Eminem has become a family man. during two long conversations over two days in Detroit in October, he constantly mentions the kids he’s raising, as any proud father would: His daughter, Hailie Jade, will soon be nine, his niece Alaina is eight, and his half brother, Nate, is eighteen. In October, Marshall Mathers turned thirty-two. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and Detroit without a father figure, but he has grown into a committed parent who goes to school plays and everything. He schedules most of his recording in Detroit and has put his movie career on hold so he can be home with the kids at night.
He has slowed down his drinking and his drug use since two 2000 gun charges that he feared would take him away from Hailie, but his ex, Kim Mathers, has slogged through her own legal morass. In June 2003 she was arrested for possession of cocaine, then failed to show up in court and for a short while hid from the police. Eminem says that explaining the situation to Hailie and Alaina “was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through.” At the time of our first interview, Kim was in jail. At the time of our last interview, she had been released. “She’s out right now,” he said. “We’re hoping that stays kosher.”
Encore is Eminem’s fifth solo album, and he remains one of the most skilled, compelling, audacious, obnoxious and important MCs in hip-hop. He thanks his mother for the troubled childhood that still fuels his anger in “Never Enough”; he tells Kim that he hates her in “Puke” and that he still loves her in “Crazy in Love”; and he declares his devotion to Hailie on “Mockingbird,” which he calls his most emotional song ever. He also attacks President Bush for the Iraq War in “Mosh” and says, “Strap him with an AK. . . . Let him impress Daddy that way.”
On Encore, Eminem refers to himself as “Rain Man” because, he says, he doesn’t know how to do anything besides hip-hop. He doesn’t consider himself “a good talker” because his conversation is rarely as direct as his rhymes, but for two days when he sat for the Rolling Stone Interview he was open and introspective. We started out in a dank little room at a photo studio and continued in the recording studio where he does most of his work. The first day he lounged on a small black couch, wearing Nike gear and Jordans and picking at white-chocolate-covered nuts. Ever the fifteen-year-old, he said, “What’s up?” and then asked, “Would you like to eat my white nuts?” He laughed. “C’mon, put my white nuts in your mouth.”
Who in your family loved you? Did any of the adults make you feel special?
My Aunt Edna, which would be my great-aunt Edna, and my Uncle Charles, my great-uncle Charles. This was in Missouri. They’re from my dad’s side. They took care of me a lot. My Uncle Charles passed in ’92 or ’93, and Aunt Edna passed away just six months ago. She was, like, eighty-six. They were older, but they did things with me; they let me stay the weekends there, took me to school, bought me things, let me stay and watch TV, let me cut the grass to get five dollars, took me to the mall. Between them and my Uncle Ronnie, they were my solidity.
Did they connect you with your dad?
They’d tell me he was a good guy: “We don’t know what your mother’s told you, but he was a good guy.” But a lot of times he’d call, and I’d be there — maybe I’d be on the floor coloring or watching TV — and it wouldn’t have been nothing for him to say, “Put him on the phone.” He coulda talked to me, let me know something. ‘Cause as far as father figures, I didn’t have any in my life. My mother had a lot of boyfriends. Some of ’em I didn’t like; some of ’em were cool. But a lot would come and go. My little brother’s dad was probably the closest thing I had to a father figure. He was around off and on for about five years. He was the dude who’d play catch, take us bowling, just do stuff that dads would do.
When I saw you playing with Hailie back in February, you were so respectful. A lot of people talk down to little kids, but you talk to her like she’s intelligent.
Thank you for seeing that. I just want her and my immediate family — my daughter, my niece and my little brother — to have things I didn’t have: love and material things. But I can’t just buy them things. I have to be there. That’s a cop-out if I just popped up once in a while, didn’t have custody of my daughter and my niece.
Do you have full custody?
I have full custody of my niece and joint custody of Hailie. It’s no secret what’s been going on over the past year with my ex-wife. I wouldn’t down-talk her, but with her bein’ on the run from the cops I really had no choice but to just step up to the plate. I was always there for Hailie, and my niece has been a part of my life ever since she was born. Me and Kim pretty much had her, she’d live with us wherever we was at.
And your little brother lives with you.
I’ve seen my little brother bounce around a lot from foster home to foster home. My little brother was taken away by the state when he was eight, nine.
You were how old?
I was twenty-three. But when he was taken away I always said if I ever get in a position to take him, I would take him. I tried to apply for full custody when I was twenty, but I didn’t have the means. I couldn’t support him. I watched him when he was in the foster home. He was so confused. I mean, I cried just goin’ to see him at the foster home. The day he was taken away I was the only one allowed to see him. They had come and got him out of school. He didn’t know what the fuck was goin’ on. The same thing that had happened in my life was happening in his. I had a job and a car, and me and Kim, we bounced around from house to house, tryin’ to pay rent and make ends meet. And then Kim’s niece was born, which is my niece now through marriage. Watched her bounce around from house to house — just watchin’ the cycle of dysfunction, it was like, “Man, if I get in position, I’m gonna stop all this shit.” And I got in position and did.
So you have joint custody of Hailie, but she lives with you and spends most of her time with you and not with Kim.
I don’t know if I’m inclined, or allowed, to say more than what is fact. In the last year, Kim has been in and out of jail and on house arrest, cut her tether off, had been on the run from the cops for quite a while. Tryin’ to explain that to my niece and my daughter was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through. You can never let a child feel like it’s her fault for what’s goin’ on. You just gotta let her know: “Mom has a problem, she’s sick, and it’s not because she doesn’t love you. She loves you, but she’s sick right now, and until she gets better, you’ve got Daddy. And I’m here.”
What are your goals and principles as a dad? I’m sure there are boundaries.
Bein’ a dad is definitely living a double life. As far back as I can remember, even before Hailie was born, I was a firm believer in freedom of speech. I never wanted to compromise that, my artistic integrity, but once I hit them gates where I live, that’s when I’m Dad. Takin’ the kids to school, pickin’ ’em up, teachin’ ’em rules. I’m not sayin’ I’m the perfect father, but the most important thing is to be there for my kids and raise them the right way.
What are your biggest rules as a parent?
Teach them right from wrong as best I can, try not to lose my temper, try to set guidelines and rules and boundaries. Never lay a hand on them. Let them know it’s not right for a man to ever lay his hands on a female. Despite what people may think of me and what I say in my songs — you know, me and Kim have had our moments — I’m tryin’ to teach them and make them learn from my mistakes. It’s almost like juggling — juggling the rap life and fatherhood.
Well, in the nexus of that juggling is Hailie, who’s in some of your songs, like “My Dad’s Gone Crazy,” from “The Eminem Show.” Does she get to hear the songs she’s in?
Most of the time I’ll make clean versions of the songs and play them in the car. When she made “My Dad’s Gone Crazy,” it’s a crazy little story. If I feel like I’m working too much, I let the kids come up to the studio. I get this little guilt trip inside, so I would have Kim just bring her up and let her hang around the studio. So me and Dre were working together, and Hailie was running around the studio and she was like [in Hailie’s high voice], “Somebody please help me! I think my dad’s gone crazy!”
Instantly that locked in with a beat we’d made the day before. I went to my house, and I had her go in the booth and say it. When she opens up, she’s just like her dad in a lot of aspects. I just told her what to say and she nailed it, the first take. It almost was scary, to where I had to slow it down. I don’t know if I wanna put her on any more songs. I don’t wanna make her any more famous. She can live a life. She didn’t choose to have her father become a rap star. Nor my niece, nor my brother. So they’re able to go outside and live a normal life, go to stores and do things normally that I can’t do. Which is why, a lot of times, certain things I can’t be there for.
What about school events?
School is different. In school, when they have plays, field trips, all that stuff, I don’t miss them, even if I gotta deal with the craziness. And the teachers are really good about telling the kids, “When Hailie’s dad comes in, he’s Hailie’s dad, Mr. Mathers.” Last year I went and read to the class. Two books. It was reading month or something.
There’s a Hailie love song on this album.
Yeah, a song called “Mockingbird,” to Hailie and Alaina. When Mom was on the run they didn’t understand it, and I’m not the greatest talker in the world, especially when I’m trying to explain to two little girls what’s goin’ on with someone who’s always been a part of their life and just disappeared. So that was my song to explain to them what was goin on, probably the most emotional song I ever wrote.
Michael Jackson called your mocking of him in the “Just Lose It” video “demeaning and insensitive.” Are you picking on Mike?
I didn’t do anything in the video that he hasn’t said himself he does. With the little boys jumping on the bed and all that — they’re just jumping on the bed. People can take what they wanna take, decipher it how they wanna decipher it. But it’s not actually Michael Jackson, it’s me playing Michael Jackson, studying the moves and doing the impressions. I don’t have an opinion, really, neither here nor there, against Michael Jackson. When Thriller came out, you couldn’t tell me nothin’ about Michael: Dude was the ultimate, dude is a legend. But the allegations that are thrown at him and the seriousness of the case — the guy’s jumping on top of his van dancing?
And showing up to court late.
I showed up to that motherfucker an hour early every morning. I’m not playing with court. And now I think my fans should rally around me for making fun of myself.
Paris Hilton is in the “Just Lose It” video. She seems like the sort of person you’d normally be dissing, not doing a video with.
Well, when I was on MTV with La La it kinda slipped out. La La said, “How did you manage to get Paris?” I said: “Well, I love Paris. I love her almost as much as she loves herself.” Then I was like, “Damn, that was fucked up.” I try not to attack people who haven’t attacked me first. As far as the image she portrays right now, as far as the way my girls look at her, do I want them to grow up to be like that? No. But for a video, for entertainment, that’s a different thing. The song is about goin’ to the club and losin’ it, and you get so drunk you say the wrong thing. And we needed somebody to punch me, slap me and pull my hair. Our first candidate was Jessica Alba. We couldn’t get Jessica, and Paris happened to be in town.
There are two songs about Kim on Encore. In “Puke,” you hate her so much she makes you want to vomit. Then in “Crazy in Love,” you’re like, “I hate you, yet I can’t live without you.”
It’s a love-hate relationship, and it will always be that. We’re talking about a woman who’s been a part of my life since I can remember. She was thirteen when I met her. I was fifteen.
What was it like the first time you saw her?
I met her the day she got out of the youth home. I was at a friend’s house, and his sister was friends with her, but she hadn’t seen Kim in a while ’cause she was in the youth home. And I’m standing on the table with my shirt off, on top of their coffee table with a Kangol on, mocking the words to LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad.” And I turn around and she’s at the door. Her friend hands her a cigarette. She’s thirteen, she’s taller than me, and she didn’t look that young. She easily coulda been mistaken for sixteen, seventeen. I said to my friend’s sister, “Yo, who was that? She’s kinda hot.” And the saga began. Now there’s the constant struggle of “will I ever meet somebody else that’s gonna be real with me, as real as I can say she’s been with me?”