Eminem, clean and sober, draws on new inspiration

Sat Jun 26, 2010 3:36pm EDT
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By Monica Herrera

NEW YORK (Billboard) - "Make some noise for a gentleman who's come a long way." It's a muggy, breeze-less June night in New York, and some 200 fans have pressed into Bowery Ballroom under the pretext of watching local rappers with questionable names like Kosha Dillz and Quest McCody berate one another with questionable lines like "You sound like a character from 'The Legend of Zelda.'"

Really, though, everyone is here for Eminem.

The rap superstar was rumored to be headlining this freestyle battle event, Red Bull EmSee: The Road to 8 Mile, named after his own Detroit origins and the Academy Award-nominated 2002 movie that chronicled them. Now, the night's host has finally confirmed that Marshall Mathers will take the stage.

From the moment he does -- with "Despicable," a freestyle that was leaked in April to hype his new album, "Recovery" (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope) -- Eminem looks furious. Neck pulsing, eyes alight, he plows through bars with the intensity of someone who has spent the past five years fighting just to stay alive, which, in fact, he has, in large part as the result of a near-fatal addiction to prescription medications including Vicodin, Valium, Ambien and methadone.

"Better not let up, better not let them breathe," he spits. "Last shot, give it all you got."

His set ends not 10 minutes later, after he performs two tracks from "Recovery": "On Fire" and the explosive "Won't Back Down," featuring pop outlier Pink on the chorus. Only when he says goodbye does Eminem hint at the calmer artist behind the lethal-as-ever rhymes.

"I do realize, man, for real, that if it were not for you guys I would not be standing up here right f---ing now," he tells the crowd. "Honest to God, man -- thank you to each and every one of you." As he leaves, fans scream and chant "Encore, encore!" to no avail.

Eminem has good reason to feel grateful: June 21 marked the release of "Recovery," his second studio album in as many years after a long and turbulent hiatus. The first one, "Relapse," was released last May and followed 2005's "Encore," which sold 5.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.   Continued...

<p>Eminem performs at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles January 31, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>