Since he arrived in hip-hop at the turn of the millennium, Eminem’s grown to become many people’s hero and primary inspiration. However, before he was signed by Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine, the Detroit rapper (real name Marshall Mathers) had his own influences and idols, many of whom have become his friends and peers.
After joining Aftermath Entertain in 1998, Mathers’ sole contact in the music industry was Dr Dre. Still, as he grew his audience and became a diamond-certified artist, Eminem gained access to people who had once idolised. The lyricist has previously opened up about adolescence and admitted that before his discovery by Interscope, he was an impoverished, struggling and effectively suicidal individual.
Mathers has previously spoken about how his late friend, Proof, was the reason he entered the world of hip-hop. However, he has also unveiled that when he started learning about the culture, he got drawn to certain artists and was hugely inspired by them. Each generation inspires new artists, and Eminem is a product of the late-1980s and early-’90s in hip-hop.
Although in comparison to cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, Detroit has always been an underrepresented city in hip-hop, Eminem consumed culture from all areas, regardless if it was local or not. This mentality and outward-looking stance led Eminem to stumble upon who would become his rap hero. As a late-1980s and early-’90s adolescent, certain artists had a nationwide appeal, and one of these musicians was LL Cool J.
Although he was once a struggling battle rapper, Eminem is one of the greatest rappers of all time. Not only is he a hugely profitable performer, selling millions and millions of records, but he is also one of the finest lyrical constructors hip hop has ever produced. But, for Em, LL Cool J was an icon, legend and idol. As Mathers became more and more prevalent in the industry, he began to reach out to LL (real name James Smith) and, flattered by Eminem’s kindness, the two began to cultivate a friendship.
Mathers has divulged how his true passion for hip-hop really ignited after he saw the music video for LL Cool J’s 1987 single ‘I’m Bad’ on TV. Speaking to MTV for their Behind the Music series in 2021, the Detroit rapper revealed, “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!” Mathers continued, “He was like the first rock star of rap. I’m like, ‘Yo, I wanted that.’ That is what actually made me want to rap.”
When Smith found out how much the song meant to the ‘Stan’ act, gave the Detroit artist a piece of jewellery from the music video. Speaking about it to MTV, Mathers stated, “Since I was a little kid, I always wanted that chain!” Eminem has sung LL Cool J’s praises for years and has highlighted him alone as his rap hero. Below you can listen to Eminem paying tribute to LL Cool J on the radio.