Eminem may be a veteran rapper with over two decades of experience in the industry, but that doesn’t mean the Oscar-winning emcee isn’t intimidated by other rappers. In fact, artists like LL Cool J make Eminem feel “freaked out inside.”
Eminem has met his ‘heroes’ in his music career
From his years rapping in Detroit to worldwide stardom today, Eminem has looked up to plenty of other rappers in the business. In a 2022 interview with XXL, the “Lose Yourself” emcee reflected on getting to meet — and in some cases, work with — many of them.
“The strangest and probably the greatest thing that’s happened to me over these past 25 years in a professional sense was getting to meet all my heroes. All the MCs who inspired me coming up,” he said. “It took me a long time to get over meeting Dre. When he walked into the room at Interscope, I was like, ‘What the f***in’ f***? This is really happening?'”
“And then getting to meet people like Treach, Redman, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Masta Ace, Rakim. I wouldn’t be here without all of them. That’s where I got my whole inspiration from. Just studying them,” he continued. “Kool G Rap would put f***in’ 10 words in two lines and it would rhyme, and they would fall right into each other. I studied that.”
“I listened to it, studied it, but also loved it, loved the music. Rappers like D.O.C., Tupac Shakur, and Biggie. Those were all my influences,” Em said. “I would never be anywhere near where I am today if it wasn’t for them.
“And to this day, I still get really f***in’ weird and freaked out inside when I talk to LL Cool J,” he added.
Eminem and LL Cool J’s friendship
LL Cool J in particular has been someone Eminem has looked up to since he was writing rhymes in high school. Everything changed when Em saw the music video for LL Cool J’s 1987 song “I’m Bad.”
“When I saw the ‘Bad’ video, I was like, ‘the f***?!’ He had the whole package — the look, the swag, the chain, everything! You know, you just wanted to be LL Cool J,” Em said in a 2021 episode of MTV’s Behind the Music series. “He was like the first rockstar of rap. I’m like, ‘Yo, I wanted that.’ That is what actually made me want to rap.”
Eminem eventually met LL Cool J in 1998 on the set of the music video for his Slim Shady EP single “Just Don’t Give a F***.” The young rapper couldn’t contain his excitement, and got to tell LL himself on his SiriusXM radio show Rock the Bells in 2018. “I’m like, ‘Yo, he’s in here by himself.’ I was buggin’ the f*** out,” Em recalled. “You quoted a lyric back to me. You said, ‘Yo, how can I be white / I don’t even exist.’ You quoting that lyric back to me, was like, I think I s*** myself.”
Eminem keeps up with new rappers’ music
Eminem finds competition in the rappers who came up after him, and he makes it a point to try to be the best in an ever-crowding field of talented rappers.
“My role in today’s hip-hop is to always try to be the best rapper. That’s it. That’s how I want to feel inside. That’s what I want to feel. And I can’t do that until I listen to what the f*** J. Cole just put out. What the f*** did Kendrick just put out? And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, these dudes ain’t playing,'” he said. “I don’t want to get swept away in that shuffle. I still want to let everybody know who the f*** I am… I’ll hear some s*** by them, and I’ll be like, ‘Yo, I ain’t the best rapper right now. I need to f***in’ get up, get back on my s***.”
For Eminem, it’s less about awards and records, and more about keeping up with the new generation of artists.
“At this point, a lot of the big achievements that could come in your career have happened for me already, so I don’t hyper-focus on numbers and being on charts. What I hyper-focus on is people like Kendrick Lamar, Joyner Lucas, J. Cole, and Big Sean, and watching them and how the f*** they’re doing their s***. Because they’re also focused on being the best rappers,” he said.
“I want to do things that nobody from this point on can ever top. Rap to a level that no one else could get to. And again, it’s subjective, and every rapper, especially rappers in competitive rap, wants to be the best rapper. So, I look for the younger generation to push me,” he continued. “I don’t have to make albums. I don’t have to do anything at this point. It’s about wanting to, and that’s never changed for me no matter what level the fame’s gotten to.”