Eminem isn't new to the fame game; he broke out last year with "The Slim Shady LP" and two Grammys. But the new album's success startles even the rapper himself. With 4 million copies sold in five weeks, including the best-selling solo debut week in pop history, the 27-year-old rapper now finds himself in the rarefied air of the celebrity stratosphere.
Last year, he bought a house in Sterling Heights, figuring his success had peaked.
"I didn't know I would be as successful as I am now," he said. "It was like, 'I better grab this house now; I don't know if any more money is coming.' I bought the house, got it on the main road ...just figuring I might get a couple of fans every once in a while. That was a big mistake."
He's miffed at the City of Sterling Heights, which during a May 22 hearing permitted him to build a 6-foot fence around the property -- a height Eminem said won't keep determined fans out.
"I've got to have security guards sitting outside my house now because they won't let me put a fence up. The other night somebody hit one of them in the head with a battery.... (People) coming to my house, knocking on the door. Either they want autographs or they wanna fight. We've had people getting in our backyard and swimming in our pools."
He insists that he misses being a "regular person," bolstering that stance when he pauses the interview to order a Burrito Supreme from an associate headed to Taco Bell. No wine and caviar for Detroit's latest millionaire.
"Not only did I never think I'd get this big, it's like I'm still refusing to believe it," he said. "I don't like having security hold my hand to walk out to my mailbox. There's something inside of me that refuses to believe I can't walk down the street, or be as normal as I want to be."
It has been nearly two years since Eminem, who was raised Marshall Mathers III on Detroit's east side, traveled to Los Angeles in what became a successful quest to score a record deal. In a voice markedly different from last year's -- when he grumbled bitterly about his early struggle to make it in Detroit -- he now talks wistfully about his days toiling at local clubs such as the Palladium, Ebony Forum and the Shelter.
"It doesn't seem that far away," he said. "These past couple of years have really shot by for me. (Life) is speeding now. Before I was famous, when I was just working at Gilbert's Lodge, everything was moving in slow motion."
The past month has been a particular blur. Eminem is to appear in a Macomb County court next Friday for a preliminary examination on felony charges of assault and carrying a concealed weapon. Police say the rapper hit and threatened a man seen kissing Eminem's wife outside a Warren nightclub on June 4 -- days after the new album debuted at No. 1.
Royal Oak police have also charged Eminem with felony gun possession for an incident the previous night, in which he allegedly brandished a gun at an associate of Novi-based rap duo Insane Clown Posse.
Each charge carries a maximum five-year prison sentence upon conviction. Eminem's attorneys and public relations handlers have advised him not to talk about the legal troubles, but he's champing at the bit.
"I can't comment on it as much as I'd like to," Eminem said. "All I can say is that it's the story of my life: Whenever something good happens, the bad always follows. That's the story of my life since the day I was born.
"I should have been out celebrating my record sales. Instead, I'm sitting there in jail. Hopefully I can get through this."
That his wife was at the center of the Warren incident didn't surprise anyone who has kept tabs on Eminem's personal saga, chronicled with brutal frankness in his music. "The Marshall Mathers LP" features the dark "Kim," which re-enacts a raging fight between the two as their daughter, 5-year-old Hailey, looks on.
"Me and the missus, we go at it. It's no secret that we've had our problems, or that we're still having our problems," he said. "Once you bring a child into this world, it makes it that much more complicated, especially when you don't get along with someone. You're trying to make it work, you want to make your family work, but (stuff) keeps happening that (screws) it up."
The tension was manifested as Eminem struggled to get a musical break.
"When we were younger, she supported everything I did. The older we got, the more reality started to set in," he said. "She's one of those people that's really down to earth, like 'Hello! You're living in fantasy land. These things don't happen to people like us.' I was always the optimist, like, yo, I'm gonna make this happen."
The resulting fame, Eminem said, has only caused more marital trouble.
"Not to defend Kim, but I realize what has happened with me has probably been a strain on her, too," he said. "It's a crazy thing to deal with. You've really got to be in shape."
- By Brian McCollum
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