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Why Eminem and LL Cool J became close friends

Detroit rapper Eminem has been a prominent figure in hip-hop for over two decades. The former battle emcee performed at the 2022 Super Bowl halftime show alongside his Aftermath labelmate Dr Dre and Death Row superstar Snoop Dogg. Now the rapper (real name Marshall Mathers) is considered one of the greats and has solidified his spot among the genre’s most prolific artists.

The ‘Stan’ rapper has come a long way since he first burst onto the scene at the turn of the millennium and has always paid homage to his idols, one of which is New York rapper LL Cool J. As a teenager, Mathers dreamt of being a rapper and started jotting rhymes in his notepad during high school. However, his passion for hip-hop became even more profound 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.”

Eminem divulged that he loved how the Queens rapper didn’t restrict himself by making only one style of music. Following the blueprint of LL, Mathers also admitted that he has always tried to make different types of hip-hop. Furthermore, Slim Shady loved how LL Cool J diversified his output by daring to venture beyond the world of music during the 1990s. In this period, rappers generally didn’t do many things outside the music industry.

Following the LA Battle Rap Olympics of 1997, Mathers signed with Dr Dre at Aftermath Records and proceeded to put out a project, The Slim Shady EP. One of the project’s singles was ‘Just Don’t Give a F*ck’, and it was on the set for the music video where the rapper first met LL Cool J. 

During an appearance on LL Cool J’s SiriusXM radio show in 2018, Rock the Bells, Mathers recalled the experience of meeting his idol. “I’m like, ‘Yo, he’s in here by himself.’ I was buggin’ the f*ck out,” Eminem recounted. “You quoted a lyric back to me. You said, ‘Yo, how can I be white / I don’t even exist.’ You quoting that lyric back to me, was like, I think I sh*t myself.”

LL’s song ‘I’m Bad’ changed Eminem’s life and inspired him to become a rapper, and the Queens rapper himself was aware of how much the song meant to Mathers. This is why the rapper (real name James Smith) 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 a chain,” he admitted. “I was recording with Rick Rubin, and I was like, ‘Yo, can you ask LL where he got his chains from?’ So he had these made and sent them to me. In the ‘[I’m] Bad’ video, these are the same two chains he’s wearing in that video.”

For Mathers, getting respect from his idol regarding his 2009 project Relapse was an epic moment. In an interview with KXNG Crooked, the ‘Lose Yourself’ rapper described when he drove around with Smith playing the album for him. “I was sitting there thinking ‘I don’t even know what to say.’ Before we got into the track I was ‘I just wanna say what you mean to me, man. I’m a stan of you,'” Eminem said. “Just for 15, 16 years old Marshall to think that that can actually happen one day, LL Cool J is sitting in the car with me listening to my album.”

You can listen to Eminem paying tribute to LL Cool J on the radio.