There’s an interview that came out around the release of Encore, in which you can see Eminem sitting in the middle of the empty football field he’d performed in just a few days earlier. It was amazing, the interviewer says, seeing 50,000 people—from young kids to middle-aged men—singing along with you: “Your power has reached an apex.” Em shifts in his folding chair and smiles, then admits: “That makes me nervous.” Of course it does. 50,000 people? And you, having gone from a $5.50-an-hour grill-cook job to being on the short list for Time magazine’s Person of the Year—all in just five years? The pressures of fame had been a subject of pop music since David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, but Bowie didn’t have to deal with people indirectly blaming him for school shootings. No wonder 2004’s Encore felt so agonizingly mixed-up: The Eminem Show was, in a way, the last word he had on all this stuff, but that didn’t mean people stopped wanting more. “We as Americans” was chilling and “Yellow Brick Road” one of the realer apologies Eminem offered on record—not to mention one of the rare examples of his narrative side coming to the forefront. As for oddball cuts like “Big Weenie” and “Rain Man”? Well: “Every day I had a pocketful of pills, and I would go into the studio and goof off,” Eminem said later. The tension between who he’d been, and who the world increasingly expected and assumed him to be, had never been clearer. Five years earlier, Eminem had joked that if life ever got too good, he’d give up and start writing love songs. “’Cause all I ever wanted to do was just make you proud/Now I’m sittin’ in this empty house just reminiscin’/Lookin’ at your baby pictures, it just trips me out,” he rapped on “Mockingbird,” which is about as close as he ever got.

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