Eminem is one of the most iconic rappers of all time. Seemingly, as a prerequisite to becoming an influential rapper, one needs to have endured a considerable level of controversy on the rise to stardom. 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre; you name a rapper from the classic 1990s to late-00’s period, and the chances are their career has been both blighted and aided by controversy.
Eminem first truly rose to fame in 1999 with his major-label debut, his second studio album, The Slim Shady LP. Featuring tracks like ‘My Name Is’ and ‘Just Don’t Give a Fuck’ it was a massive success and hailed as an instant classic in the rap genre. Featuring a blend of West Coast hip-hop, G-funk and horrorcore, it is one of Eminem’s most complete records to date.
One of the major talking points of the album was the track’ Brain Damage’ which recounted the bullying he suffered in school at the hands of a bully, DeAngelo Bailey, a kid two years his senior. Although the verse contains embellished accounts of Bailey’s bullying towards Eminem, and says that it happened in secondary school when it was actually primary school, the core of the track detailing the daily abuse that Eminem faced at the hands of Bailey and his cronies was true.
Famously, Eminem raps: “I was harassed daily by this fat kid named DeAngelo Bailey,” before detailing the abuse, which includes a savage beating in the bathroom. It is claimed that the violence was so severe that as a young child Eminem even entered a brief coma. Eminem’s mother, Deborah attempted to sue the school district in 1982 for failing to look after her son, although the verse also details the beatings she used to give him as well.
In a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone after the release of the album, Bailey admitted to bullying the young Eminem. He admitted: “There was a bunch of us that used to mess with him. You know, bully-type things. … We flipped him right on his head at recess. When we didn’t see him moving, we took off running. We lied and said he slipped on the ice.”
However, two years later, Bailey was done with the apologies and took a shot at Eminem’s newfound riches. He attempted to sue Eminem for slander. He said the song, that portrays him as a bully, was an invasion of privacy and filed a $1 million lawsuit.
Bailey’s attorney, tried to turn the tale on its head, and portray Eminem as the real bully, effectively calling him racist, which was unfounded. He claimed: “Eminem is a Caucasian male who faced criticism within the music industry that he had not suffered through difficult circumstances growing up and he was, therefore, a ‘pretender’ in the industry… Eminem used Bailey, his African-American childhood schoolmate, as a pawn in his effort to stem the tide of criticism.”
In 2003, Judge Deborah Servitto dismissed the case. She ruled that the lyrics, which were clearly a massively exaggerated account, with its discussion of the school principal participating in one of the beatings with Bailey, resulting in Eminem‘s brain literally falling out of his head, as ridiculous. Servitto argued that no listener would believe that this was an actual event due to just how fantastical it was.
Hilariously, Servitto delivered her ruling in rap form: “Mr. Bailey complains that his rap is trash / So he’s seeking compensation in the form of cash. / Bailey thinks he’s entitled to some monetary gain / Because Eminem used his name in vain. / The lyrics are stories no one would take as fact / They’re an exaggeration of a childish act.”
The verdict was upheld in 2005, and Bailey’s lawyer definitively ruled out any future appeals. Clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed, Bailey made himself look even worse than the caricature portrayed in the song. It is sure he regrets the lawsuit.
Listen to ‘Brain Damage’ below.