Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the "10,000 Hour Rule": roughly, that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become really, really good at something.
In this recent, interesting article on the rapper Emimem's career, it's clear he has not only put in his 10,000 hours, but like most other geniuses he is obsessed with his work and can do nothing else. Excerpt:
It is a little-known fact that the only book Eminem read as a child was the dictionary. He pored over it, searching for words that rhymed with each other that could later be pulled out of the bag during the freestyle rap "battles" that provided his education in hip-hop.
The years spent studying the English language lie at the core of his technical brilliance. They turned him into the greatest rapper of his time. But they did so at a personal cost: for Eminem could be uncharitably described as an anorak. His life starts and ends with music. He writes constantly, scrawling lines on sheets of notepaper in a crabby handwriting. When he's not composing new verse, or messing around in a studio, he'll be listening to hip-hop. "The guy's a studio rat," says producer Terry Simaan, the owner of Oh Trey 9, one of the Detroit's most influential hip-hop labels. "If he feels like it, he'll spend 12, 15 hours a day in a studio."
As a result – and this is critical when considering the potential impact of Relapse – Eminem's so-called "missing years" have actually been surprisingly productive. "He's never stopped recording. Ever," adds Simaan. "I hear they've got over 300 songs in the can from what he's produced in the last three years. I've seen him write. He's a fast worker. He'll write one line, then three lines, then four lines, in all separate parts of the page. Then he'll come back to it, and say this is a sweet line, or that's working for him, and just pull everything together almost instantly. The guy's a total genius."
In other words, Eminem now has a vast catalogue of material from which to cherry-pick the dozen-odd tracks that will make up Relapse. Like a mad genius, inside his Detroit mansion, he has been stockpiling an extraordinary collection of unreleased music. It is now being polished by Dr Dre, a notorious perfectionist.
"Eminem had a career break. But I wouldn't say it was a rest," says Mark Hicks, the former manager of D-12, and an occasional acquaintance. "He's a lover of music and making music, so despite what everyone said, he never stopped working, or quit rap. He was in the studio every day. He just didn't want to go on tour, or have to do everything that comes with selling an album."
(hat tip: Jon Bischke)