-hop artist in history and is, by many standards, the globe's biggest music star.
If this is indeed a final bow, Eminem will join a special society of pop icons: the ones who went out on a high note. It's a small and exclusive membership that includes the Beatles, Sam Cooke, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana -- artists who, by choice or fate, quit while they were ahead. They're the ones who left stories with clear beginnings and ends and legacies that never risked getting spoiled.
"Why not bow out while you're on top?" said Proof, speaking last Friday inside his tour bus at Germain Amphitheater in Columbus, Ohio, second stop on the Anger Management Tour 3.
"Marshall is very smart about this stuff," said another musical partner. "He knows the danger of being at this level, where there's nowhere to go but down."
Within the star's tightly insulated Detroit circle -- a small group of long-trusted friends and collaborators -- the signals began to emerge during sessions for his latest record. This was it, he told them. The last album, the last tour, the last sprint through the thicket of public hysteria.
"We didn't go into this for the celebrity thing. We were never looking for that," said Mark Bass, brother of Jeff Bass. Mathers is signed to their production company, 8 Mile Style, which landed the rapper's deal with Interscope.
"As much as he caters to his fans, this has always been about putting food on the table," Mark Bass said. "And he knows the right thing to do to make sure that happens. If that's moving into producing 50 Cent and the other new artists he's handling, then that's what it is. He's a smart guy. He knows what he's doing."
In November, Eminem unveiled his mind-set for everybody -- and nobody caught on. His new album was titled "Encore," complete with a cover photo that showed him taking a bow. For his fourth release since his 1999 breakout, Eminem had chosen to announce the end of the show.
"I was actually pretty shocked when no one picked up on the concept," said manager Rosenberg.
Maybe the audience was still too noisy to notice. "Encore," his first solo effort in more than two years, was the most anticipated album of the season, generating wall-to-wall hype on its way to the obligatory critical kudos and No. 1 debut. Eight months later, sales are nearing 5 million.
The new concert video, with its metaphoric killing of Eminem, merely extends a concept already sketched by Mathers.
Buried in the "Encore" album notes is a line that reads, "To my fans ... I'm sorry," adjacent to an image of a bullet. On the album-ending "Encore/Curtains Down," he delivers his closing stanza accompanied by the sound of gunfire: "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming out -- peace! / Oh ... I almost forgot / You're comin' with me / Ha ha! Bye bye!"
As "Encore" promotional plans were mapped out, sources say, worried advisers convinced the rapper to leave it at that, to resist further tip-offs that "Encore" was the end: Why chain himself to a pledge he might not want to keep?
Any fears would be understandable. Even in an industry often accused of nearsightedness, the short-term publicity bang of a retirement announcement wouldn't trump the loss of the decade's biggest seller. Since 1999, Eminem has sold more than $1 billion worth of records. So much was on the line for so many, from the global executives at Universal Music to Mathers' local team of writing partners. Though Mathers remains under contract to Interscope, he can't be forced to deliver another record, based on music industry precedent established by California courts.
Extensive discussions did precede the album's release, said Rosenberg, but the decision to withhold a farewell announcement was driven by Mathers himself.
"He didn't want to seem like one of those guys who's playing a trick on his fans, or playing with their heads," said Rosenberg, pointing to the on-again-off-again retirement of hip-hop star Jay-Z. "It's part of the same struggle he goes through in his music -- 'How much of my inner thinking should I be putting out there?' "
But if this really is it, why now?
Friends say several factors have converged to create the transformative moment: a growing weariness with the media spotlight, a related drive for solitude and family time, and a savvy recognition of the links between credibility, age and the limited shelf lives that come with pop stardom. But musical motivations top the list.
Over time, Eminem's own songs have alluded to his frustration at feeling creatively cornered by public expectations. You don't need a decoder ring to get the message: "I've created a monster / 'Cause nobody wants to see Marshall no more," he rapped on the chart-topping 2002 hit "Without Me." "They want Shady / I'm chopped liver."
"Marshall feels like he's said everything he can say as Eminem," noted one insider. "The idea that he intended this to be his last record is something that everyone on the inside circle has known for a while."
"At this point," said Mark Bass, "he's a producer."
Mathers will likely devote increased time to "guest appearances and working on other people's stuff," said Jeff Bass. "The songs I've been writing with him are being placed on other artists' albums now."
2002 was a career peak for Eminem. Three top-10 albums. Box office success and critical acclaim for the film "8 Mile." A subsequent Oscar for the song "Lose Yourself," which spent three months at No. 1. Behind the scenes, he was taking increasing command of his own production work while beefing up his Shady Records roster of artists, including soon-to-be sensation 50 Cent.
Even amid the whirlwind of '02, Mathers rarely spoke with the media. But in an interview that December with the Free Press, he hinted at a day when his rapping appetite might wane.
"When it does for me, as far as rap goes, as far as being the front man, I'll still be doing music," he said. "Which is why I'm trying to build my clientele, so to speak, and producing. People have a hard time recognizing that, looking past the fact that I'm a rapper."
Summer 2005 was already shaping up as a crucial moment in the Eminem story, a time of transition for both his career and the broader pop-culture realm where it operates.
Few pop artists hold on long to the double aces of creative vitality and commercial clout. It's just not the nature of the pop-music deal, which rarely delivers that winning hand in the first place -- let alone allows it to be played several times in a row.
Eminem has now been front and center of American culture for nearly seven years. The Beatles were there for six.
That he's pulled off such a feat within this era, within the realm of rap, makes the dynasty that much more remarkable. Both the 2000s and hip-hop favor the chew-'em-up, spit-'em-out mentality. Together, they're nearly lethal to longevity.
"The public is certainly fickle," said Howard Hertz, the rapper's Bloomfield Hills attorney. "But when you've got an artist with such enormous talent, it tends to rise above the crowd in terms of staying power."
For a figure who remains perched atop the music world, Mathers has kept a startlingly low profile these past three years. No U.S. tour, one solo album, few forays into the big-media spotlight. In an age of surplus celebrity, prone to information overdose, Mathers and his advisers have approached the game carefully, cautiously. They've played it Prince and Bob Dylan style: Seclusion feeds the mystique that feeds the public demand.
Even when Eminem seemed everywhere, he was rarely anywhere outside his familiar daily orbit -- namely, his Oakland Township manor and the Ferndale studio where he records much of his work.
Since a pair of gun incidents in 2000 that led to probation -- and accompanying drug testing -- Mathers has reshaped his personal life, toning down his wild side while toning up in the gym. In recent years, he has largely managed to avoid tabloid headlines, which have been left to focus on the perpetual legal troubles of his ex-wife, Kim Mathers. In stark contrast to fellow Detroit star Kid Rock, who also hit big in 1999, Mathers is the bane of gossip writers across the land, conspicuously avoiding the late-night, out-on-the-town scene.
It's an interesting study in restraint for a guy who made his name with a loud mouth. Of course, when you're as big as Eminem, the physics of fame works both ways, and public demand also can force seclusion. When the world grabs at every piece of you, saving some for yourself can take hard work.
On the evening of Detroit's fireworks last month, Eminem made a rare appearance to perform a song at a downtown rooftop party. His brisk entrance and departure were waged with presidential precision. Staffers snapped crisp orders over headsets; bodyguards jammed into tight formation; a Department of Homeland Security dog team sniffed for bombs. And that was just in an otherwise deserted parking-garage stairwell.
On his way out of the party, a crowd surged toward him, armed on an autograph mission. One lanky teenager was among the lucky few to get a CD signed as Eminem stopped briefly to indulge the group. The scrawled name wasn't enough; the young man had found his opening.
"I had to meet you, man," he hollered desperately, hands still stabbing forward for a touch. "I've been waiting to meet you, man. I had to meet you!"
Eminem nodded vaguely as his security staff prodded the rapper toward the exit. Five years after discovering that he could start alone at one end of a shopping mall and wind up surrounded by 500 people when he got to the other, Mathers still seems uncertain how to handle the crush of attention, so much of it intensely personal.
His 1999 debut, recorded when he was a virtual unknown, was packed with standard hip-hop bluster about dominating the world. Just 15 months later, "The Marshall Mathers LP" found him wrestling with the reality of explosive celebrity. On the song "Stan," he tackled it head-on, condensing the complexities of fame, the blurring of private and public life, into a narrative about an overzealous fan.
It was the first big sign that Mathers wasn't going to let the public snatch him up and have its way with his psyche. While insiders say he relished the popularity, which served as a figurative middle finger to any former doubters, he also developed a kind of bunker mentality, seeking sanctuary as he retreated from the celebrity circus.
Rosenberg concedes that some fans have been frustrated by Mathers' detachment, an isolation that is aided by one of the most unyielding media policies in modern entertainment. But the manager defends the choices, pointing out that Mathers has already revealed more than most public figures, via his emotionally raw music.
"In a sense, he feels like, 'Hey, I'm giving y'all enough already,' " said Rosenberg, a Detroit native now based in Manhattan. "There's a strong dichotomy between what he puts on the table with his private life through his art, and what he wants people to see in public. He exposes exactly what he wants to expose. Everything else, as far as he's concerned, is private."
Central to that quest, said Mark Bass, was simply remaining in the Detroit area, deliberately avoiding the frantic entertainment centers on the coasts.
"If we'd stayed out in Los Angeles, this would all have happened a lot quicker. He might be gone already," said Bass. "I really think the best thing is that he stayed here -- that he stayed home."
Privacy has been a growing priority for the rapper, who reunited late last year with his ex-wife. Friends say he is now happiest at home, where the couple tend to their 9-year-old daughter Hailie, Mathers' 12-year-old niece Alaina and 2-year-old Whitney, Kim Mathers' daughter by another man.
Mathers has come to dislike travel, and though his breezy demeanor at last week's Columbus concert was perhaps the loosest he's ever appeared onstage, he had to be cajoled into tackling this tour, scheduled to complete its U.S. leg Aug. 12 at Comerica Park.
But looming over all else, say some on the inside, is a fear that Eminem could be musically spent. The making of "Encore" proved particularly tough, as Mathers searched for new ways to cover the stock Eminem repertoire: feuding with Kim, battling the establishment, cleaning out his family's emotional closet -- all the familiar fare that has defined his public character.
"This was a very difficult record for him to make," said a source in Detroit. "Marshall really struggles to write for himself now, to speak through the voice of Eminem. He knows as well as anybody that there comes a point where you risk beating this thing to death."
There's an old cliche in the music biz: You've got your entire life to write your first record; after that, you're at the mercy of the annual cycle. If you're among those who score riches and fame, you may find yourself straining to stay connected to an audience whose world you no longer inhabit.
Some artists try to confront the dilemma with stylistic twists and turns, a craft mastered by Madonna, another Detroit-bred star. Most, though, just plow ahead, resigned to steadily dwindling relevance.
What's rare is quitting before the erosion gets a chance to kick in. It requires a distinct kind of foresight, the kind that might belong to someone with an acute self-awareness -- the kind that might be second nature to someone who spent his formative years as a white outsider seeking legitimacy in a black cultural form.
"Marshall isn't young anymore," said a staffer with Mathers' hometown operation. "Throughout these six years, he's always stayed one step ahead. Now it's knowing that he's at an age where teenagers might be ready to move on to something else."
No matter how it goes down, no matter what the rationale, fans are likely to be blindsided if 2005 is the last call for Eminem.
In Columbus late Friday night, concertgoers streamed out of the amphitheater buzzing about the Eminem set they'd just seen, a spectacle featuring some of the highest production values to hit a hip-hop stage. Against a three-story backdrop layered with balconies and intricate lights, Em and Proof delivered 90 minutes of music punctuated by confetti showers and pyrotechnic flash.
But if anyone had picked up on the night's underlying angle -- Eminem's potential career finale -- it wasn't obvious.
Greg Thomas, 24, had made the trip from Ann Arbor, the work of a die-hard fan with a $90 seat down front. He had watched the onstage video and heard the "Encore" songs. But he hadn't connected the dots. The notion that this could be it, the end, left him in disbelief.
"That would be horrible," he said. "Eminem is the one who unites everybody. Look around you here. He brings together white, black, Puerto Rican, Filipino, everybody. If he were to give it up now, who would take over?"
Fans will always have their CDs. Around Detroit, though, an Eminem exile would directly alter the lives of those who have been part of the ride, enjoying everything from steady work to million-dollar paydays.
The members of D12, rappers who played barren Detroit dives with Eminem long before they accompanied him in sold-out arenas, have already begun preparing for the shift -- founding their own companies, taking on outside production work, recording solo albums and scheduling solo tours.
Backstage in Columbus, Proof reflected on the past as he looked ahead to a future that might find Mathers "doing some raps now and then."
"He's been like a gift and a curse at the same time," said Proof, who on Aug. 9 will release "Searching for Jerry Garcia," the debut album for his new Iron Fist Records. "He's the biggest rap artist of all time, so he overshadows everything -- not just me personally, but all of hip-hop. Now I've got a chance to get my label really cranking."
It was an affectionate comment, echoing the sentiments of many in the Shady sphere. Whatever the personal impact of an Eminem fadeout, those closest to Marshall Mathers say they would marvel in respect, admiring what could be the brashest move of all by a friend who has long pushed the envelope.
"I would envy him for it," said producer Mark Bass. "Who knows if he'll make another album. But he's worked hard -- he's been at the top because he's worked hard. If he makes a break, he deserves to get a break."
i bought his first cd, and that was the last one i ever got. I still havnt even listend to his newest cd, i dont care for his beats either, you can always tell when shady made a beat for 50. I hope i never have to hear a stupid halley, or wife choking song again.