Eminem’s memoir, The Way I Am, borrows its title from his 2000 single about the over-the-top trappings of fame, in which he vents: “I’m racin’, I’m pacin’, I stand and I sit/And I’m thankful for every fan that I get/But I can’t take a shit in the bathroom/Without someone standin’ by it.”
The book explores the rapper’s childhood and teenage years in Detroit, his underdog struggle as an emerging musician and young father, his rise to unexpected levels of success and fame, the methods and serendipity behind his songwriting process, and the reconciliation of his family and musical future. Recalling his early struggles, Eminem catalogues how he risked physical harm and ridicule to hone his craft and build his reputation; now, a decade later, he is essentially a recluse, staying out of the public eye because people react to his celebrity as if he were the “Loch Ness Monster.”
The Way I Am opens with a eulogy for Proof, best friend and rap partner, who was murdered in 2006. “He was the only reason I stopped getting my ass whipped. I’m not going to sugarcoat it—he was my ghetto pass. I don’t know if anybody realizes it; that’s why I’m saying it now. He didn’t give a fuck about being called an Uncle Tom for being down with me. He stuck up for me like we were literally brothers[…] He was a brilliant cat who saw things in me that I didn’t see yet, and I guess I was smart enough to understand that he was the dude who could somehow save my life.”
This satisfying opening chronicles Eminem’s practice fist fights with Proof; they partook in rhyming and improvisation exercises immediately after punching each other in the face, to stay sharp and on point. Here he lets his guard down, so to speak, but the promise of intimacy is not fulfilled elsewhere in the book. Marshall Mathers (a.k.a. Eminem, a.k.a. Slim Shady) briefly considers his role in Proof’s death, but drops the issue without providing any factual context or following his ponderings to any conclusions. Many other key biographical issues – drugs, his ex-wife, his mother, his father – are similarly alluded to without the full exploration we ravenous readers demand, making several chapters read like filler.
Concrete details and emotional explanations are slim pickings, as if the text were comprised of posthumous discoveries. But Mathers is still alive! Maybe the photo-rich coffee table packaging is responsible for disrupting the text (and for the $40 sticker); The Way I Am is a fickle memoir, rendered in broad strokes. The tone is conversational, like smoothed-over transcripts and journal entries, with much of his vernacular maintained (such as his shoplifted winter jacket having “mad pockets”).
The memoir ends with a meditation on mentoring the next generation of rappers and musicians, a discussion that echoes the intimacy of his relationship with Proof. Elsewhere, Eminem flashes occasional insights on fatherhood and fame, but always holding back or downplaying the authentic personal details, so that in the end, the memoir’s title comes to read not as a promise of accuracy and self-analysis but as an opaque copout, a shrug.
Eminem’s career-long expressiveness and provocation are both a gift and curse. His lyrics and interviews have always been so informative that we don’t learn much new information in The Way I Am, and readers may prefer his previous book, Angry Blonde, in which he discusses the origin of many of his songs.
The Way I Am includes a DVD, stuck in the back like the gum inside a pack of trading cards. In the “mini-documentary” it contains, Eminem talks about being a father before a rapper (he is the father or custodian of three adolescent girls). But it could have included new footage, some live clips, or shots of Eminem in his home studio, and the book itself might have included timelines or third-party accounts from the media to clarify still-vague accounts of events many readers will already know about.
On the other hand, Proof does manage to slap the camera man (usually Eminem) upside the head a handful of times, giving us a glimpse of the quick jab that taught Mathers how to fight.
This largely vague memoir is written “with” Sacha Jenkins (Ego Trip and Piecebook: The Secret Drawings of Graffiti Writers), and many sections relate to art and the creative process. But despite including photos of Eminem’s visual artwork, and a dozen or so original lyric sheets with annotations, readers don’t get much inside scoop. Discussions like the following analysis of Eminem’s “slant rhyming” are all too rare:
“[I’ve been praised for] putting together words that weren’t supposed to rhyme—where I flipped the way I was enunciating them. For example, ‘Look at the store clerk, he’s older than George Burns.’ ‘Store clerk’ and ‘George Burns’ don’t rhyme, technically… Some cats in the game have really picked up on that.”
Neil Strauss, who assisted Marilyn Manson with his disturbing memoir, The Long Hard Road out of Hell, might have been better equipped to coax readable content out of the rapper. Pain and hardship may be a valuable source of Eminem’s rage and energy as a performer, but in a memoir clogged with repression it just gets frustrating.