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When it comes to Eminem, a lot of backstory probably isn’t necessary. I mean, hell, even my mom knows who Eminem is. Six years away from the spotlight is a long time, though, sometimes a lifetime, in modern pop culture, and that’s how long it’s been since he’s released an album. In case you haven’t heard yet, Slim Shady returns Tuesday, May 19, with a new album titled Relapse.

In Em’s six years away from the spotlight, he suffered well-publicized tragedy and setbacks. His best friend and hip-hop mentor, Proof, was shot and killed in a senseless argument outside a Detroit nightclub. His often-volatile marriage to his wife, Kim, ended in divorce (last year’s autobiography indicated that they’re now on good terms, raising their daughters together). And the title of the new album refers, of course, to his recent battles with substance abuse and addiction. It took two stays in rehab for him to finally kick the habit.

Two weeks before the release of Relapse, Marshall Mathers gave us a call.

A lot of the early press for Relapse is claiming that it’s “a return to form.” I even recently saw a headline that read: “Can Eminem save hip-hop?” How does that sit with you? Do you think that’s a little bit too much pressure?

Yeah! I’m mean, like, how can I save hip-hop? Hip-hop hasn’t gone anywhere! `laughs` I mean, you know. Hip-hop is hip-hop. … I’m just now back at a point where I’m having fun again with rap. You know what I mean? Because for a few years there, I kinda lost my way in that sense. I kinda forgot how to have fun with it. And I’m just now learning how to do that again. So I am having fun with writing songs and recording and shit like that. I’m having fun again with music, so, yeah, but I’m not out to save it.

Was it hard to get back into the groove after six years away?

The hardest thing for me is that I went through, like, a two-year period where I had writer’s block. I literally couldn’t write anything. And if I did write something and then recorded it, it was never good enough. I would sit down and listen to it over and over again, trying to find something good about it. And it just felt to me like … well, I always had the reaction of, “Uhhh, this is not me!” I mean, it certainly wasn’t up to my own standards that I had set for myself. But I started to come out of the writer’s block somewhere around June and July of last year. It wasn’t that it was that hard. I think I had to teach myself again. I think I had to actually relearn how to write songs again. And so I was doing little exercises to come out of that writer’s block, like writing a new rhyme a day and trying to do little exercises, like mental things to just get me out of it. But right around June and July, when I started coming up with the Relapse concept, things started to click. I kinda knew what I was gonna talk about. I was done with the drugs and everything else, and I got to a point where I was OK with talking about that part of my life. And so I think it just kinda morphed into its own thing. I felt I could have fun with it. So from that point on, it wasn’t really hard anymore. It was just fun.

It is interesting that you got so much shit — just as most rap did — over the years. And yet some of your themes … like anger toward women, well, that was always part of the blues tradition. Why do you think you were picked on so much?

You know something? I really don’t know. I kinda think about this point every now and then and I still don’t understand. There are other artists that have used the word “faggot” in their work. There are other artists who say certain things that have always been around. So why, then, when I say it is it any different? Yeah, I have kinda always wondered that. Why is it different when I’m saying it? Let’s say if I say something fucked up about Christopher Reeve, you know what I mean? Just something totally off-the-cuff. That’s really fucked up, but how is it any different than what South Park is doing? Or Family Guy? I’ve always kinda felt, like, why am I special? Why am I that person who’s always looked at and where the microscope comes out? I still, to this day, don’t understand that. I guess it’s just that I get a lot of attention, I don’t know! It’s very hard to say. I guess that maybe when I speak, I seem to draw the flies. `laughs`

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