He is perhaps best known for being one of the few successful white rappers in the industry, not to mention one of the most critically acclaimed. He is also infamous for the controversy surrounding many of his lyrics, which are said by critics to be homophobic, misogynistic and violent.
Interested in rap from a young age, Mathers began performing as early as age 14, later gaining some popularity with a group, Soul Intent. In 1995, he released his first independent album, named Infinite, following it up with The Slim Shady EP in 1997. He became famous in the hip-hop underground because of his distinctive, cartoonish style and the fact that he's white (a rarity in all rap, especially mainstream gangsta rap). Some people called him rap's "great white hope".
It is said that Dr. Dre found Eminem's demo on the garage floor of Jimmy Iovine, the Interscope label chief. Though this did not directly lead to a recording contract, once Eminem won second place vs. Otherwize at the 1997 Rap Olympics MC battle, Dr. Dre agreed to sign him.
Once he joined Interscope, Eminem released The Slim Shady LP, which went on to be one of the most popular records of the year, going triple platinum. With the album's enormous popularity came controversy surrounding many of the album's lyrics. In "97 Bonnie and Clyde", Eminem describes a trip with his infant daughter, disposing of the bodies of his wife, her lover and his son. Another song, "Guilty Conscience" ends with Eminem and Dr. Dre encouraging a man to murder his wife and her lover.
With the enormous popularity of Eminem's second album, the controversy surrounding Eminem grew even larger, especially when The Marshall Mathers LP was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. Though Mathers had always claimed that his lyrics were not meant to be taken seriously, and that he had nothing against homosexuals or women, the gay rights group GLAAD organized a boycott of the Grammys against Eminem. Mathers responded to this by singing "Stan" on-stage with gay singer Elton John, ending the performance by hugging John to show that he didn't in fact have anything against homosexuals. Though shocking a lot of people, this gesture failed to appease all of his critics.
As one of six members of the rap group D12, Eminem appeared on the album Devil's Night, released in 2001. The album was certified multi-platinum. The album contained the single "Purple Pills". Another song, "Blow My Buzz", was on the soundtrack for the film The Wash (2001).
Eminem's third major album, The Eminem Show was released in summer of 2002. It featured the single "Without Me", an apparent sequel to "The Real Slim Shady" in which he makes derogatory comments about boy bands, Moby, and Lynne Cheney, among others.
Eminem made his Hollywood acting debut with the semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, released in 2002. He recorded several new songs for the soundtrack, including "Lose Yourself," which won Eminem his first Oscar for Best Original Song.
On November 19th, 2003 new controversy surrounded Eminem when a cassette tape was played during a press conference. The 1988 cassette featured a younger Mathers performing a freestyle rap in which he made disparaging remarks about black women, calling them "stupid" in comparison to white women. The press conference was held by The Source Magazine. Mathers reportedly made the recording after breaking up with his black girlfriend.
On December 8, 2003, the United States Secret Service admitted it was "looking into" allegations that Mathers had threatened the President of the United States after the unreleased song We as Americans leaked onto the Internet. The lyrics in question: Fuck money/I don't rap for dead presidents/ I'd rather see the president dead/ It's never been said, but I set precedents.