When Eminem released his surprise album Kamikaze back in August, he didn’t bother with a press tour or the old-school media song and dance. Instead, he dropped a link to buy the album on Twitter, told fans he “Tried not 2 overthink this 1” and added a middle finger emoji.
Because just as he’s done many times before, Eminem decided to let the music speak for itself. And to no one’s surprise, the rapper’s tenth studio album was chock-full of controversial lyrics—including anti-gay slurs (which he later regretted) and targeted attacks on fellow rappers and politicians.
Kamikaze had all the headline-making, think piece-generating themes we’ve come to expect from an Eminem album. And it was an instant commercial success, too, selling 434,000 album-equivalent units in its first week to secure the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart.
But when it came to the court of public opinion, Kamikaze—much like the rest of Eminem’s life and career—received very mixed reviews. And it’s been like this for the rapper, who’s celebrating his 46th birthday today, ever since most of us were introduced to his Slim Shady alter ego nearly 20 years ago.
It was 1999, and Marshall Bruce Matters III (aka Eminem) was Dr. Dre’s newest protégé. The Detroit-based MC stood out from the get-go—and not just because he was a white rapper in a predominantly black industry. He had a rhyming style and delivery unlike anything we’d heard before.