Eminem's greatest pre-fame rap battles from the '90s
Look who’s back – back again. Eminem, Marshall Mathers, Slim Shady – whatever you want to call him, the Detroit rapper is back behind the mic, ready to remind the world why he’s one of the most successful MCs in the game. There’s to be another Eminem album, possibly in the autumn, and he’s producing a rap battle comedy called Bodied, trading on his star turn in 2002’s semi-autobiographical drama Eight Mile. Em started out on the rap battle scene, and indeed that’s how he found his break (more of which later), so here’s a round-up of his most brutal pre-fame exchanges. Take cover!
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When he revealed the complexity of the battle
Appearing at Maurice Malone’s Hip-hop Shop (a clothing store in which rapper Proof hosted battles from the mid-to-late-‘90s) in 1996, Em went up against – among others – Kuniva, who later became a member of D12. The clip here is notable for the sense of camaraderie that belies the seemingly confrontational nature of rap battles; the sparring rappers embrace after Eminem delivers his final, indisputable K-O, while many of the best lines are lost under the gasps and whoops from the audience. Therein lies the real joy of a rap battle – it’s all theatre beneath the bluster.
Em’s killer blow: “You couldn’t slip up in the zone if I put banana peels around this fucking microphone”
Meeting his match with Rhymefest in ‘97
Appearing at the Ohio hip-hop festival Scribble Jam in 1997, Eminem went up against Rhymefest, whom he conceded had “a dope freestyle”. In fact, here’s an extremely rare instance of Em meeting his match. Listen to the crowd whoop when Rhymefest throws out the line: “He got the funny style / Yo where’s the DJ? / Just gimme my money now.” At the end, it’s Rhymefest who’s soaking up high fives from the audience. Em is on form nonetheless; watch him pace the stage with his baseball cap pulled down to his eyes, as if ready to bum-rush his opponent.
Em’s killer blow: “You better climb a tree quick / ‘Cause I’m about to hit you with a lyrical motherfuckin’ shit when I spit”
Name-checking Mark Wahlberg’s rap persona
Here Em goes to-to-toe with Doseone, a fast-talking rapper from Idaho who’s pretty stunning in his speed of his delivery. He moves at a pace comparable only to, erm, Eminem himself. Remember Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch? You do not remember them, and that is absolutely fine. Prior to becoming a major Hollywood star, Mark Wahlberg was a rapper whose group achieved a number one hit on the Billboard Chart with ‘Good Vibrations’. He was never cool, though, and when Em compares Doseone to Wahlberg, it is not a compliment.
Em’s killer blow: “You look like a fake-ass Marky Mark with dark hair”
When Eminem made pulp out of Juice
Here we see Eminem on the cusp of stardom, just two years prior to the release of breakthrough album ‘The Slim Shady LP’. It’s unbelievable how much better he is than his competitor, Juice. It’s like watching Mike Tyson rain down blows on Mr. Blobby. The YouTube user that uploaded the video, Jack England, described the clip as follows: “Awesome battle rap I had to buy off some shitty site so you cunts could have for free. So you owe me like 4 quid.” The video is now on more than six million views. A wise investment, Jack.
Em’s killer blow: “You wouldn’t sell two copies if you pressed a double album”
The freestyle that changed rap history
Eminem was discovered by an Interscope intern, who saw him astonish the audience at this Californian battle and passed on a tape to head honcho Jimmy Iovine. The producer made sure the tape found its way to Dr. Dre, who was on the look-out for a protégée. Dre invited ‘Em to the recording studio at his house and played him a sample, over which the Detroit rapper spontaneously spat: “Hi / My name is / My name is / Slim Shady.” You know what happened next.
Em’s killer blow: “What you need to do is practice on your freestyles / Before you come up missing like Snoop Dog’s police files”