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Exploring The Reliability Of Eminem In Black Culture

I was fighting boredom the other day and surfing Facebook when I came across this link my cousin posted. It was a video on ACCORDING2HIPHIP.COM of Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian discussing Eminem. Lord Jamar giving his opinion of a white rapper immediately made me laugh. Lets just say Brand Nubian would be the last dudes somebody would call “Uncle Toms.”

Lord Jamar said he didn’t put Eminem in his top 20! I couldn’t believe it. I’m not the most dedicated Marshall Mather’s fan, but c’mon man, not in your Top 20? Most hip hop heads can’t name 20 rappers they like. The interviewer and Jamar went back and forth on rappers vs. Eminem. I’m thinking, “I like Em, he’s got talent. Is Jamar just hating or what?” That got me to thinking, how would I rank Eminem?

I remember discovering Eminem around the time his first album, “The Slim Shady LP” came out. I’d heard “Guilty Conscience” with Dr. Dre and heard he’d been signed to Dre’s new label; Aftermath. I liked “Guilty Conscience” and decided to check out his whole first joint.

I liked it! I immediately noticed it was like nothing out around that time (2000 or so). He talked about getting beat up, being from a trailer park and being from Detroit. I have family in Detroit, but I have never seen the poverty stricken trailer park areas where Eminem is from. I was cool with the things I wasn’t really familiar with, because I thought he was really creative, had a great flow and incredible word play. His talent was amazing!

My favorite track was “97 Bonnie & Clyde.” He just killed his girlfriend and is talking to his baby daughter about everything they are doing to dispose of the body. That sounds really morbid I know, but he’s talking to her like parents talk to toddlers. The baby talk was pretty creative. It took a little while to get what he was talking about and when I did, I smiled and knew this dude had skills.

He has some other tracks on that album I really liked, but the differences in what he was rapping about and what I was accustomed to were easy to see. For instance, I’d never heard anybody rapping about psychedelic mushrooms and pain killers. I’d never heard rappers talk about getting bullied and beat up. 2 $hort basically made up a new way to pronounce “bitch,” but he never actually killed a woman and dumped the body on a track. On top of that, none of the rappers I liked (or disliked for that matter) ever hated their mothers. That whole hatred for his mother thing threw me for a loop. I love my mother unconditionally and so does every other man I know.

I liked Eminem on the first album, but I just figured I discovered a pretty cool CD, not an international superstar. His second album, “The Marshall Mathers LP;” vaulted him to superstar status! Everyone knows “Stan,” which is one of the most creative tracks ever. Stan is a song about a crazed Eminem fan who liked him a little too much. There’s no denying his skill on these first 2 albums, but there were just a few things that caught my attention.

The drug references were a bit much after a while and there were quite a few times he complained about not being appreciated as much as he should be. The craziest thing was “Kim,” on the second album. It’s basically a prequel to “97 Bonnie & Clyde.” He kidnaps Kim, takes her to the lake, cuts her throat (sound effects and all) and gets ready to dump the body. I think of all the times black rappers got songs or entire albums banned (2 Live Crew’s “As Nasty As They Wanna Be) for doing much less than killing their ex-wife on a song.

I bought his next album, “The Eminem Show;” but the excitement was fading by that point. He has a few more tight tracks and I was sorta excited about another Em album after he killed “Renegade” on Jay-Z’s “the Blueprint.”  The best track on this album is “Till I Collapse,” with the famous verse:

I got a list, here’s the order of my list that it’s in
It goes Reggie, Jay-Z, 2Pac and Biggie
Andre from OutKast, Jada, Kurupt, Nas, and then me
But in this industry I’m the cause of a lot of envy
So when I’m not put on this list, the shit does not offend me

He’s talked about not being put in that class on nearly every album and it really does offend him, no matter what he says. He wouldn’t talk about it so much if it truly didn’t bother him. The people on that list are all black rappers and the core hip hop audience is black folk. We as black people will always feel hip hop is ours. A lot of us recognize Eminem’s talent, but in some ways we feel like he’s an intruder into our culture. At the same time, mainstream audiences (cough, cough – white people) have elevated his status by buying his albums like crazy. He loves the money, fame and celebrity, but wishes black people put him in that group he named on “Till I Collapse.”

I’m not saying the disconnect is simply race and race only. I think his status in the mainstream bothers a lot of folks. His record sales reflect the mainstream audience’s love for him; not the core hip hop audience’s love. Too many of his lyrics make it hard for me to identify well enough with him to make him one of my favorites.

Maybe “identifying” isn’t the right term. Most people can’t fully identify with all the exploits of their favorite rappers. Ice Cube presents the perfect example. O’Shea Jackson isn’t the “gangsta” in real life that Ice Cube is on songs. I heard one rapper describe a rap song as a “lyrical movie.” That basically means it’s fictional and not to be taken literally. If the people who actually lived the lifestyle portrayed on the songs were the only fans, the genre would have died years ago.

Where the identification with Eminem may become blurred is the type of “movie” he’s producing. The mother hating lyrics and killing Kim twice on every album along with all the drug use has kept him out of my top 5, maybe my top 10. His talent is undeniable, but if I’m doing a Top 10 on based solely on rappers I enjoy listening to (talent notwithstanding), Eminem isn’t in it. I respect him and appreciate what he brings to the table, but I see him more like a star player on the opposing team.




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