During the four years between "Encore" and "Relapse," Eminem grappled with events that would turn anyone's life upside down: the death of best friend and fellow Detroit rapper DeShaun "Proof" Holton in 2004; a second divorce from his high school sweetheart, Kimberly Mathers, in 2006; and a deepening dependency on pills. When he says, "Technically, I'm not even supposed to be here right now," on the introduction to "Recovery" cut "Cinderella Man," he's not joking.
"Anybody who's known someone fighting this kind of addiction knows it can be extremely challenging," says Paul Rosenberg, Eminem's longtime manager. "During that period I lost a friend, and I certainly didn't have as much of a business partner. All that's back now, though, and it's incredible."
Like "Relapse" before it, "Recovery" could be considered a personal triumph just by nature of its existence. But the album succeeds at far more than that. Eminem has written his most complete rhymes in years, and while Slim Shady -- the completely offensive alter ego that made him such a cultural hot button in the early aughts -- is largely absent on "Recovery," the severance feels necessary for an MC who will turn 38 in October.
For the first time, too, Eminem collaborated with producers outside of his tight-knit circle (Dr. Dre, Mike Elizondo, Mark Batson), employing Just Blaze, Boi-1da, Jim Jonsin and others. The result sounds quite literally like a new beginning, both reinforcing Eminem's lyrical dominance and presenting a clearer vision of his potential as a mature artist.
"It's everything that you would want to hear from him at this point in his career," says DJ Khalil, who helped craft four tracks on "Recovery," the most of any producer. "He's the best rapper, period, and he has a lot to say right now."
"As ["Relapse"] was coming along, I heard the song structures and production get broader and better," Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine says. "It all came together in the last month or two to a real crescendo. His last albums haven't sold as much, but this one will appeal to a much broader base. He shows all the signs of being one of the great lyricists, on par with [Bruce] Springsteen, Bono and [Bob] Dylan."