For his Billboard cover feature on Eminem’s return and his new album “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” which at an estimated 750k first-week sales is projected to be the second-largest debut of the year, Billboard’s Reggie Ugwu spoke at length to Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg about their marketing strategy, including his video release during a college football game, their lucrative deal with Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game series, partnering with Beats for a VMAs boost, his surprise at something not leaking as well as Slim Shady’s sobriety. Pick up this issue here. Subscribe to Billboard here.
Billboard: When the first Marshall Mathers LP came out in 2000, Eminem had taken the country by storm. It was Marshall mania from “TRL” to the nightly news. But now artists rarely command that kind of attention on a national scale. A lot of those platforms just aren’t there any more, for one thing. It seems like you guys really tried a different, more brand-centric approach for getting the word out.
Paul Rosenberg: The world is different. It’s very different. Whereas before, to your point, you would have been looking to some sort of MTV space or other music partner space on broadcast or cable television to debut a music video, this time we went somewhere completely different. We debuted the [“Berzerk”] video on a college football game [Michigan vs. Notre Dame on ESPN’s “Saturday Night Football”].
I know a lot of people complain that MTV doesn’t play music videos, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Kids don’t want to sit there and watch whatever video you want to show them. They want to see what they want to see when they want to see it, because they have the ability to do so. So why would you even play [music videos]? Who cares if you get 10 million views on YouTube or Vevo versus 10 million eyeballs on MTV. I would argue that the people watching on the computer are much more engaged, because they’re seeing something they’re asking to see. So I don’t understand the complaints.
What do you look for in a partner when it comes to premiering music or putting Em in a campaign?
It’s really about getting his music and message out there to a very broad audience, because he has a broad audience. That said, the partners have to make sense. There’s gotta be something that there’s a connection to. For Eminem, I think his fans wouldn’t really understand it if there wasn’t a clear connection, because that’s just the type of artist that he’s been. That’s one of the reasons that the Chrysler commercial we did [in 2011] was so powerful because that connection between him and the city of Detroit is just so genuine and people could feel that, so I think that’s we want people to feel with all of the marketing efforts we do.
You guys have a very deep partnership with the video game “Call of Duty: Ghosts” for the album. Both the game and the album launch on Nov. 5 and the game features the song “Survival,” which is on the album and had its world premiere at a Call of Duty event. Why were they the right fit?
We’ve worked with the Call of Duty guys before on the “Black Ops” game and “DJ Hero.” They actually came to us last year asking if we wanted to do something for the last game, but we were kind of off cycle at the time and it just didn’t work out. But it’s a relationship that’s grown over time. The first time they came to us they just licensed music. The second time they came to us we did more and we performed for them at one of their events. This time there was a bigger opportunity because we were coming at it really early. It was like “We’ve got a piece of music, let’s integrate it into the game. Don’t just make it a part of the spots, which it’s going to be, but let’s figure out a way to get out ahead of it and make it into the game itself.”
And then they came to us and said, by the way, why don’t we do a music video together where we can accomplish the purposes that we want with you at the same time and really give this relationship some energy. And then the Game Stop component came into it, so it just made a lot of sense for us and for them.
I think the tone of those games and the aggression of them and how passionate people are about them is something that we like being associated with. And further than that, they’ve done actual studies about what their fans listen to, and time and time again Eminem comes up as a really big artist for them. So it works both ways. For us, we get to be involved in something that’s so massive and global, and for them it speaks to something that their fan base is passionate about — and we think our fan base is passionate about them, too. And [“Survival”] just really matches the vibe of the game.
You also partnered with Beats to announce the album in a commercial promoting their headphones during the VMAs. Tell me about that team up and why you broke the news that way.
The partnership with Beats is the relationship with Em, [Dr.] Dre and Jimmy [Iovine, who, along with Dr. Dre, founded Beats Electronics in 2008], from the beginning of time. That’s really where that comes from. When we were discussing who the potential partners were going to be for this record, it was the first time that Beats was able to come in and say “Hey, we’re the right partner for you, because there’s obvious natural synergy, and by the way, we’re a really big company now and we can do this.”
When we started talking about it, I really liked what they did with the Robin Thicke spot where the commercial for the [Beats] Pill just really looked like a piece of the video. When we were discussing it that was the approach. So we shot the commercial and the video at the same time.
As part of it, since the timing worked out so well, we said let’s also do a teaser and announce this partnership and the album at the same time. People didn’t know the name of the album, they didn’t know who the executive producers were, they didn’t know when it was dropping, they hadn’t heard the music and they didn’t know about the Beats partnership, and we gave them all of that in 15 seconds. To me that was this awesome, exciting thing we did. And, by the way, the fact that none of that leaked is a modern miracle to me. But we were extremely tight-lipped about it.
We actually had wanted to be at the VMAs but we couldn’t because we had already booked a festival. We were doing the Reading and Leeds festival, which is a huge U.K. festival. And we booked it before we knew the date for the VMAs. So we were a little bummed out because we had done great things with MTV before and they’re great partners for us and obviously that’s an audience that Marshall connects with. The commercial was a way for us to be there without being there.
A lot has changed in Eminem’s personal life, as well. He’s been through a lot over the past several years.
He’s five years sober, so things are a lot different. But it’s not as different now as it was when he first went into recovery. There was a time during that period where I felt like I was sort of meeting him again for the first time. He came out of this like horrible spell and he just wasn’t himself. But then as I got to know him again as he is now. It’s been really great. It was hard to connect with him when he wasn’t present. And now [that] he’s present, he’s a much better partner. I think his art’s a lot better and we have a lot more fun doing it. Our relationship both professionally and as friends is stronger than ever.
What was it like watching someone you’re so close to go through something like that?
It was horrible. It was difficult in a lot of ways. It was sad because of his condition and we were worried about his health first and foremost, but beyond that. Trying to keep everything running when you don’t have a partner who is so important to the brand that you’ve built together and he’s just not present and unable to contribute, it’s just… very difficult. But we were definitely most worried about his health and wellbeing.
“The Monster” with Rihanna seems like an obvious smash. Historically it seems like he’s been really deliberate about his singles and going for that broad audience.
Well he’s obviously conscious about radio. He’s an artist who’s supported by radio and played on the radio, so for him to say “I’m not gonna pay attention to any of that” wouldn’t be honest. And when you get a chorus like the one on “The Monster” and somebody sends him that track, it’s hard to not pay attention to that and what it could be. But it’s sort of a challenge for him. He considers himself as, really, primarily a rapper. So the most enjoyable thing for him to do in the studio is just to go in there and rip things to shreds. That’s what he likes. He’s passionate about that. So when it comes to the other stuff, I think it’s a little bit more of a task for him. A task that he enjoys, but still something that might not be 100 percent natural as “I’m just gonna go rap.”
Was it a tough call to reopen the legacy of the first “Marshall Mathers” LP?
When he approached me with it I definitely thought it was a bold idea and we had several discussions about it. But what he ultimately said was “Look, people can say whatever they want to but this is the project that I want to make. This is a revisitation. There’s some themes and topics that I don’t feel like I’ve finished talking about yet that I want to go back and readdress. If people are going to hold it up to the other one and make those comparisons then so be it.”
He’s also not the type of person who will sit back and say “Yeah, that album was incredible. It’s a classic hip hop album.” Those words would never come out of his mouth. He doesn’t look at himself like that. He doesn’t look at his material like that. He knows that people revere that album, and people like some albums more than others, but he would never look at it as some sort of standard. It’s just one of his projects.
I think he felt compelled to revisit some of those themes, some of those topics that were really dangling out there for him in his mind. And then also for him to look at that record and the effect that it had on him and people around him and feel like he could address that, too. Which I think he did.
Is there a competition now between the two albums?
For me, I don’t think he can compete with himself. It was a different time period, it was a different record and he’s a different guy now, you know? To compete with yourself in what sense? Is it gonna sell as many records? The industry is half the size that it was, I don’t see how it can. So competition? No. I think people are lucky to get a guy who’s as creative and brilliant as him who’s willing to take that task on honestly. And for us to be able to hear what he has to say about some of this 12, 13 years later. It’s pretty awesome that he’s up for that task.