Detroit rapper Eminem is one of the most successful hip-hop artists ever and is a multi-Grammy- award-winning emcee. The lyricist burst onto the scene in 1999 with his legendary Slim Shady LP, and things have never been the same since for the rapper. However, a number of people helped and inspired Mathers to get where he is today, and in this article, we are going to explore some of the figures who influenced Eminem’s music before he found fame.
Eminem has been churning out hits for over two decades. However, prior to his emergence at the turn of the millennium, he idolised several artists. Mathers began to work the Detroit underground battle rap scene in the early 1990s. While Detroit was still finding its feet concerning hip-hop, Eminem was attending events at the city’s primary rap venue, The Hip-Hop Shop. The Missouri-born act chose to do this following the success of West Coast artists like Tupac Shakur and N.W.A.
The 1990s was an epic era for hip-hop culture and saw various regions grow and evolve. In the 1980s, when Mathers was a young man, gangsta rap artists such as Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr Dre were ruling the charts, and this impacted Mathers in a big way. Back then, little did the aspiring musician know that in 2015, the remaining members of N.W.A. would ask him asked Em to join them on a reunion tour.
Eminem first began rhyming with his high school friend Proof and produced several demos as he honed his craft. During the mid-’90s, Mathers was a young man in his twenties, and to this day, he has always paid homage to Tupac Shakur as an individual who gave him drive and inspiration. Tupac, meanwhile, is considered by many to be the greatest emcee of all time. Shakur was of such importance to Mathers that he penned a letter to the late rapper’s mother, Afeni Shakur. In the undated letter, Eminem detailed how even when he was broke and suicidal, the late rapper gave him “courage.”
The letter read, “You have no idea how much your son and his music has inspired not only the ‘hip-hop’ world but, speaking for myself, inspired my whole career. He was, and still is, the true definition of a soldier.” However, Eminem was influenced by other artists aside from West Coast legends. Looking to the East Coast, as a white rapper himself, Eminem also looked up to The Beastie Boys. He felt that it reflected him and showed him there was a place within the culture for individuals who looked like him. Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, was one of Mathers’ biggest inspirations, and when he passed in 2012, Mathers came out to speak on his legacy. In an interview with MTV News, the Detroit rapper stated, “Yauch brought a lot of positivity into the world, and I think it’s obvious to anyone how big of an influence the Beastie Boys were on me and SO many others.”
One specific New York artist that influenced Mathers was LL Cool J, and the spark that lit the fire in his belly was the music video for LL’s 1987 song ‘I’m Bad.’ In a 2021 episode of MTV’s Behind the Music series, the Detroit icon explained the appeal of LL, recalling, “When I saw the ‘Bad’ video, I was like, ‘the f*ck?!’ He had the whole package. The look, the swag, the chain, everything! You know, you just wanted to be LL Cool J.”
The lyricist continued, “He was like the first rockstar of rap. I’m like, ‘Yo, I wanted that.’ That is what actually made me want to rap.” Since the turn of the millennium, Mathers and LL Cool J (real name James Smith) have developed quite a friendship, and Eminem is even one of Dr Dre’s closest affiliates. All of these artists influenced Eminem as a youngster. Since his success, he has met these figures he idolised for so long and now retells the tales. You can watch Eminem talking about his friendship with Smith in the video below.