It’s impossible to consider the last two decades worth of hip-hip without Eminem. Granted, there are some who feel that his recent work has teetered too close to self-parody, but few could successfully argue that the Detroit MC is anything less than a benchmark for the industry. Long before he was one of the few hip-hop artists that suburban baby boomers could namecheck, the budding rapper was plucked from obscurity by Dr. Dre. In need of course correction amid the perception that he’d “turned pop, or The Firm flopped,” the Aftermath kingpin gave all his time and energy into making Eminem a household name. But in spite of being one of the few rap artists to have reached unimpeachable status, it feels that– with the exception of 50 Cent— that Eminem has been unwilling, or otherwise incapable, of throwing his weight behind an artist and providing the same launchpad that Dre once fashioned for him.
Seeing an artist alongside Eminem comes with the unspoken implication that they are singled out for future success. You need only examine the rub that Griselda’s Conway The Machine got just by virtue of having Em on his track; straight away, the Buffalo, NY rapper expressed his disbelief about “selling out shows and having records with Eminem.” But if history has taught us anything, it’s that the best-laid plans don’t always come to fruition. Though Em’s co-sign seems like a sure-fire method of shepherding an artist to the top, entering Shady’s orbit has occasionally produced varied returns.
In 2014, on the 15th anniversary of his Shady Records, Eminem acknowledged that signing on with his Universal subsidiary could not guarantee worldwide acclaim. Rankled by the list of budding artists that had gradually fallen by the wayside, Em outlined the coping mechanism that he employs to deal with these shortcomings to Detroit News. “I internalize it,” he remarked. “I try to figure out why. Because when somebody comes to our label that we get excited about, you try to figure out, ‘If I’m this excited about it, what is it not connecting over with this audience? You try to figure out why, and you’re left scratching your head.”
Granted, there are times where Eminem’s name value and experience can be a valuable asset to an artist on the come-up. For Yelawolf, incorporating his then-Shady Records boss into “Best Friend” granted him one of his highest positions on the US R&B and Hip-hop chart, while Eminem’s head-scratching bars on Boogie’s “Rainy Days” gave him viral buzz that would’ve been otherwise unattainable for The Compton MC. An occasional collaborator over the years, G-Unit’s “punchline king” Lloyd Banks enlisted Eminem to help conjure up virtuosic displays such as “Warrior Pt 2” and the Boi-1da produced “Where I’m At.” Rather than hedging his bets on Em’s assistance, a discussion with Rap-Up TV saw Banks cite the biggest lasting impression from working together as the work ethic that it instilled in him. “If I wasn’t actually recording or anything then I’d just sit in the mix you know?” explained Banks. “If you notice that whenever he has an album out, he has two albums worth of material. So, it’s evident that he’s working harder than your average artist. I take that all in mind when I’m recording.”
In a world where a nod from Shady can get Logic back into the good graces of lapsed fans and give him his biggest chart hit since “1-800-273-8255”, how can his valuable co-sign struggle to ingratiate an artist into the mainstream? From Trick Trick to Ca$his, there’s a laundry list of former cohorts that quickly went from hot prospects to a footnote in hip-hop history. Despite his claims that he “bodied” him on every collaborative effort, the response that Obie Trice received upon his release gradually dissipated around time Em gravitated to a behind-the-scenes role. Where the Shady-laden debut Cheers—which featured four separate verbal contributions from the label boss—went Gold with 500,000 copies snapped up, Obie’s adamance that Shady should grant him more autonomy on its follow-up Second Rounds On Me halved his sales.
Speaking to Vlad TV, the Black Market Entertainment head honcho described it as an “an album I did really without the help of Eminem. I didn’t believe that he should be working on my album, D-12’s album, 50 Cent and he’s an artist himself. I could bring you an album without you having to be there every day.” Although Em is credited as executive producer, the drop-off proved fans’ willingness to part with their hard-earned cash for a Shady project that didn’t feature Em on the frontlines was dubious at best.
In the case of D12, Kamikaze’s “Stepping Stone” saw Shady discuss how the death of his lifelong best friend Proof drove a wedge between him and the rest of the group. Although they may be the most high profile, they’re not the only Eminem-affiliated crew that had grievances to air. In an unearthed press release from 1998, an ambitious young Marshall Mathers spoke of how he’d been “inducted as a member of New Jersey’s infamous MC collective, The Outsidaz, who were heard on The Fugees’ multi-platinum The Score.” Firm friends during the embryonic stages of his career, the group received nods on Em classics such as “Cum On Everybody” and “Just Don’t Give A F**k” but the ties between core members Pace Won and Young Zee began to fray.
After laying down verses for The Marshall Mathers LP’s “Amityville” that Pace Won believes were “permanently erased”, a shout out on Shady XV’s “Fine Line” led the group to take umbrage with what they saw as a case of too little too late. Aggravated by Em’s comments, Newark NJ’s Young Zee fired back with the confrontational “Dear Shady.” Ten years after they’d last coalesced on Zee’s “We Just Came To Party”, the ill-feelings of the past had been exhumed. “You could’ve looked out, you could’ve came and bailed me out,” rapped Zee. “Like Dre and 2Pac, my record would be selling now.” In a similar vein, Pace Won spoke about the clear-cut roots of the clique’s animosity. “He turned his back on me. Pure and simple,” he told Hip-Hop Daily News. “I made Em and Bizarre members of the Outsidaz back in like ’96 and boom, Em blows up and never hollas back. F**k Eminem.”
Showcased as one to watch over the course of 2006’s The Re-Up, Atlanta’s Stat Quo may not have been left out in the cold in the same vein as The Outsidaz but he felt stunted by Eminem’s tutelage nonetheless. As he explained to HipHop DX, the former Shady Records signee felt the company did little to nurture his artistry. “I came in there a certain kind of way then I started trying to make music to appease them instead of trying to make music to appease the people that got me in that door” Stat claimed. “All these people I talked about picked an identity: Game’s a Blood, 50’s a gangster, Kendrick’s an intellectual. You know who the f**k they rapping to when they rap. Stat Quo was all over the place.” If this was an isolated incident, Stat Quo’s remarks might be chalked up to those of a disgruntled former-signee that refused to adhere to the label’s infrastructure. However, the testimony of fellow ATLien and The Re-Up era Shady Signee Bobby Creekwater suggests that there may be a degree of apathetic negligence at play within the halls of Shady Records.
In the wake of his departure in 2009, the artist behind the Back To Briefcase mixtape series explained that his deal with Em’s label didn’t have the uplifting effect that he’d expected. “That particular relationship wasn’t helping, as far as the plans I had for Bobby Creekwater, so we parted ways,” he declared, adding that he didn’t get dropped. “I felt like it was time to move on so I made a phone call to [co-founder] Paul [Rosenberg]… I said I think it’s time for me to go my way. He said he understood.” Where rappers such as Stat and Creekwater understandably leapt at the chance to work with Eminem, one man that felt no desire to was Freddie Gibbs.
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Once left in the lurch by Shady Records after they “passed on” him even though Gibbs felt that “other mutha***s on they label that can’t hold a candle to the shit I do,” the Gary, Indiana MC later balked at the prospect of appearing alongside Em during his time at Jeezy’s CTE World. Though his work with Madlib has taught us that he can handily infuse disparate sounds, Gibbs felt that he was manufacturing chemistry on the since-leaked track “Talk To Me”. “I’m not really comfortable with being on records with cats really if we don’t kinda like talk,” he told Hot 97. “I kinda wanted to establish that first… Cause to me it kinda looked like you thirsty.” Not to mention the fact that Gibbs ultimately didn’t like the song very much, a fair take, though it likely didn’t sit well with Jeezy or Slim. For what it’s worth, however, Gibbs recently claimed he’d work with Eminem if the opportunity came up naturally.
In the words of former Slaughterhouse member Joe Budden, “when you sign to Shady Records, you sign with hope.” To be fair, Joe was the only Slaughterhouse member to openly criticize Shady’s handling of Welcome 2 Our House, so one must infer what they can. Still, by reading between the lines of the aforementioned examples, it seems that artists preemptively assign a level of star-making significance to working with Eminem based solely off his global prevalence. But to make use of an age-old idiom, you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Where Eminem’s own stature in the game is engraved in stone, acquiring one of his coveted sixteens (though it feels like Em sixteens are a thing of the past) or joining the Shady imprint is not enough to carve a path to success. Yet in Em’s defense, the same applies to any artist-run label. Whether it’s Jay, Kanye, or Slim himself, there is no one one-stop courier service to greatness. No-one has an infallible Midas touch, but what Eminem does lend you credibility. After that, what you choose to do with those raw materials is completely up to you.