Bizarre childhood of Eminem’s daughter
97' Bonnie & Clyde is probably the most divisive track on Eminem's 1999 breakthrough rap album.
It has none of the brash, demanding, look-at-me bravado of My Name Is, Eminem's most iconic single. And yet, 97' Bonnie & Clyde is much more controversial than My Name Is because it is a song about Eminem's alter ego Slim Shady taking a ride with his toddler daughter to dump her mother's body in a lake. (One lyric reads: "There goes Mama, splashing in the water/No more fighting with Dad, no more restraining order.")
In the background of the track, as Eminem croons "Just the two of us/Just you and I!" over and over again, a baby girl's gurgle can be heard. That is the voice of Hailie Jade Scott Mathers, Eminem's then three-year-old daughter.
Because of its subject matter, there is no way 97' Bonnie & Clyde could have been released today. Back in 1997, when Eminem first wrote the track, it was in reference to his tumultuous relationship with his on-again, off-again long-term girlfriend Kim Scott.
The song was written during a time in their affair when Kim wanted to prevent him from seeing Hailie, and Eminem, incensed at the possibility of being separated from the baby he loved so much, spat out the lyrics in retaliation.
Ultimately, after marrying, divorcing, remarrying and divorcing again, Kim and Eminem maintain a civil relationship. Eminem has even apologised to Kim for being a "bad husband" in the 2017 single of the same name. Their relationship has improved because of Hailie, the couple's now-23-year-old daughter and one of the driving forces in Eminem's life.
"I'm not as religious as I should be, but we do try and instil it in our daughter," Eminem once said of Hailie. "We try to teach her wrong from right, having been as wrong as we've been."
A CHRISTMAS GIFT
On December 25, 1995, Hailie was born.
At the time, Eminem and Kim were living in Detroit, Michigan. Eminem was 23, with an unsuccessful debut album already under his belt. The Mathers family was living with Kim's twin sister Dawn (and her daughter Alaina who Eminem would later adopt) in a neighbourhood Rolling Stone once described as "crack-infested".
"The neighbourhoods we lived in f***ing sucked," Kim told Rolling Stone. "I went through four TVs and five VCRs in two years."
Once, a thief broke into their house to make himself a peanut butter sandwich. "He left the peanut butter, jelly, all the sh*t out and didn't steal nothing," Eminem recalled to the magazine. "But then he came back again and took everything but the couches and beds. The pillows, clothes, silverware - everything. We were f***in' f**ked."
Pretty soon, the neighbourhood became too bad to ignore. For a while, the young family moved back in with Eminem's mother, and then, later, Kim and Hailie bunked with her mother, while Eminem crashed with some friends. None of these arrangements lasted for a long time.
When Hailie was an infant, Eminem worked as a cook at a family restaurant in Detroit to pay the bills, writing rap songs in spare moments. Even when he was on the job, cooking, he was thinking of rhymes. "We used to send back orders to him and he'd rap them," Sue DuPont, a waitress at the restaurant told The Los Angeles Times.
Sometimes, he would share the lyrics he was working on with his colleagues. One of them was a dark meditation on killing his partner, lyrics that would go on to form the basis of 97' Bonnie & Clyde.
"I told him it was morbid killing your baby's mother," Lynn Hunt, another waitress, told The Los Angeles Times. "He told me, 'Yeah, but it will get me somewhere someday'."
Working in the kitchen wouldn't last. Eminem was fired from the job just days before Hailie's first birthday.
"That was the worst time ever, dog," he told Rolling Stone. "It was like, five days before Christmas, which is Hailie's birthday. I had, like, $40 to get her something."
It was one of Eminem's lowest moments. "I wrote Rock Bottom right after that," he said.
In 1997, Eminem travelled to Los Angeles to compete in the Rap Olympics. (Yes, such a thing exists.) He didn't win, placing second, but it was there that he caught the eyes, or rather the ears, of Dr Dre. "I said, 'Find him. Now'," Dre has recalled. "I was like: 'What the f**k. And who the f**k is that?'"
Eminem had almost made it. All he had to do was stay in Los Angeles and record that breakthrough debut album in a dingy studio in Burbank. The only problem was Kim and Hailie were back in Michigan.
They visited on occasion. But Kim and Eminem's relationship was in one of its "off" phases, something that seeped into the lyrics of 97' Bonnie & Clyde and its later partner track Kim. Still, Eminem wired money back regularly for Hailie.
"It was a pretty crazy relationship, love-hate," producer Jeff Bass told the Detroit Free Press. "The only time he'd really go home from LA was for Hailie."
"Hailie was his number one priority," Karen Pinegar, office manager at Mix Room, added. "It was all about the baby. That's what he cared about and talked about."
The album, named The Slim Shady LP, was released in February 1999 and ended up going triple platinum as one of the year's most popular records. It was dedicated to Hailie.
SONGS ABOUT HAILIE
Over the course of his career, Eminem wrote several songs about his daughter.
Some of them, like 97' Bonnie & Clyde, featured her voice. Another called My Dad's Gone Crazy even featured her warbling along on the hook, something that earned Hailie a Guinness World Record as the Youngest R & B Chart Entrant. (She was six years and 210 days old when that song was released in 2002.)
"That's my little girl, you know she's goofy too," Eminem said. "One day we were in the studio doing a song and she was like, 'Somebody help me, I think my dad's gone crazy'. I said, 'Hailie, what did you say?' She said it again and then said, 'Daddy I want to do it on the mic'. I said, 'OK'. I got her in the booth."
Previously, to lay down the gurgle noises you hear on 97' Bonnie & Clyde, Eminem had to sneak Hailie into the recording studio. "I lied to Kim and told her I was taking Hailie to Chuck E Cheese that day," he told Rolling Stone. "But I took her to the studio. When she found out I used our daughter to write a song about killing her, she f***ing blew. We had just got back together for a couple of weeks. Then I played her the song, and she bugged the f**k out."
At the time, Eminem hadn't played the song to then-four-year-old Hailie. "When she gets old enough, I'm going to explain it to her," he told Rolling Stone. "I'll let her know that Mommy and Daddy weren't getting along at the time. None of it was to be taken literally."
There were other songs, too, that didn't feature Hailie's voice but rather her spirit, some 22 in total.
The most famous of which is Hailie's Song, which Eminem wrote for his daughter when she was seven. "My baby girl keeps getting older/I watch her grow up with pride," Eminem raps. Later on this track, he calls Hailie his reason for living and his saviour.
Hailie is also mentioned on Cleaning Out My Closet, in which Eminem raps about his estranged mother, telling her she'll never see her "beautiful" granddaughter again. On Mockingbird, which was inspired by the lowest points in the Mathers' family history, Eminem apologised for any pain he had caused his daughter in the past.
"I know you miss your dad when I'm gone/But I'm tryin' to give you the life that I never had," he raps. "No more crying', wipe them tears/Daddy's here, no more nightmares."
FROM LOVING ODES TO DISS TRACKS
There was also the 2003 diss track Hailie's Revenge, in which Hailie joined her father on a song calling out Ja-Rule. (Previously, Ja-Rule had slammed Kim as a "known slut, what's Hailie gon' be when she grows up?")
On this track, Eminem sings out to his daughter. "Hailie, come here baby. Bring Daddy his Oscar," he yells. (Eminem had picked up an Oscar in 2003 for Best Original Song for the track Lose Yourself from 8 Mile, the dramatisation of his life story.) "We're gonna shove it up Ja-Rule's a**e."
"Hailie, what do you want to be when you grow up, baby?" Eminem asked his daughter on the track.
"I don't know, but I don't want to grow up to be like Ja-Rule's little dirty-a**e kids," she responded.
It wasn't the only diss track Hailie wound her way onto. In 2012, rapper Machine Gun Kelly called Hailie "hot as f**k" in a since-deleted tweet. Eminem asked him to apologise for the comments, given Hailie was a teenager at the time, but Machine Gun Kelly took it to the microphone. "I think my dad's gone crazy, yeah, Hailie, you right," he rapped.
GROWING UP MATHERS
Hailie had a fairly normal life as a teenager, attending Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township, Michigan. While there, she was a member of the school's art club and played volleyball, as well as serving on the student council. She graduated with honours in June 2014 and was crowned Homecoming Queen. Afterwards, Hailie moved on to Michigan State University, where she studied psychology and joined the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.
Eminem was always a hands-on dad, attending every school event even when he became famous.
"When they have plays, field trips, all that stuff, I don't miss them," he told Rolling Stone. "Even if I gotta deal with the craziness. And the teachers are really good about telling the kids, 'When Hailie's dad comes in, he's Hailie's dad, Mr Mathers'. Last year I went and read to the class. Two books. It was reading month or something."
Hailie joined Instagram in October 2016 and now boasts more than 1.5 million followers. She is a bona fide Instagram influencer, sharing pictures of her puppies, her outfit choices and her fitness routines.
Today, she lives in a four-bedroom house in Detroit, Michigan, minutes from where she grew up in her father's Clinton Township home. Hailie's boyfriend who she met at university, Evan McClintock, also lives nearby.
Though incredibly private, she has given one brief interview about her father. "We are very close," she told The Daily Mailin 2018.
That's something Eminem has always worked towards. In an undated television interview, the rapper said his daughter "has been my main, like source of drive and motivation, especially when she was first born and I didn't have a career, I didn't have money, I didn't have a place to live.
"She's always the driving force for me to like stay busy, stay focused, and always been my number one reason for fear of failure," he added. "I can't fail … I can't have her grow up and not be able to say her dad succeeded … Truth is, she's all I got in this world, like really. If anything ended tomorrow, she's all that I have."
Hannah-Rose Yee is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @hannahroserose