Eminem promised fans a different set of releases last year -- "Relapse" and "Relapse 2" -- but shifted gears almost as soon as he started the latter. In December, he dropped "Relapse: The Refill," a deluxe album with bonus new material, to keep fans satisfied as he kept recording.
"He already knew what sort of mistakes he had made with the previous album and where he wanted to go from there," says Just Blaze, who was the first producer to enter the studio with Eminem for "Recovery" sessions late last year.
"I would go back and listen to songs off 'The Marshall Mathers LP,' 'The Eminem Show' and some of 'Encore' and ask, 'Why don't my music feel like this anymore?' " Eminem recalls. " 'The Way I Am,' 'Criminal' and 'Toy Soldiers' were songs that meant something. I wanted there to be a reason why I was making each song, instead of making it just to make it."
Eminem recorded most of "Recovery" in his new hometown studio, built in part to combat his reclusive habits during addiction. "I still have the studio at my house, but it reminds me of when I was in a really dark place," he says. "As soon as all the pills were flushed out of my system and I started seeing things clearer, going downstairs in my basement and recording creeped me out a little bit."
While Eminem and Just Blaze had planned to work together for years, the rapper's collaborations with other producers came about differently. Most sent demos directly to his manager and de facto A&R exec Rosenberg first, then waited for a callback.
"I've always given my opinion on the creative side, but in terms of bringing him tracks it's the most involved I've been," Rosenberg says.
Jim Jonsin says he went for a "soulful, Southern rock feel" on "Space Bound" and heard from Rosenberg shortly after sending the demo. Within three days, Jonsin met Eminem in Detroit. "He had already done his vocals before I got there, so we just polished it up and tried out other song ideas," he says.
Khalil sent several beats to Rosenberg after hearing that Eminem admired some of his recent work, such as Clipse and Kanye West's "Kinda Like a Big Deal." His mentor Dr. Dre gave him a call around the time of the Grammy Awards in February and told him to meet them in Los Angeles. "Dre was like, 'Yo, Em wants to meet you,' " he recalls. "It was a dream come true."
Alex Da Kid, who produced the standout ballad "Love the Way You Lie," featuring Rihanna, says that Shady senior director of A&R Rigo Morales "heard my beat and what I had done with B.o.B on 'Airplanes,' and I guess they realized they kind of liked me."
Rosenberg says of "Love the Way You Lie," which chronicles an abusive relationship, "Marshall wrote it with Rihanna in mind and hoped that she was open to taking on that subject matter. She heard it and thought that it would be a great opportunity to do that."
All together, Eminem says he recorded "at least three or four albums' worth" of material for "Recovery." "I must have gone through 200-300 beats," he says. "I probably picked a hundred of them and made songs to all of them and then nailed it down. I wanted to put the best of the best on this record."
The perfectionism paid off most on "You're Never Over," a heart-wrenching tribute to Proof that his most devout fans are citing as a breakthrough. Eminem himself hasn't seen the feedback ("I can't read the comments, man. I'll go fucking crazy"), but he says it's especially meaningful in this case.
"It makes me feel like, 'Finally, I got it,' " he says. "It took me a long time to write the right song for him, and I think two things came into play with that. One was just being in a better place to be able to deal with it. And as soon as I got that beat from Just, the chorus came in my head and I was like, 'Yo, this could be it.' I wrote anywhere from eight to 10 records about Proof, but nothing was right until I got that beat."