After all the Rolling Stone covers, the Grammy awards, the Oscar, a 60 Minutes interview and the most successful 2000s of any pop star, it’s difficult to imagine Eminem as a hungry kid in Detroit, hustling his demo. Well, unless you watch 8 Mile. But what often goes overlooked in the story of Marshall Mathers is that he had a group before he was plucked from obscurity by Dr. Dre. Mathers formed Bad Meets Evil with a fellow son of Detroit, Ryan “Royce da 5'9" ” Montgomery, in 1997. You can probably guess which one is “Evil.” The duo had been on ice until the recent release of an EP, Hell: The Sequel. I chatted with the two old friends over the phone.
How did you two meet?
Eminem I don’t remember the beginning. So…
Royce I remember it. My memory’s better than his, and my memory’s actually fucking terrible. I was opening up a show for Usher in ’97. Em had a tape he was selling at the show, the Slim Shady EP.
Eminem I had a little booth set up.
Royce Yep, he had a little booth, and I did an a cappella on the spot that he liked. My manager introduced us. I’d heard of him, but he hadn’t heard of me before.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Royce I thought he was cool as hell, man. I listened to that EP and I was kind of scared of him.
Eminem I didn’t like Royce. I still don’t.… Nah. Bad and I have very similar personalities, a similar sense of humor. When we first linked up, we liked to joke around. That was one of the things that made us get cool so quick. Within a week or so, I went to one of his studios and we did a record we ended up calling “Bad Meets Evil.”
Royce He showed up to the studio by himself, which I thought was pretty cool.
Why? Did you expect an entourage?
Royce I don’t know. I know I never went nowhere by myself. He’s quite the loner.
Eminem [Laughs] I go a lot of places by myself.
Eminem, you earned your reputation at rap battles. You went up against a lot of Chicago MCs. Some of them still brag to this day, “I once beat Eminem!” What do you remember about those competitions?
Eminem Trying to think back, trying to think back. The only person’s name that rings a bell that I had battled was Juice. I know Juice had a reputation in the city and that was one of the first things that I had learned when I went to…Scribble Jam was in Ohio, wasn’t it?
Eminem Yeah, so I went to Cincinnati and Juice’s name was in people’s mouths. People were talking about him before I had even heard him. When I heard him I was like, “Uh oh. The dude is nice.” I can’t remember exactly how the battle went down, but I think we battled a couple of different times and it was a tiebreaker or some shit and then they ended up cutting the mics off, because we kept tying.
Here’s a line you threw at Juice: “You couldn’t make a crowd throw up their hands if they swallowed their fingers.”
Eminem What’s crazy is that I freestyled that right off the top of my head.… [Both laugh] No, I actually didn’t.
Royce I was about to say, you didn’t just come up with that shit on your own.
What’s your favorite moment on the Bad Meets Evil EP?
Eminem There were funny moments making these songs, where I would give him a certain line to play off. I gave him truculent. I was kind of a dick for that.
Royce Yes, you were. [Em laughs] I had to rhyme it with buckling and oven mitts.
How do you define the difference between bad and evil?
Royce The reason why I’m bad is because my content is more bad. Like, I might rap about having on some Gucci and slapping a bitch, and that’s bad.
Eminem Royce’s [persona] is a little more thuggish. Mine is probably a little more cynical. Like, he’ll put a cat in a microwave in his version. I’ll say he set the cat on fire. I wouldn’t put him in the microwave.
Is it harder to work a giant festival crowd?
Eminem Well, festivals are, I want to say, fairly new to me. I think I’ve done a few of them before? Like the Recovery album cycle? I think a few years ago in my hazier days. [Laughs]
Royce You can’t really put Em anywhere but a festival unless you’re going to put him in an arena. He’s stuck doing these shows.
Eminem It’s crazy to look out there and see that many fucking people.
Do you ever get the urge to dive into them?
Eminem I stopped jumping in the crowd a few years ago, when I jumped in the crowd and came up almost butt naked. You know what, I thought, I’m probably not going to do this anymore. I was cut the fuck up!
Eminem, aided by Royce, headlines Lollapalooza’s Music Unlimited stage on Saturday 6 at 8:30pm.