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Chilling Out -- for Him

After a tailspin he describes as temporary insanity, Eminem got his act together--though his mom might not be too happy to hear it

June 02, 2002|ROBERT HILBURN

WASHINGTON — The tension during Eminem's performance at an RFK Stadium concert is escalating as thousands of young rock and rap fans slam against each other with such force that you sense bones are about to snap.

Police huddle anxiously during a 15-minute break in the music to see if they should let the concert resume. This isn't Bono, the friend of popes and presidents, performing on stage. It's Eminem, the rapper who once wrote a song about killing his wife and who cusses out the vice president's wife on his latest CD.

Rebellion and outrage are Eminem's trademarks, so it's anybody's guess what he might do if he returns to the stage. What if he tries to fuel his angry image on stage by attacking the police for interfering with the concert?

Eminem finally picks up a microphone and addresses the crowd. "OK, I'm going to count to three and then everybody take one step back. One, two, three ... take one step back."

The crowd begins to respond. He repeats the instruction two more times and the tension eases. Eminem resumes his performance.

The Detroit rapper came to this all-day, radio-sponsored concert last weekend to promote his new album, "The Eminem Show," and to use the capital setting to showcase "White America," a song on the album that decries the FCC and others for threatening to censor his music.

But he made another kind of statement. Ever since his arrival on the pop scene in 1999, Eminem--Marshall Bruce Mathers III--has been seen as a virtual madman by many anxious parents, a hero who challenges authority by millions of young fans, and a complex but major artist by critics and enough members of the recording academy for "The Marshall Mathers LP" to be nominated for best album in 2000.

It's as if there are three faces of Eminem.

On this humid spring day, there was only one way Eminem looked--responsible.

In an interview here hours before taking the stage, Eminem--as soft-spoken offstage as he is bratty and confrontational on it--suggested he is emerging from a personal darkness that fueled not only his lyrics, but also his private life.

"I feel good about myself ... and there have been times in my life, including not that long ago, that I didn't know if I'd ever be able to say that again. I can't tell you that I had a clear head a couple of years ago because of all the stuff that was going on around me.

"Ending up on probation was almost a blessing in disguise ... not being able to do drugs and stuff. I needed to do that anyway because I'm a father, and the worst thing I could ever do was come home off tour and be [messed up], me going through withdrawals or something. It's cool to go out and have fun every now and then, but I'd rather be a father before anything."

The most alarming thing about Eminem earlier in the day as he sits in hotel room just around the corner from the Capitol building is the mound of bacon and eggs on the plate in front of him. It's 2 p.m., but he's just starting his day.

"Want some bacon?" he asks.

Instinctively, I say something about not wanting all that cholesterol, and he smiles. "I try not to eat too much of this either, but I just get a craving sometimes."

Eminem, 29, is wearing the loose-fitting sports gear that rappers have turned into a fashion statement for young America. It's pretty much the same outfit he had on when I first met him two years ago. The main difference is the pricey Rolex watch on his arm.

"Oh, that," he says, playfully. "That's my Jimmy Iovine watch"--a gift from Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine for selling 30 million albums.

Three things stood out in that 2000 interview with Eminem: He was courteous, smart and oh-so-tightly wound. The first two qualities were surprising given the startling, X-rated nature of his music.

The tension made sense though, because his first album had sold 3.5 million copies in the U.S., and he was under a lot of pressure to match that amount at a time in pop music when fan loyalty has been an elusive quality.

Still, it was hard to believe the polite young man in the studio was the same one who was charged two weeks later with using a gun to hit a man who had kissed Eminem's then-wife in a nightclub. Two days later, he was arrested again and charged with wielding a gun in an altercation with an associate of the rap group Insane Clown Posse.

"I believe in temporary insanity," he says now in the hotel room, referring to the Michigan incidents. "I believe that somebody can do something to you that can make you so mad that you literally can't control yourself."

Still, the insanity of the moment he saw the man kissing his wife is mirrored on the album when he raps, "What I did was stupid, no doubt it was dumb, but the smartest [thing] I did was take them bullets out of that gun / Cause I'da killed 'em."

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