Today, we’ll be continuing our journey through the life and work of rapper Eminem, in an attempt to view his story through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
Last time, we walked through the Crossing of the Threshold, and looked into how “The Marshall Mathers LP” coincided with that stage in Eminem’s journey. We also explored the ways Eminem’s Slim Shady persona shaped his career and psyche. We ended our discussion by introducing the next stage, The Road of Trials, which we’ll talk more about today.
The Road of Trials
The Road of Trials in Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, is a period in which the hero must prove him/herself worthy of personal transformation. This stage in the journey is designed to expose the hero’s vulnerabilities, and prepare him/her for new challenges ahead.
If I haven’t stated this before, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is a metaphor for self-growth and change. And part of self-growth is self-death. In order for a hero to become who they are meant to be, they must let go of who they were before.
This is why we don’t see Luke Skywalker starting off as an already trained Jedi in “A New Hope”. He needs to go through a journey that makes him realize that he needs to leave the moisture farmer identity behind. Luke’s Road of Trials comes into play as soon as he meets Han Solo. This sets Luke off on a chain of events that leads to both the Meeting with the Goddess, as well as the loss of his mentor.
The Road of Trials is an unavoidable stage for any potential hero. It’s where he or she learns the rules of the new world they find themselves in. It’s typically full of increasingly difficult challenges, as well as continued adaptation by the would-be hero.
That should give enough context for us to continue. So, let’s now take a look at what the Road of Trials looked like for Eminem.
Eminem caught a lot of flack from critics after releasing “The Marshall Mathers LP”. This was a time of tension in Eminem’s life. Not only was he now one of the biggest superstars in the world, but he was also getting more hate than he’d ever gotten before. “Adding further fuel to the fire, Eminem answered critics that had labelled his lyrics homophobic by performing the single ‘Stan’ with Elton John at the 2001 Grammy Awards”.
The media circus surrounding Eminem was at an all-time high, and our hero was trying to find ways to cope with his newfound fame and attention. Which brings us to the releases of “The Eminem Show” and “Encore”
The Eminem Show / Encore
Released in 2002, “The Eminem Show” was the second Diamond-selling record of Eminem’s career, selling over 10 million copies in the US alone. But while many bought the album, it wasn’t received quite as well as “MMLP”.
Songs like “White America” see Eminem attacking government censorship based on the premise that his songs were a bad influence on white suburban teenagers. Other songs, like “Cleaning Out My Closet”, tackled family relationships once again. And Slim Shady once again makes an appearance in the single, “Without Me”.
The companion album to “The Eminem Show”, “Encore”, was released two years later, and showed a big dip in sales. Although, 4x-Platinum is still an incredible feat, it still showed that Eminem was losing some of his fan base. In Encore, Eminem left some of the more fictional and controversial lyrics behind, in favor of directly addressing the criticisms made against him.
Pitchfork stated in a review that, “the Eminem of Encore is wounded and weary; he’s removing the layers of meta, still laughing and nodding but rarely winking”. They also go on to state that this is a transitional album for Eminem, which I agree wholeheartedly with. Here we find Eminem realizing that the carefree rebel persona that got him to where he was doesn’t quite cut it when exposed in the spotlight. After the release of “Encore”, Eminem took a break, and didn’t release another album for four years.
Here, we leave an Eminem in the middle of a crises, and at a loss of where to go next. Even the titles of these albums, “The Eminem Show”, and “Encore”, seem to foreshadow an ending. It’s possible that during this period, Eminem considered retiring, which we’ll look into more next time.
While these experiences were hard for him, the Road of Trials is never an easy road to take. But we’ll see how further into his career, Eminem was able to move past this, and adapt to all the voices screaming around him.