Eminem - "Rap God" (Screenshot: YouTube)

A successful rapper’s autobiography is generally crucial to his music, more so than for any other type of performer in the music business. Pop, rock, and country musicians can sing about their own lives if they care to do so; rappers are generally expected to talk about themselves. It’s a standard requirement of the job. There are few better examples of this principle than Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Slim Shady, a.k.a. Eminem. Mathers actually did publish an autobiography, The Way I Am, back in 2008. But he’s also been talking about his life in his songs for two decades now. Taken in total, his own discography can be viewed as a document of his own life. Now, just a few months before Eminem’s debut studio album Infinite turns 20, Andres Tardio has combed through all those recordings and pieced together a thorough Eminem autobiography strictly from quotes from the rapper’s own songs. Appropriately, this has been posted to Genius (formerly Rap Genius), the indispensable lyric annotation site where Mathers himself has been known to be an active user, adding commentary to his own songs.

“My Name Is,” the very first Eminem song most of America ever heard, contains this unforgettable verse: “Well, since age 12, I’ve felt like someone else/’Cause I hung my original self from the top bunk with a belt.” That gives the listener some insight into Mathers’ chaotic youth, which began not in Detroit but in the projects of Kansas City. Abandoned by his father at an early age, the rapper had a complicated and combative relationship with his mother, Debbie. This is a topic Mathers has revisited time and again in his songs, most especially “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” from 2002. Other crucial women in the rapper’s life include his ex-wife, Kim, and his daughter, Hailie. And if they’re important to his life, they’re important to his songs, too.

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Tardio’s article is formatted as prose, with each individual phrase highlighted. The reader can then click around and see where those phrases originated in Eminem’s songs. The quotes here show that Mathers has been more than candid in discussing his personal and professional setbacks as well as his career triumphs, such as the massive success of The Marshall Mathers LP. He’s even talked frankly about how being white has benefited his career. “Let’s do the math. If I was black, I would have sold half.” Those are his words, taken from 2002’s “White America,” not Tardio’s.