Whatever you want to call it this is a write up on Eminem. My sense of not necessarily being too concerned with the nuance of the title gives credence into how I feel about him. Eminem is an odd figure in the canon of hip-hop due to the distinct path that he moves on. Let's get a couple ideas out of the way because I think they matter. He is not the first successful white rapper, nor is he the first. He's also not the first controversial white rapper. With the white history out of the way, for the remainder of this blog post I want you to view the person I'm talking about as a Black man.Whatever you want to call it this is a write up on Eminem. My sense of not necessarily being too concerned with the nuance of the title gives credence into how I feel about him. Eminem is an odd figure in the canon of hip-hop due to the distinct path that he moves on. Let's get a couple ideas out of the way because I think they matter. He is not the first successful white rapper, nor is he the first. He's also not the first controversial white rapper. With the white history out of the way, for the remainder of this blog post I want you to view the person I'm talking about as a Black man.
Eminem was born on the 8 mile line in a poor trailer park in Detroit. The guy had writing talent and a few people who were supportive of him and his rise in the game of hip-hop. He at first was clowned on stage, but then given a chance from a good friend named Proof to begin some legendary battle rapping. As such, his lyrical prowess drew the attention of Dr. Dre who would eventually sign him to Aftermath. Under Dre's beat making skills and tutelage, Eminem would begin to take from his Marshall Matthers LP.
The mainstream media got a hold of his controversial lyrics and amazing flow which began a whirlwind of attention. He had lyrics that called out several celebrities like Limp Bizkit and Moby. His lyrics also were extremely misogynist and homophobic as he bashed gays over their sexuality blatantly and then found hatred by antagonizing his wife and in a sense his daughter with threats of murder and drama. He also promoted a crass sense of jackassery with a style that many kids wanted to imitate from drug use, vulgarity, raping and killing women. Tons of kids wanted to dress and be like him even in suburbia kids wanted to be like him. Also many other poor trailer park people looking for a vanguard for their plight, found one in Eminem and supported his ideals while preaching their pride for their poverty. People often enjoyed his critique of president Clinton and president Bush and found a voice that they were looking for even though they may have had Republican ideals.
Eventually his fame and skill grew so large that respectable hip-hop heads considered him to be worthy of being in the top 5. As such, his skill and respect in so much so that he was able to transcend race as people are highly excited when he is on a track or makes some new music due to his reputation. Still, his verbal disrespect in and outside of his lyrics has often tarnished while popularizing his overall image. He is also not the only rapper to be misogynist and homophobic either. It is personally, my least favorite aspect and personal struggle about hip-hop/rap in general as it doesn't respect women and LGBT people in any capacity; which leads into that idea of separating the art from the person. This skill seems to be easy though with Eminem because of his reputation and what his upbringing is.
Now I have to ask, as you have imagined this story and analysis as if this person was a Black man, is this even possible for a Black hip-hop artist to achieve? No it is not because Eminem is actually white and regardless of his upbringing, his lyricism and controversy he is allowed to move in spaces where Black rappers cannot. He can be heralded at a frat party, bumped a summer garden party in white suburbia, give credence to white poor people and their issues, and even be thought of as a white savior to several Black people who say "hey he's one of us and can be invited to the cook out!" However, he isn't one of us and never has been. Sure he's made some support of his hometown in Detroit in both white and Black spheres, but it's never been consistent. Furthermore, could a Black rapper get away with threatening to rape and kill his wife in front of his daughter? No he absolutely couldn't he would be hung out to dry same as any other controversial hip-hop figure. And while I will not go into his specific songs, albums or even videos there is an entire acceptance to all that he does purely because he is white.
Do I think there are better rappers? Absolutely - go look at my top 10 MCs list along with my ode to Tribe Called Quest.
Do I think there are more controversial rappers? Depends on what you mean by controversy. Dr. Dre beats women, but not as many people know about that as they do Eminem's blatant disrespect.
Can I ignore the whiteness for talent? It's not even that I cannot, it's that you cannot look at Eminem and ignore it, it is why he is so famous, it is why he can move through circles, it is why people let his condemnation of America, women, gays, and so much more slide.
Therefore, in an argument I've had since his inception into common knowledge, Eminem is not in my top 5 or my top 10 not only because of talent, but because if he was a Black man we would never even be having this conversation.