Looking through one of Eminem’s darkest narratives & a hip-hop masterpiece.
“ Dear Slim, I wrote but you still ain’t callin’…
It was 19 Novembers ago, when Stan sat down to scribble his first letter. And the dark clouds outside his window, was the perfect foil to the darkness that he descended into, over the next 6:44 minutes.
To turn back the clock a bit, 2000 was a seminal year in hip-hop. The 90s had ended with hip-hop’s old vanguard high-headed from the never-before-seen heights that the genre had scaled. Artists like Nas, Wu Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, Ice Cube, Jay Z, Dr. Dre were part of a pack that had already sold millions, packed stadiums, created a legacy and were still alive to tell the tale. But as the new millennium began, hip-hop needed new narratives. Old school had to make way for the new cool.
The story of how Eminem came to be found by Dr. Dre is an often-quoted story in hip-hop folklore. Rap historians have written pages about it, fans have repeated it like a hymn and it’s a tale that deserves a big screen blockbuster. (The best anecdotes, straight from the horse’s mouth i.e from Dre and Eminem, can be found on the HBO-produced documentary The Defiant Ones) But over here, we are going to skip the prelude and rush straight to the story. The story of Eminem and why Stan was an apt narrative for the time then and even now.
Fame can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, as an artist your work is created to inspire. Your words could invoke, soothe, heal or power millions. While on the other side of the coin, your success elevates you to something higher than an artist. You are now a preacher with a beat. A prima-donna in a glass house with the world watching. And higher the elevated is your stardom, higher are the expectations from fans.
The culture of fandom has always been susceptible to a darker underbelly. In the early era of popular music, the radio or the concert was the only platform where fans could experience the sights and sounds of their heroes. The likes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry or Johnny Cash had an elusive aura around them. They were stars whom the ordinary public could adore, but only from a far distance. In the 70s as concerts and performances became more grand and larger than life, artists were elevated to a mystical status. Legends were built around bands like Led Zeppelin (in pic), Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, The Who, Aerosmith, Queen. Young fans would create their perspective of the artist based on the lores of groupies, wild parties featured on tabloid papers, and the rumors of occult practices and drug-fueled charades hosted behind closed doors.
Fast-forward to the late 90s and the media boom. Now an artist’s life wasn’t theirs’ alone, everyone wanted to know all about it. ‘What does your favourite celebrity love to eat?’ ‘Whom is he dating now?’ ‘Which football club does he support?’ The answers to all these and more were just a click away. Go online or switch on your TV sets and you could now watch your favourite musicians turn into material for prime-time TV.
As the 2000s arrived with social networking, live trackers, Google maps, official celebrity accounts, information was the new currency in which the modern fan traded. But more the information you consumed, the more you seeked. This passionate need to know, understand, meet or even stalk your heroes can sometimes turn fans into voyeuristic villains. And that’s where the story of Stan begins.
In an era of boy bands and pop extravaganza, when Eminem strut into the scene with his Slim Shady persona, it was the most volatile, shocking, explosive, comical yet scary avatar that the industry had seen. Slim Shady didn’t hold back his lyrical guns — shooting down pretentious pop stars, celebrity culture, paparazzi, industry double standards and his doubters one verse after the other. Slim’s unabashed, violent, dark imaginations were a stark contrast to the then-hit tracks on mainstream charts. The Slim Shady LP (1999), his second album and first-ever collaboration with Dr. Dre catapulted Eminem from an underground talent to a worldwide star. As the album went on to chart quadruple-platinum numbers and earn Eminem his first Grammy Award, the lad from Detroit was now a celebrity. And with great fame comes greater attention and scrutiny.
The international media and fan base had their microscopes ready as Eminem released his next album in 2000, The Marshall Mathers LP. The album saw Em venting views on his sudden rise to super-stardom. He asked the media to stay away from his personal space (The Way I Am), crafted satirical verses on the pressure of being Slim Shady (The Real Slim Shady) shed light on the horror of crime and violence that runs through his home-town of Detroit (Amityville) and shouted out straight that if you don’t like his style, he don’t give a s@*t (Under The Influence). But it was a brooding, introspective and dark narrative from that album, that is the mark of Mathers as a master storyteller and is now an official word in the Oxford and Merriam Webster dictionaries. Stan.
Dear Slim, I wrote you but still ain’t callin’
I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom
I sent two letters back in autumn, you must not-a got ‘em
There probably was a problem at the post office or somethin’
Sometimes I scribble addresses too sloppy when I jot ‘em
But anyways, fuck it, what’s been up? Man how’s your daughter?
In the story of Stan, over dark pouring nights Stanley Mitchell pours his heart out onto letters he mails to rap superstar and his idol Slim Shady. Stan is extremely possessive about Slim and includes his fictional songs into details of his life.
He wants his unborn child to be a daughter, so he could name her Bonnie (a reference to Eminem’s Bonnie & Clyde).
My girlfriend’s pregnant too, I’m ‘bout to be a father
If I have a daughter, guess what I’m a call her?
I’ma name her Bonnie
He is also very emotionally invested in Slim’s personal life.
“I read about your Uncle Ronnie too I’m sorry
I had a friend kill himself over some bitch who didn’t want him”
The words keep scratching in and out, but his first emotional letter to Slim is met with no response and that’s what triggers him. He can’t believe that Slim would avoid his letters. And to make matters worse, after a recent concert Slim didn’t even didn’t sign an autograph for Stan’s 6-year-old brother Matthew. He picks up the pen again and adopts a passive-aggressive stance now on his second letter.
Dear Slim, you still ain’t called or wrote, I hope you have a chance
I ain’t mad, I just think it’s fucked up you don’t answer fans
He cribs, rants, complains, but also delves deeper into his past and stitches a reasoning why he looks up to Slim. But this second letter of his also holds darker and more disturbing details. Of physical harm that Stan brings upon himself to prove his loyalty to Slim. His lack of empathy towards those who are close and actually care for him and instead an obsessive love that he fosters for Slim, a global celebrity.
I even got a tattoo of your name across the chest
Sometimes I even cut myself to see how much it bleeds
It’s like adrenaline, the pain is such a sudden rush for me
See everything you say is real, and I respect you ’cause you tell it
My girlfriend’s jealous ’cause I talk about you 24/7
But she don’t know you like I know you Slim, no one does
Stan also falls for the trap that every over-zealous fan of any artist has done at least once in their fandom — superimposing their life onto their hero’s. Many-a-times we compare our lives with our favourite artists to find a common thread. That search for ‘He’s / She’s like me!’ drives fans to scrutinize every detail of their heroes. And even Stan is susceptible to this. He finds Slim’s troubled childhood and a missing father-figure as a good point, as he can now connect their stories. But even as Stan lists out commonalities between him and Slim, he isn’t guaranteed a reply. And this where he reaches a state of psychotic rage in his third letter of the track.
Dear Mister “I’m Too Good To Call Or Write My Fans”
This will be the last package I ever send your ass
It’s been six months and still no word, I don’t deserve it?
If it was a gloomy track till now, this is where it turns into a horror show. Stan is out on a personal vendetta against Slim, and the ones who are going to suffer are his pregnant girlfriend and him. In a case of absolute domestic violence and misogyny-laced madness Stan ties his girlfriend and packs her in the trunk of his car. Doped with copious amounts of downers and drunk on vodka, he’s set to end both his and his girlfriend's life by drowning. And even in this moment of hara-kiri he blames Slim for all of this madness.
You know the song by Phil Collins, “In the Air of the Night”
About that guy who could a saved that other guy from drowning
But didn’t, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?
That’s kinda how this is, you could a rescued me from drowning
Now it’s too late, I’m on a thousand downers now, I’m drowsy
And all I wanted was a lousy letter or a call
As death looms Stanley makes his last plea to Slim. In a desperate act of romanticism he begs Slim to see what could have been. Him and Slim.
Stanley’s rant on the track just scratches on the surface what his darker secrets are. It’s more than the lines he spits, it’s what hides between them. His descent into the pits of violent psychotic behavior points at issues that should have been diagnosed and treated earlier. ADHD, rage, split personality, suppressed sexuality — they all plague Stan as he seeks an escape through Slim. He blames Slim’s ignorance as the cause of his troubles, but in reality they were there all along. And when Slim finally sits down to reply to his fan, it’s when the listener deciphers the code.
Stan addresses every letter to his idol Slim, but at the end the one who replies to them is someone completely different. Bespectacled, calm and composed in his trailer van we meet Marshall Mathers. The creator of Slim Shady is nowhere near the mad, verse-slinging, abuse-hurlin’ definition of Slim Shady that we have known till now. And that’s when the message is clear even for us viewers. The artist need not be an embodiment of his art at all times. Marshall tries to empathize with the fan, apologizes for being late to reply and suggests that he gets medical attention and look after his pregnant girlfriend. He makes it clear that what he says as Slim is just a gimmick and that shouldn’t let his fans disrupt their lives.
I say that shit just clownin' dog, come on, how fucked up is you?
At a climactic end, Marshall pleads to his fan that he shouldn’t end up doing something crazy. He states that he recently saw on TV this case about a drunk driver who crashed his car and drowned along with his pregnant girlfriend. Come to think about it, his name was…
In 2000 Eminem was the poster-boy for hip-hop, popular music and MTV. That meant anyone who heard his songs, saw him live or on the telly believed that Slim Shady and Eminem were one and the same. Slim was funny,cocky, nasty, violent, hip-hop’s jack-in-the-box and offstage they expected Eminem or Marshall to be the same. Stan was Eminem’s cautionary tale to his fans that they shouldn’t believe or act upon whatever he said as Slim. When the curtains open Slim steps out to entertain, but when they close Marshall is as human as any of us. He reminds us to not let the glamour, media attention and spotlight upon him blur our logical reasoning. He wants us to know when to separate the creation from its creator, art from reality, idolatry from inspiration and a Stan from a fan.
Eminem got the idea for Stan when he received a sample from his producer 45 King featuring the intro to English singer-songwriter Dido’s track ‘Thank You’. When he heard the line “Your picture on my wall” he instantly imagined an obsessed fan looking at his hero’s photo-frame. That’s when Stan walked in.