Thursday, August 31, 2006

Shady but Necessary

It has been some time since Eminem dropped his highly emotional track "When I'm Gone." Rumors have flown around the wire about his pending retirement as a performer and into a full time producer. He is still doing collaborations with artists such as Akon, Obie Trice (check out his new album "Second Rounds On Me") and Nelly Furtado supposedly wants to do a duet with Mr. Shady. Why the retirement after only 5 albums? Could it have been the murder or his dear friend Proof that drove him to retirement? Could it be the state of hip hop and rap music these days? In particular, the fact that you can make a song strictly based on a dance craze (i.e. "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It," "Snap Yo Fingers," "Shoulder Lean," and all the Hyphy music). Or does he simply feel that he has nothing more to prove? Maybe it is all of those things. Maybe not. Only Marshall Mathers knows. One thing I do know is Hip Hop desperately needs Eminem.

When we think back to what hip hop was in the beginning: b-boying, breakdancing, MCing, DJs scratching and someone on the mic rocking the party. Grandmaster Flash rapping about the troubles that plague the ghetto. Then came Public Enemy, using the genre as a political weapon. NWA rapping about the slums of Los Angeles and the never ending racism of the LAPD. Fast forward to 1999 when the Slim Shady LP dropped. He played the race card for laughs, goofing on his role as the ultimate white geek, the "class-clown freshman/ Dressed like Les Nessman." Yet behind his comedic punchlines Eminem delivered some very heavy stuff about minimum-wage jobs, high school beat-downs and decidedly ill drug dementia. There was something real about his album that most MCs are afraid to tackle...Their own reality before they become stars. Whereas Public Enemy and Grandmast Flash rapped about the ghetto and slums, Eminem showed us the trailer park, the slums of white America that we don't hear about.

Then there's the side of Eminem that gets the most pub, the controversy. Whether its a song about killing his ex wife or a line that he spits: "I try to keep it positive/And play it cool/Shoot up the playground/And tell the kids to stay in school," Eminem has always found a way to grab our attention. Some call him crazy, I call him a genius because he's using music as a means to exercise is constitutional rights. As years past we slowly saw the transformation from the MC that tries to shock you to the MC that makes you hit the rewind button. Most lyricist stick to the same script when creating albums...if its money, hoes, clothes, dro, drugs and bling that sold records, all of their records begin to sound the same. But Eminem gave us something different once he passed the "broke and angry" phase. The "Eminem Show" is a perfect example of his transformation from the angry and controversial Eminem to the more introspective Eminem. Take the track White America where Eminem rhymes about White America actually accepting him: I never would've dreamed in a million years I'd see/So many motherf*ckin' people who feel like me/who share the same views, And the same exact beliefs/it's like a f*ckin' army marchin' in back of me..." But he doesn't abandon the fact that he's a white MC and preaches about its advantages and disadvantages: look at my sales, let's do the math, if I was black/I would've sold half/I Ain't have to graduate from Lincoln high school to know that...But nothing is as real as this tidbit:

When I was underground, no one gave a f*ck I was white
No labels wanted to sign me, almost gave up I was like
F*ck it - until I met Dre, the only one to look past
Gave me a chance and I lit a FIRE up under his a$$
Helped him get back to the top, every fan black that I got
was probably his in exchange for every white fan that he's got
Like damn; we just swapped - sittin back lookin at shit, wow
I'm like my skin is it startin to work to my benefit now?

The double edge sword of being a white rapper but Em never back down from tackling his own existence in the hip hop world.

His latest album, Encore, garnered mixed reviews but I thought it was a perfect blend of the old (tracks: #2, #7, #8, #11, and #13) and new (the remaining tracks). Of course everyone knows "Without Me" and "A$$ Like That" but the track that cemented him in history as the GREATEST rapper of all time was "Mosh." There has been no rapper willing to tackle such a heavy issue as the Bush administration since he's been in office like Eminem did. I'm not going to quote any of the lyrics, instead I'll leave you a link to read the lyrics yourself if you haven't actually sat back and listened to them:
Not only are the words powerful but also the video which slowly made its way to MTV until the powers that be had it pulled. The song asks for unity for people to come together for one common goal...end the Bush regime. He brought the listeners back to the days of Public Enemy, back when hip hop was political and was still "hard." Many artists are afraid of being political because they feel they will lose their street cred but Em knew that the biggest gangsters in America are politics.

In closing, Em's classic anthem "Lose Yourself" is one reason alone of why hip hop needs him. I read in an article fairly recently that Em tapped into Buddhism when he made this track. Perry Garfinkel wrote:

when Eminem bangs on about losing yourself '‘in the music, the moment', what he is really expounding is thepracticee of meditative mindfulness. And when Em says '“I'll make a new plan. Time for me to just stand up and travel new land,' what he actually means is '‘I'm taking responsibility for my life and am on the path to enlightenment.'

I'm sure none of us would've thought about that but its not that far fetched when you think of Em's latest behavior: The lead single from the film 8 Mile brought home an Oscar and unlike Three 6 Mafia, it actually deserved such an accolade (sorry, not hatin. Just stating my opinion). Lyrically its very challenging, very gritty and highly catchy. Whether Em is talking about himself or the B. Rabbit (the line is very thin between the two) the heartfelt themes and words of this track haunt the listener. The fantastic line: Success is my only motherf*ckin' option, failure's not, finds as its counterpoint the line: Mom I love you. There's your controversial star right there.

Hip hop needs Eminem because he did what Vanilla Ice couldn't do, what the Beastie Boys couldn't do, make music that speaks to both light and dark skin. He has likened himself to Elvis in the past almost jokingly but they have a lot in common (despite the early death of course). But not only the racial factor, hip hop needs Eminem because lyrically he is a genius. His ability to switch up his flow in accordance to the track is phenomenal. He tends to outshine the lead artist when he's featured on a track (i.e. "Renegades"...Eminem even murdered you on your own sh*t). He's a trend setter who refuses to conform to societal norms or rap world fads. He has been true to himself since day one and continues to be to this day. His last solo perfomance is scheduled for Sept. 17 in Dublin, Ireland.


Brother Tallness said...

A couple of things

1) Eminem is not the greatest rapper ever. I've heard the argument before and it's cute, but let's be serious. To be the GOAT you gotta either A) be hands down be better than your peers B) Drop multiple classic albums.

A. Eminem's raw, and on his best day he's as good as anybody. But you can say the same thing about Nas, Jay-Z, Dre3000, Scarface, Luda, common, and couple of other cats when they're on.

B. Em's got two very good albums ( the marshall mathers lp, eminem show), a good album (the slim shady lp), and a really bad one (encore). That's about the same rate as dmx, ghostface, scarface and common; they're all struggling to crack the top 20. (face is the closest to top 10)

The catch 22 about Em, and the reason I can't put him in the top 5 , is he's basically a backpack emcee who got a mainstream pass because of his whiteness and Dr. Dre's cosign. If you make the "look at the skills argument" and excuse the lame singles, d12, and the last album, you gotta give the same leeway to guys like canibus, redman, pharoah monch, beanie siegel, and a whole bunch of other underground guys who do the same thing without getting the press.

One more thing: Eminem has no songs in his catalogue that would get play in a black club. I always found that interesting.

Anonymous said...

nah the eminem show was wack, encore wack, marshall mathers LP the most overrated album in hiphop history ( a few catchy filer songs, a couple of bad songs, and maybe 3 or 4 good songs were he actually made a hiphop song). the marshall mathers lp is a hiphop album that has 2 catchy singles and then maybe 2-3 songs which the a&r or whoever vp ceo whoever thinks will sell and it does because people base eveything off singles and catchyness. im tired of him gettin "he is the best rapper" credit with all them BumBum Raps.

the slim shady lp is by far his best album lyrically. every other album after his first is all production with bumbum raps and not only that u can see him biting other rappers. infinite his album before he came out he was raw. but after slim shady lp he lost it, all them new kids on the block rhymes and bumbum and britney spears rhymes are wack. every album after slim shady lp he tried to follow that format but have it with more catchier songs to sell and it worked.

Eminem is just no where near the best rapper, i dont think he is the best rapper from detriot right now... at one time he was.

i mean there are other people u can say are the greatest rapper if u gonna give him credit. like me or matter a fact my grandma.

just cause it dont play in a black club doesnt mean anything. common stuff dont play in the club neither but he dont make club music, i never heard canibus in no club. all i know he aint the best rapper no where near it.

Brother Smartness said...

I think you present a very good argument about the skillfulness of Eminem. I can't say that I miss his music as much as I miss Hova or many of the other greats who have gone on hiatus. So I can't agree with you when you say that Hip-Hop desperately needs him.

He was without a doubt one of the most exciting and entertaining MCs to grace my boom box, but he never exceeded his counterparts and contemporaries when it came to his lyrics.

I respect the dude and feel his music, but with Kevin Federline's album hitting stores soon something tells me I'll be okay.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Federline- LOL!

Like Rick James that was "coooold bloooded!"

Brother Darkness said...

With all that said by Brother Darkness let's look at the supposed G.O.A.T. First you have 2Pac. I love Pac but I honestly think he had ONE classic album and that's "All Eyez On Me" yet many people claim that he is the best rapper ever. Next we have Notorious B.I.G. who has two classic albums, "Ready to Die" and "Life After Death," yet he is also claimed to be the best rapper ever. I do understand that both artists careers were cut short by their obvious murders. Next we have the ever acclaimed Shawn Carter. He has dropped, in my opinion, two classic albums as well: "Reasonable Doubt" and "Blueprint." Those three MCs are always heralded as the best rappers ever. I throw Eminem in the mix because he has just as many classic albums as those three artists: "Marshall Mathers LP" and "The Eminem Show"

I liken his first album to Jigga's first album, both emcees were raw and hungry. Delivery is anxious as they are just glad to be making it. Of course there are obvious differences in their styles and techniques. There is nothing "raw" about Eminem's style after his first album. It is merely his lyrical content that keeps people from placing him with the likes of Hov, Biggie and Pac. On his best day he is top 5 dead or alive in my opinion. To say he isn't at least in the top 10 is fooling yourself and disrespecting Eminem as an artist. DMX? Ghostface? Scarface? Common? No disrespect to any of those artists but none of them come close to Em on the mic. Common is the dopest out of those four but lyrically his flow is the same and his sound is the same.

Now as for your comment about race, I totally disagree with you calling him a "backpack emcee who got a mainstream pass because of his whiteness and Dr. Dre's cosign." If you've seen the VH1 "Behind the Music" on Eminem you know that his peers, most of them black, recognize his skills as an emcee. Also, you should know that in the realm of hip hop it is going to be more difficult for a white emcee to get on than a black emcee. Let's think about all the garbage new emcees that have come on as of late: Guerilla Black, Chamillionaire (I think of him as a whacker version of Ja Rule), Dem Franchize Boys, Young Dro (great single but not that great) etc, etc. Any black rapper with a gimmick can get on...period. After the debacle that was Vanilla Ice and the infamous Snow, we should know that white rappers are NOT taken seriously especially in the underground unless they can actually spit. So the race card that you pulled on Eminem is not valid and quite out of date. And I will give you the "look at the skills" argument because on a bad day and bad album, i.e. "Encore," Eminem is still better than Canibus (who he dissed in his first three albums without Bus even trying to make a response), Redman (hasn't made a decent album since "Docs the Name 2000"), Pharoah Monch (lyrically he's dope but we haven't heard from in years), and Beanie Sigel (who had to go to jail to reclaim his roots). None of your said artist are underground besides Canibus and Pharaoh. One thing these guys don't do that Em does and did is win a Grammy, win an Oscar, the fasting selling Rap Artist ever and a list of other accolades that your said artist can only dream of.

As for being heard in a black club...since when has that been the mark of a "great" or "greatest" emcee? You won't hear any Beanie in a white club or on the radio unless he's featured on a Hova track. Let's be real about this.

As for Brother Smartness, you thought I forgot about you didn't you? As far as him exceeding his contemporaries you can listen to a Hova track in which he says, "Only dude moving units is: Em, Pimp Juice and us." Now if the leader of the Carter Administration thinks that then that says a lot. As well as Nas' claim in "Ether" which I mentioned already.

Brother Tallness said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brother Tallness said...

when i said raw, i meant it in the chicagoan sense (he's cold joe)

i think eminem gets a pass from the white community not the black community. He earned his stripes in the rawkus/lyricist lounge scene and those guys give him props. His pass comes from the white community in my opinion. With Dr. Dre's cosign, he gets access to pop radio while still being a backpacker (re: a guy who's first main goal is to be lyrical). as a general rule, your first single has to bump in the club or get play on black radio. That's why the Chamillionaire's and Young Dro's are in demand. In addition to great beats, they have memorable hooks, mad charisma and distinct voices.
(although I would suggest checking out some of their old mixtapes, both are better than they're singles would suggest)

The reality that skills don't sell is something every great mixtape emcee has had to face, regardless of race. Look at how they couldn't drop the lupe album with "kick, push" as the first single. They needed jill scott to get the neo-soul heads and the neptunes beat to get the club.

And that's why i brought up Em's race. You are absolutely right when you said siegel won't get love on the radio or the club. Same with canibus, pharoah, redman, et al. They're mixtape/underground emcees (I consider siegel and redman underground because they both are from the early nineties nyc school of rhyming. those were the orginal backpackers). Em's cut from the same mold. They make you respect their lyrics and follow their word play.

Let me put my last statement another way: the guys who i would consider top 5 or top 10 were not just headphone emcees. Part of being a great emcee is rocking the party. I think this is an area where you can't avoid talking about em's race. At the height of his popularity on mtv, he wasn't getting the same love in the black community. When he had TRL on lock, he was barely breaking the countdown on 106&park (and this was before benzino tape leaked).

Unlike the rappers that I mentioned before, Em never had to worry about appealing to black radio for his first single. In addition, by being white, he appeals to a whole new demographic of suburban teenagers who would never even think of picking up an underground rap album.