Two decades ago, 'Stan' helped Eminem become the superstar he is today

Shahjahan Khurram

Over the course of two decades, since Eminem first broke out as a mainstream artist, fans and critics alike have been astounded by the 47-year-old's lyrical dexterity. He's given us hits one after the other. Stan, a fan favourite and considered by many as one of Eminem's greatest songs of all time, is still music to the ears even 20 years on.

The song is about a crazed fan (yeah you guessed it, his name's Stan) who writes Eminem a couple of letters. The rapper, being as big as he was back then, responds to his letters late. As we get to know later in the song, too late. When Eminem finally responds to Stan's letter, we find out he's already killed himself. Oh, and just before Stan did that, he tied up his pregnant girlfriend and tossed her in the trunk of a car. The same car he drove into a river off a bridge, killing both of them.

The song did not chart well when it was first released. It debuted at No. 51 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in December 2000. However, the song was enough to prove that Eminem was much more than a battle rapper who could come up with complex rhymes and killer punchlines on the spot to disarm his opponents. He was much more than a white guy who was on his way to the top of the mountain of rap, a predominantly African-American music genre. 

Stan proved Eminem was a great storyteller, someone who could weave a brilliant, vivid story that fills you with dread yet makes you want to go on to find out what happens at the end.

In the first letter, Stan excitedly tells Eminem he's probably the biggest fan of the rapper on the planet. He's got a room full of Eminem's posters and pictures. The man leaves his cell, pager, and home phone at the bottom for Slim Shady to respond to him.

The second letter is angrier and here's where get the chills. Stan has started to lose it and maybe expects more from the rapper than he should. He details an incident where Eminem didn't talk to him outside a concert and worse, didn't sign an autograph for his brother.

If you didn't wanna talk to me outside your concert

You didn't have to, but you coulda signed an autograph for Matthew

That's my little brother man, he's only six years old

We waited in the blistering cold for you

For four hours and you just said, "No."

He gives Eminem (and as we come to know later, himself and his girlfriend) another chance and signs off at the end, writing:

I'll be the biggest fan you'll ever lose

Sincerely yours, Stan

P.S. we should be together too

The third letter is when we know Stan has lost it. He calls Eminem out for not responding to his fans and even confirms he wrote the addresses down perfectly. Again, kudos to Slim Shady for penning this down so descriptively.

Dear Mister "I'm Too Good To Call Or Write My Fans"

This will be the last package I ever send your a**

It's been six months and still no word, I don't deserve it?

I know you got my last two letters, I wrote the addresses on 'em perfect

Stan goes on to kill himself, disheartened at being ignored by Eminem. Marshall finally responds to the letter in the end (the fourth verse of the song) and tries to tell Stan to calm down. As they say, too little, too late.

The song was released in 2000 when all eyes were on the Detroit native who had just released his debut album, The Slim Shady LP which had debuted to critical acclaim and gone platinum. Eminem had the buzz (courtesy his affiliation with Dr Dre and frequent feuds with his mother, Debbie Mathers) yet the rapper still had to prove he belonged in the game. Eminem had to prove that he could follow up on the success of his debut album with something of substance and concrete. Stan was all that and more. Hell, the word made it to the dictionary.