Fifteen years ago this month, the rapper Eminem held the number one album, the number one song, the number one movie and the number one soundtrack. Even though he is known now as one of the most successful rappers of all time the world almost missed out on his music because his raw talent alone was not enough to make him successful.
Back in the 90’s, Eminem struggled to find success as a rapper in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. He dropped out of high-school and built a reputation among his peers by competing in underground rap battles and performing open mikes. By 1997, Em had recorded his first album, but it didn’t take off. With no job and no place to live, he traveled to Los Angeles to battle in that year’s Rap Olympics. But he didn’t win. Disappointed with coming in second place, he went back home to Detroit and suggested to his girlfriend Kim that he might give it all up.
In the months that followed, Jimmy Iovine (co-founder of Interscope Records, whose assistant had attended the Rap Olympics) played Eminem’s record for the iconic rapper and producer Dr. Dre. Dre instinctively recognized that Eminem’s raw talent was something that could be big for the rap industry. Despite the doubters who pressured Dre not to work with him for a variety of reasons, Dre got Em into the studio.
Eminem admits that, during those early days, he knew little about producing or promoting music. He just wanted to be seen as a notable emcee. But, he knew enough to apply everything he had to polish his talent into a honed craft. He battled where he could, recorded his first album, and put himself on the right stages to get his tape into the anyone’s hands. But, it wasn’t until he teamed with Dr. Dre, that his raw talent was transformed into the unique genius that we know today.
Dr. Dre was the core of the Eminem success team. Without him, and others that came along the way, Eminem would not have become one of best-selling hip-hop artist of all-time. Even as Eminem reached stardom, his team and other artists inspired him further to grow as an artist. With each album, he strove to expand his abilities and stretch himself beyond what people expected of him and what he thought he could accomplish himself.
Even today, Eminem’s impressiveness as a rapper is making him a part of the success teams of other artists. They invite him to collaborate on their songs, even though they know they will have to work harder at making own their verses good enough to stand up to his. Much to their credit, these collaborators embrace the challenge Eminem brings to their songs, and gain inspiration from him to be the best they can be with their skills.
People think talent is something we are born with fully formed and with that early talent will success find us. There’s no question that talent can get us started down the path to success, but it is only one piece in a grander puzzle, and it may not be the most important one.
Whatever talent you have it’s not expertise until it has been honed through practice, and expanded with new ideas and techniques learned from others along the way. Then, it has to be leveraged in every possible situation, to see where it shines and where it falters. It’s this never-ending ritual of practice and preparation that can make talent look like providence.
Sure, all of this work can be done by yourself, in a vacuum. However, it will only reach its fullest potential when you invite others to contribute to it. These collaborators help you expand your repertoire, teach you new techniques, and challenge you to raise your game to new levels. We don’t know what we don’t know, and no amount of work in isolation can ever make up for a knowledge gap that we are unaware even exists.
Belief in one’s talent and wishing for a lucky break are never enough. It wasn’t Eminem’s ease with the English language or appearance at the Rap Olympics that made him a household name. Instead, it was his partnership with Dr. Dre, and among others, that gave him the platform to showcase his work and mold his art to its highest potential. Em could have recognized that he was a natural at rapping, and he still could have given up on his dream in favor of a “real” job. But he didn’t. He understood he had something special inside of him (even if others might not have appreciated it right away) and he knew that if he if could connect to the right people, he could find a way to be recognized. He did everything he could to improve his skills, build a body of work, and gain regular exposure that would coalesce into the right environment for him to be noticed by the right people.
This week, I challenge you to take an accounting of your talents. These may be skills that you use daily but don’t even notice or, they might be abilities that you abandoned because they didn’t seem to get you where you wanted to go.
Regardless, of where these skills stand now, pick one and consider how it could flourish if you had a success team around you supporting you to elevate this ability into expertise. If you don’t have someone already in your life, who are the types of people, you would like to attract? After you’ve done this assessment, what is one thing you can do this week to help bring your raw talent out and let it shine?
“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” ― Wilma Rudolph