But will 2011 be the rapper's big year?
When nominations for the 53rd annual Grammy Awards are announced on a special CBS telecast Dec. 1, a certain Detroit rap star stands to reap a fair share of bids in the major categories.But will 2011 be Eminem’s big year? The artist also known as Marshall Mathers III is a strong bet to break out of the rap categories and finally attain recognition in the Recording Academy’s Big Three slots: album of the year, record of the year and song of the year. With 11 Grammys and 26 nominations to his credit, Eminem has hardly gone unrecognized by NARAS’ voting membership. However, despite his status as rap eminence and one of the industry’s top sellers, he’s never experienced a marquee year at the ceremony. All that could change at Staples Center on Feb. 11. Eminem enters the fray with his seventh studio album, “Recovery.” While the album and its smash singles will carry plenty of weight in the rap genre races, his longtime strongholds, they likely won’t be ignored in the top categories, where he has a solid shot thanks to a combo of commercial, aesthetic and emotional reasons that sing to Grammy voters: Chart topper “Recovery” is 2010’s bestselling album to date. Everybody loves a winner. The Aftermath/Interscope set will top sales of 3 million by the time nominations are announced. It entered the chart at No. 1 in June with 744,000 copies sold in its first week — the year’s largest debut until Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now” shifted 1.04 million in early November. Multiple hit singles The album spawned immense hits. “Not Afraid” debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart in May, while “Love the Way You Lie,” an irresistible, hard-hitting collaboration with Rihanna, held at No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks. Comeback kid Eminem has made a comeback of sorts. And the Recording Academy adores comebacks. As of early November, his preceding release, 2009’s poorly received “Relapse” (his first new album in five years), had sold 2.07 million copies in 76 weeks. “Recovery” — which held the No. 1 slot for five consecutive weeks, and returned to that position for two weeks in August — surpassed that figure in just eight weeks. It’s personal “Recovery” is a personal album. Though greeted with mixed reviews, it strikes a confessional tone that appeals to balloters. The profane yet self-revealing “Not Afraid” plays like a trump card. One subtext of the record is the rapper’s ongoing struggle to maintain sobriety: An album photo depicts the glowering musician with what may be a well-thumbed copy of Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book at his elbow. Pigeonholed Eminem has never collected a major award. All but one of his Grammys were won in rap categories. His album of the year nominees, “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2001) and “The Eminem Show” (2003), lost to Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature” and Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me,” respectively. His record of the year nominees, “Without Me” (2003) and the Oscar-winning “Lose Yourself” (2004), lost to Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” and Coldplay’s “Clocks,” respectively. It may be the hour for make-good recognition, which the Recording Academy has never declined to give. Breaking the mold Pure rap has been ignored in the big slots. Since the Acad began recognizing rap with its own performance category in 1989, the closest it has come to dispensing a major honor are mixed-genre opuses “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1999) and OutKast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” (2004) as album of the year. Albums by Kanye West, Lil Wayne and MC Hammer have competed without success in the category. Record of the year and song of the year honors have never been accorded to rap. It’s time. Mr. Mathers should probably start clearing some space on his mantelpiece.