Today, we continue our discussion of applying Joseph Campbell’s narrative model to the life and work of Eminem. In the past few articles, we’ve mostly looked at the upswing of Eminem’s early career, and the impact he made on the world when he rose to super-stardom. We’ve discussed his first five albums, some more closely than others.
To recap a bit, last time we went through the Road of Trials, and saw how this step lines up with “The Eminem Show” (2002) and “Encore” (2004). We talked about how the Slim Shady persona contributed to his fame, and how it got him into hot water with the media over and over. This trend continued to rise until it reached a critical boiling point.
Today, we reach an important transition in both the Hero’s Journey as well as Eminem’s career. But before we get too far into that, let’s first review this stage in the Hero’s Journey according to Joseph Campbell.
This stage is called many things. The Abyss, The Cave, The Dragon’s Lair, The moment of Despair, Revelation, or Discovery. It’s typically the lowest point in a hero’s journey, when they retreat from the world. Often this also puts the hero in a place of great risk to his/her physical or psychological health. The Cave is a metaphor for self-reflection and looking inward for an answer that can’t be found in the material world.
But in movies and stories, we typically see this represented as a major obstacle, with some kind of treasure or prize for the hero should they succeed. In “Star Wars”, this is when Luke and his friends infiltrate the Death Star, risking death to save Princess Leia. Usually, there is also a great cost involved, which comes in when Obi Wan sacrifices himself later. This tends to propel the story, and our hero, forward into growth and change.
After he released “Encore” in 2004, it would be another five years until Eminem released his next studio album. Em was at a difficult place, and rumors were flying around that he would soon be retiring. In 2005, he released “Curtain Call: The Hits”, named to be a possible final release. In an interview, Eminem stated that, “I’m at a point in my life right now where I feel like I don’t know where my career is going … This is the reason that we called it ‘Curtain Call’, because this could be the final thing. We don’t know.”
During his five year hiatus, Marshall Mathers reached the height of his drug addiction. “The coating on the Vicodin and the Valium I’d been taking for years leaves a hole in your stomach, so to avoid a stomachache, I was constantly eating — and eating badly.”
After an overdose, Em canceled a European tour, and checked himself into rehab. When he completed the 12-step program, and was released, he went back into the studio. The new album, “Relapse” was released in 2009.
In an interview with Vulture, Eminem talks about his struggles coming back to rapping after going to rehab. “I was so scatterbrained that the people around me thought that I might have given myself brain damage. I was in this weird fog for months. Like, literally I wasn’t making sense; it had been so long since I’d done vocals without a ton of Valium and Vicodin I almost had to relearn how to rap”.
If you’ve listened to “Relapse”, this shouldn’t sound too far off. There are so many weird accents on that album, and really not that many hits. Those are only two reasons why both Eminem and critics have looked down on the album over the years. The album was viewed by many as a regression, and saw Em utilizing a horror-core style that wasn’t received well.
Most critics have called both “Encore’ and “Relapse” two of Eminem’s weakest albums to date. It’s not hard to see why, given he was at the height of his addiction on one, and struggling to recover from it on the other. We can safely say that this is the lowest point of Eminem’s career, but what did he come away from it with?
I’d like to argue that these two flops had quite a motivating effect on Eminem. It’s not a stretch to call him a perfectionist, and I think it bothered him that he wasn’t performing as well as he knew he could. We’ll talk next time about how this lit a fire in him, and pushed him to further growth.
That about wraps up our discussion for today. Next time, we’ll look at the next stage of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and cover Eminem’s next release, “Recovery”.