Before I get into my usual subjective ramblings, I want to make one thing clear. I’m a big Eminem fan. Like a really big Eminem fan. Like a “walkman bumping my explicit copy of The Marshall Mathers LP that I, at the age of 10, illegally bought at Best Buy while my parents where looking at refrigerators” Eminem fan. I was listening to Slim Shady religiously before I was even old enough to actually comprehend what he was saying. I loved the sound of the music, loved the aggression, loved the constant use of the word “fuck”. It scared the hell out of my parents.
Eminem scared the hell out of everyone’s parents. That’s why he was so awesome.
Fast forward about 15 years and you have me, a diehard Shady fanboy, questioning the artistic integrity and maturity of the rapper who got me into rap music in the first place. If you follow music blogs, you’ve probably heard of the latest controversy surrounding Eminem. It’s not even a controversy really, it’s just sad.
On the song ‘Vegas’, from the upcoming Shady Records compilation/greatest hits album Shady XV (which actually isn’t terrible), Eminem raps “So what’s it gon’ be? Put that shit away Iggy / You gon’ blow that rape whistle on me?”
On the cypher the label put out last week to promote the album he raps “Play nice, bitch, I punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice / In broad daylight, in plain sight of the elevator surveillance / Till her head is bangin’ on the railing / Then celebrate with the Ravens.”
If Eminem dropped those lines in the early 2000’s you’d hear one of two arguments depending on who you were talking to. His fans would tell you he’s just joking around and to focus more on the rhyme scheme than the literal meaning of the lyrics (a fair statement). His detractors would call it offensive, and call him a domestic abuse/rape apologist (also a fair statement).
After the shooting at Columbine, Eminem was famously name-dropped by Bill Clinton in his speech about fixing the problems with the youth. That is power. A specific rapper being criticized by the President? Amazing. The Grammy’s were picketed because of accusations regarding Eminem’s homophobia. All he did that year was sweep the awards and do a live performance with Elton John. Again, amazing. Eminem was always surprising us just when we thought he couldn’t take it any further.
But now? In 2014? The reaction I’m seeing is “Really Em? Really? Iggy Azalea? Lana Del Rey?” Eminem is 42 years old. Dissing/threatening pop stars should be below him. We’re also in the midst of the internet age, where we have access to everything, and therefore are shocked by nothing. Not that early Eminem was “shock rap”, but his slurs at celebrities were fresh, funny, and original. Anybody with a Twitter account can clown on pop stars nowadays (follow me for semi-regular jabs at Nicki Minaj). Eminem’s vulgarity isn’t appealing anymore because we hear and see it every damn day just conversing with people or logging onto the internet.
Today, I’m sorry to say, that I don’t love Eminem anymore. He’s the most technically gifted rapper of all time and his early album stretch (The Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP, The Eminem Show) remains possibly the most dominant run in pop music history. This can never be taken away from him. Eminem belongs at or near the top of any “best rappers ever” list. But much like Jay-Z, his musical legacy is starting to be tainted. The main reason being his last few albums just haven’t been very good.
This isn’t a review, however, and I’m not looking to argue with any fanboys (because I’m one of you!).
If you want to read insults and gags about pop stars, again, just google their names or check their twitter mentions. There is nothing notable about the two Eminem quotes I posted above. It’s just Eminem being Eminem. The problem is, there’s no place for that Eminem in modern day pop music. And these insults he throws at female pop stars are wildly hypocritical considering Eminem’s two biggest hits in the last 10 years have both featured Rihanna (an artist he once threatened to urinate on).
Eminem’s early jabs at pop stars were great because they were more about the pop music industry as a whole, something he viewed as growing soft and unintelligent, than any person in particular. And they were, for better or worse, quite clever and shocking. Look at the bars below (both off his magnum opus The Marshall Mathers LP). Also, keep in mind that these songs were released in the year 2000.
From ‘Marshall Mathers’
“anti-Backstreet and Ricky Martin / Who’s instinct’s to kill N*Sync, don’t get me started / These fuckin’ brats can’t sing and Britney’s garbage / What’s this bitch, retarded? Give me back my sixteen dollars”
From ‘I’m Back’
“So I just throw up a middlefinger and let it linger longer than the rumor that I been stickin’ it to Christina / Cause if I ever stuck it to any signer in showbiz / It’d be Jennifer Lopez, and Puffy you know this / Sorry Puff but I don’t give a fuck if this chick was my own mother / I’d still fuck her with no rubber / And cum inside of her and have a son and a new brother / At the same time, and just say that it ain’t mine”
Again, pretend we’re in the year 2000.
Shocking and original? Certainly.
Offensive and vulgar? Probably.
Technically impressive and catchy? HELL YES.
If you want to write Eminem’s entire discography off because you think he’s a homophobe, a misogynist, or a violent person…that’s fine. I can’t tell you where you should draw the line. Just know that if you do write his early career off, you’re ignoring the biggest pop star of the 2000’s. Note that his “Big 3” albums combined to sell about 55 million copies worldwide. He did have an impact, because he was everywhere.
It’s safe to say he doesn’t have that impact anymore. Yes, he’s still Eminem. He’s one of the most recognizable people on the planet, has a loyal fanbase, and still sells out every concert well in advance. But his place within the music scene has shifted from “angry drug-fueled kid who calls out anybody he thinks is full of shit” to “sober old man who name-drops in an attempt to stay young”. You can’t read it any other way, really. Eminem’s rhymes are still so complex that he raps circles around 95% of the current rap scene, guys like Rick Ross, but his subject matter makes it hard for casual fans to realize this.
Unless he’s on a song with Rihanna or being used in a Call of Duty commercial, Eminem has sort of disappeared. He’s making music to appease his longtime fans now (The Marshall Mathers LP 2 was self-referential to a fault). But unlike Em, those fans have all grown up a bit, and don’t seem to be too interested in the majority of what he has to say. This is because he doesn’t actually say anything anymore.
One problem is that Eminem realizes he is still a better rapper than basically anybody else. He feels he doesn’t have to change, which is why he made a song like ‘Rap God’ (which is incoherent nonsense, by the way). One thing Eminem might not realize is that his last FOUR solo albums have given music critics and hip-hop heads everywhere no choice but to question what would otherwise be an infallible legacy.
I’m not saying he needs to retire. Eminem has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t care about the fame/money and the only things that matter to him are music and his daughters. Plenty of legendary artists have aged gracefully, but they’ve changed in order to do so (Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Nas, just to name a few). It’s not even that Eminem needs to tone down his content, he just needs to be more mature when it comes to choosing what makes up that content.
Back in 2002, Eminem dropped the classic ‘Till I Collapse’ off The Eminem Show. He started the song with this:
“Til I collapse, I’m spillin’ these raps as long as you feel ’em / ’til the day that I drop, you’ll never say that I’m not killin’ ’em / cause when I am not, then I’ma stop pennin’ ’em / and I am not Hip-Hop and I’m just not Eminem”
If Marshall Mathers doesn’t change his tune soon, he may have no choice but to stop pennin’ ’em. His fanbase is diminishing. His last solo album has sold 3.8 million worldwide (an incredibly disappointing figure for an Eminem album even when adjusting for the fact that nobody really buys albums anymore).
My generation, the generation that made Eminem a star, has changed. The popular music industry, everything from what’s acceptable to the way music is distributed, has changed. The rap game, no longer “black music” or “urban music”, has changed. So why hasn’t Eminem?