How would you describe your dynamic?
Paul Rosenberg: I officially started working with him in ’97, so this is the 20th year. It’s 20 years of being in business with each other and being friends.
Eminem: Twenty years of hell. [Laughs.]
Rosenberg: There are moments when it’s extremely serious and intense, and there are other moments where it’s very lighthearted and, dare I say, juvenile.
Eminem: You dare say.
How did you meet?
Rosenberg: When I was in law school in Detroit, I used to go to this place called the Hip-Hop Shop, which was on 7 Mile Road. It was a clothing store that turned into an open-mic, freestyle-battle place on Saturdays. One day [Eminem’s close friend, the late Detroit rapper] Proof pulled me aside and said, “Hey, I want you to stay after open mic today so you can check out my man.” Proof wanted me to check him out because he knew that my goal in law school was to become a music lawyer, and he looked at me as somebody who might be able to help artists in the local community be able to make connections after I had graduated and started a career. So I stayed and he cleared everybody out, and in comes this guy --
Eminem: I had stopped rapping for probably six, seven months. It just felt like it wasn't really going anywhere. We were living in the attic at Kim’s mom’s house that we had turned into a room. Now, I hadn't heard from Proof in like three months at this time. I knew he was still doing his thing; I didn't know to the extreme, that it was to the level it was at. But Proof called me and he was like, “Yo, write something, come here tomorrow and say it, and if you don’t like it you don’t ever have to do it again.” It was like 10 or 15 people. I don’t remember meeting you that day.
Rosenberg: I remember you showed up with Kim [Mathers, now Scott, Eminem’s ex-wife]. You were wearing this white sweatsuit.
Eminem: Yeah, that I always wore. [Laughs.] I rapped and I got a good reaction, and from that point I just started writing again.
Rosenberg: Then a few months later, you put out [independent debut] Infinite, which I bought from you for, like, six bucks on cassette. And that's how we met.
What led to you guys working together?
Rosenberg: I thought he was really talented, but at that point he hadn't figured out who he was yet as an artist. He was trying to sound like other people, like Nas --
Eminem: I wasn't trying to sound like other people -- I just kinda did. [Laughs.] I was a cross between AZ, Nas, Souls of Mischief, Redman, all the great hip-hop that was out at the time.
Rosenberg: I moved to New York and started studying for the bar [exam] and stayed in touch with everybody from the music scene in Detroit. At one point, [a friend] hit me up and said, “You got to check out the new stuff Eminem’s doing.” So I got his number, called him up and [asked him to] send it to me. I got the cassette, listened to it and I was really blown away. I realized that he had found his voice; he stopped being so self-aware and self-conscious about what he was saying and how he was saying it and just sounded like somebody, for lack of a better description, who didn't give a fuck. And it really came across in the music. So I called him up and [asked] if I could represent him. That's how it started; I was his music attorney.
Eminem: And then I would make trips back and forth with friends to New York.
Rosenberg: Yeah, and that's how the friendship started to grow. Neither of us had any money, so he would literally sleep on my couch and we just figured it out. And when you say we pounded the pavement, we literally pounded the pavement, because again, you couldn't send stuff electronically. I had to literally go to clubs with an armful of records and hand them to DJs and get in front of Stretch Armstrong and Tony Touch and Clark Kent like, "Hey, I'm Paul, I want you to check out Eminem." And to this day, I've got relationships with these guys, and I met them from handing them records. I don't want to sound like the old guy reminiscing and being nostalgic, but that face time, that human connection, it's difficult to replace. And I think there's value in that, and we miss that today.
What stories from back then stick out now?
Eminem: I remember I was recording with The Outsidaz, just writing rhymes. They were in The Fugees' video for "Cowboys" and stuff like that, so they were starting to get a really big buzz. And they let me open up with them for a Wu-Tang [Clan] show --
Rosenberg: It was in Staten Island at Park Hill Day in the Park Hill Projects -- they had it every summer. The Outsidaz performed, and then when Wu-Tang came on a huge fight broke out, and Method Man jumped down from the speakers into the crowd. I think somebody shot a gun in the air and a stampede started; Marshall looked at me, I looked at him, and one of us screamed, “Run!” [Both laugh.] There was another time where I was living in Jersey City [N.J.] and I had a bunch of roommates, but we had a loft area in the apartment where I had a couch and a TV set up, and that’s where Marshall would sleep.
Eminem: You had cockroaches the size of fucking mice. I slept in that one room where the mattress was on the floor, and I woke up in the morning and I heard the roach before I fucking saw it! I never saw a roach that fucking big in my life. It was like a human. And when I stepped on it, it fucking screamed. [Laughs.] It was like, “Ahh! You killed me! Staaahp!”
Rosenberg: That was at my apartment in Queens -- those were New York roaches, they were way tougher. [Laughs.] But I’m talking about after that. This was a little bit nicer; I still had four roommates, but there weren't roaches, and it was in Jersey City. [The Slim Shady LP] was about to come out, and we had just finished shooting the “My Name Is” video -- still broke, still sleeping on the couch. We had MTV on, and they played the video. That was the first time we had seen him on TV. We thought that was it: “Oh, my God, we’re out of here.”
Eminem: I don’t know if I thought that, but I for sure thought, “This is really happening?” It was so surreal that I was just in a haze the whole time. I think we walked down to that pier or some shit just bugging out, just like, "I can't even believe..." It had almost happened for me so many times by that point that it was almost like, “This has got to be too good to be true.”
Was there a moment when you realized you actually had made it? Is that even a feeling?
Eminem: I mean, shit... When we went to the Interscope office and [Dr.] Dre walked in, that was crazy. When I was rapping at Dre's house, the studio he had at his house, the first day we made three or four songs in a couple hours. You know, it was one of those things where I tried not to get my hopes up just to get let down again, or jinx it or something. So I don't know. I don't know what that moment would have been --
Rosenberg: It's hard to pinpoint. I think it's a series of events where you see these highlights: sign the deal, go to L.A. to work with Dre, Snoop's in the studio, hand in records, video on MTV, cover of Rolling Stone, going on tour, TRL --
Eminem: I remember, I had just signed a deal and we were going back and forth to L.A., and my mother had this trailer [in Detroit]. People knew that I was in that trailer, because I would play basketball at the park [nearby]. But when they put two and two together, it just became knocking on the door constantly. It was right after the video came out. And I was getting mad. [Laughs.] Like, “Aw, fuck. I guess this is happening.”