Release date: May 2009
Relapse is the sixth studio album by American rapper Eminem, released May 15, 2009, on Interscope Records. It is his first album of original material since Encore (2004), following a five-year hiatus from recording due to his addiction to sleeping pills and issues with writer's block. Recording sessions for the album took place during 2007 to 2009 at several recording studios, and production was handled primarily by Dr. Dre, Mark Batson, and Eminem. Conceptually, Relapse concerns the ending of his drug rehabilitation, rapping after a fictional relapse, and the return of his Slim Shady alter-ego.
One of the most anticipated album releases of 2009, Relapse debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 608,000 copies in its first week. It produced three singles that attained chart success and has been certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The album received generally mixed reviews from most music critics, who were mostly divided in their responses towards Eminem's lyrics. It earned him two Grammy Awards and has sold over two million copies in the United States.
Since 2005, Eminem had intended to take a break from recording his own music in order to become a hip hop producer for other rap acts, especially for the artists signed on his own label Shady Records. However, Eminem entered his hiatus after cancelling the European leg of the Anger Management Tour in the summer of 2005 due to exhaustion and an addiction to sleeping pills. In the following year, the rapper's remarriage to his former wife Kimberly Scott lasted only eleven weeks before a second divorce, while his closest friend and fellow rapper DeShaun "Proof" Holton was later shot and killed during an altercation outside a nightclub in Detroit. Devastated, Eminem relapsed into prescription drug abuse and became increasingly reclusive.
In a June 2009 interview for XXL, Eminem elaborated on the impact of Proof's death on him, stating: "Everyone felt Proof's loss, from his kids, to his wife, to everyone. But, for some reason, in hindsight, the way I felt was almost like it happened to just me… Maybe at the time I was a little bit selfish with it. I think it kind of hit me so hard. It just blindsided me. I just went into such a dark place that, with everything, the drugs, my thoughts, everything. And the more drugs I consumed, and it was all depressants I was taking, the more depressed I became, the more self-loathing I became…"
Speculation on an upcoming album by Eminem was reported since mid–2007 from announcements made by artists 50 Cent and Stat Quo, a current and former member of Shady Records respectively. Also, rapper Bizarre — a member of the hip hop group D12 — stated that the release of the group's third studio album was on hold because Interscope Records wanted to release Eminem's album first. By the end of the year, additional musicians associated with Shady Records, including The Alchemist, Bishop Lamont, Cashis and Obie Trice had confirmed on different occasions that the rapper was effectively working on a new album. On September 12, 2007, during a call at the radio station WQHT Hot 97, Eminem stated that he was in limbo and was not sure whether he would release any new material in the near future. He then elaborated that at that point he was constantly working in the recording studio and had come to terms with his personal issues. In December 2007, however, Eminem was hospitalized due to an overdose of methadone. In early 2008, he began a 12-step program to recover from his addiction; in a later interview, he said he has been sober since April 20, 2008.
In the initial recording stages of Relapse, record producer and long-time Detroit collaborator Jeff Bass of the Bass Brothers worked with Eminem on 25 tracks, for two years after the rapper had received treatment for his sleeping pill addiction in 2005. Depressed by Proof's death, Eminem fell into a period of "writer's block", where he felt everything he wrote was not worth recording. To compensate for this, Bass chose to follow a production style that would allow the artist to rap "off the top of his head, as opposed to writing a story." Eminem would then freestyle or record vocals one line at a time before interrupting and then recording another line. At the same time, according to Eminem's song rights supervisor Joel Martin, the rapper began collecting additional songs without noticing it, as he would often record or produce material initially intended for the musical projects of other artists, but end up with tracks he really liked. "Beautiful", produced by Eminem, was the only song on Relapse that was recorded in these years while he was not sober.
Eminem purchased the Effigy Studio in Ferndale, Michigan, in 2007, and ended his working relationship with much of his former production team of the 54 Sound recording studio, including the Bass Brothers. He then continued recording the album with producer Dr. Dre, who in September 2007 stated his intention to dedicate two months to the production of Relapse. Working with Dr. Dre allowed Eminem to concentrate on the processes of songwriting rather than the production, which was largely taken care of by Dre. The rapper justified his choice of using Dr. Dre for the vast majority of the production due to their long collaborative history and a musical "chemistry" only he and Dr. Dre shared. This allowed the rapper to pick the beats from Dr. Dre's catalog that challenged him rhythm-wise in order to experiment with different flows. The making of the album progressed at the Effigy Studio up to a year after, as recording sessions were then moved to Orlando, Florida in September 2008. By then, Eminem had began to start writing verses again at such a pace that he often took more time to record the lyrics than write them. He credited sobriety for his new creative run, acknowledging that his mind was free of the clutter that "blocked" him during his drug abuse in the last years. The song-writing process would start by Dr. Dre giving a number of his beats on a CD to Eminem, who in a separate room in the studio would listen and select the ones he preferred and inspired him the most. Eminem would then write lyrics to the instrumentals, while Dr. Dre and his production staff continued to create new music. Once he felt he had written lyrics for enough songs, Eminem would dedicate an entire day to record his songs to the point that he would lose his voice for the following days. At that point, the rapper would then begin to write lyrics for new songs. The process continued for the next six months, and allowed Eminem to have enough material also for a second album, Relapse 2.
During this recording period, a handful of songs intended for Relapse were leaked on the Internet, including an incomplete version of "Crack a Bottle". The song was then finished in January 2009 with additional vocals from Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. Despite the leak, in February 2009 the album was being completed in a state of near-total secrecy, according to the British newspaper The Independent. Even Polydor Records, the multinational owner of Interscope, had no information on the album at the time. On April 23, Eminem suggested he and possibly Dr. Dre were the only ones in possession of the final copy of Relapse, while his manager Paul Rosenberg added that even Eminem's record labels were not in possession of the music at less than one month from the release date in order to prevent possible bootlegging.
In an interview for XXL, Eminem described the concept behind Relapse to be the ending of his drug rehabilitation and thus rap as if he was on drugs again, as well as the return of his fictional alter-ego Slim Shady. According to the interviewer Datwon Thomas, Eminem's influences for the album came from his own past drug issues, as well as television shows and documentaries involving crime and serial killers, as the rapper was fascinated by "serial killers and their psyche and their mind states".
In a May 2009 interview for The New York Times, Eminem discussed his view of serial killers, stating: "You listen to these people talk, or you see them, they look so regular. What does a serial killer look like? He don't look like anything. He looks like you. You could be living next door to one. If I lived next door to you, you could be one."
One of the most anticipated albums of 2009, Relapse was also the top-selling hip hop album of the year. Upon its release, the album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 608,000 copies in its first week of release. In Canada, the album sold 64,000 copies in its first week and debuted at #1 on the Canadian Albums Chart. Outside of North America, Relapse managed to reach the number one spot in its first week in various other countries including Australia, France, Norway, Denmark and New Zealand, while climbing into the Top 5 in many other countries, including Germany, Italy, Finland, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden. In its second week the album stayed at number one and sold a further 211,000 taking its total to 819,000 to become the fifth best-seller of the year. In the third week Relapse dropped to number two selling another 141,000 copies, bringing the total sales of the album in the US to 962,000 in only three weeks, Relapse dropped to number three in its fourth week selling 87,000 to push its total sales to 1,049,000 in the US. The next week, Relapse went down to number four and sold 72,000 units. In its sixth week Relapse was at the number five spot and sold another 47,000 copies, pushing its total sales to 1,169,000 in the US. Relapse dropped down to the number nine in its seventh week gaining sales of 39,000 taking its total US sales up to 1,207,000. Relapse remained at number nine in its eight week selling a further 34,000 copies pushing its total US sales to 1,241,000. It became the best selling rap album of 2009. By June 2010, the album had sold over 1,986,000 copies in the United States. Relapse had sold more than two million copies in the US. The album was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on August 27, 2010.