The sad reason that Eminem’s debut album flopped
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The sad reason that Eminem's debut album flopped

Many hip-hop heads are under the impression that Eminem was just a broke battle rapper before he popped up on the radar of Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine. However, this could not be further from the truth. Eminem (often called Slim Shady) was familiar with making an album and had even released an EP. However, few know about his projects before 1999 because they weren’t curated, marketed and promoted correctly.

To learn about Eminem pre-Aftermath, you have to go digging. One has to sieve through old videos, random archives and even Detroit rap forums to find video and audio material made by Eminem before 1999.

Many know that Eminem used to rap frequently. However, only a few are aware about his involvement with the Detroit-based record label WEB. The production house was founded by the Bass Brothers, with whom Eminem had a close relationship. He worked alongside them closely in the mid-’90s, and they produced his debut album and were also involved in all his projects up to 2002.

Comprised of Mark and Jeff Bass, the Bass Brothers were not merely producers. They were audio engineers and handled distributing themselves in and around the Midwest. Primarily working with artists from Detroit, the brothers spotted Mathers early and wanted to produce him. Working away with the rapper in their one studio, the three individuals came up with Infinite, Mathers’ debut album. However, its release made but a drop in the vast ocean of music. 

Eminem has addressed the making of Infinite. In his self-produced documentary, Partners in Rhyme: The True Story of Infinite, he explained how he frequented open mic nights while making the 1996 project to get more buzz around his name. Recalling his efforts, the artist recounted, “I think I was about 20, and I’d started going up to a lot of open mic spots. And one was called the Hip-Hop Shop, the most infamous open mic spot there was, especially at that time in Detroit,” Em recalled. “I started going to them open mic spots and just making a name. Making a name for myself and coming up in there and just f***ing ripping it and being the only white kid in there. You know, that was the talk: the white boy, this and this.”

However, the lyricist revealed that the crux of the issue was that he only made Infinite upon hearing that his girlfriend Kim was pregnant. To get fame fast, he chose to make family-friendly tracks that would have a mainstream appeal and hopefully get radio play. Elaborating on the tricky predicament, in a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone, the Detroit act unveiled, “It was right before my daughter was born, so having a future for her was all I talked about. It was way hip-hopped out, like Nas and AZ — that rhyme style that was real in at the time. I’ve always been a smart-a** comedian, and that’s why it wasn’t a good album.”

Infinite was released by WEB, but sold approximately 70 copies and only did so in Detroit. Following the project’s failure, Mathers got angrier and more frustrated. Developing his alter-ego Slim Shady shortly after to vent all of his pent up vitriol and hate for the world, he would soon get noticed by Dr Dre as a result of his Slim Shady EP. You can watch the documentary surrounding Eminem’s debut album in the video below.