Hip-Hop Fridays: On Eminem
I have to admit that even I did not expect for Eminem’s debut album, The Marshall Mathers LP to sell 1.7 million copies in its first week out. That is the most any rap album has sold in 1 week and it is the 2nd biggest debut in history. Many are openly asking a question that was bantered about in the Hip-Hop community just last year: What is it about this 20-something year old white guy that makes him so magnetic? My answer to that question last year is the same today. Eminem is popular because he is an excellent rapper, incredibly witty and authentically white.
Far from a repeat of Vanilla Ice, Eminem has street credibility and mass appeal (sometimes they are one-in-the same) because he actually seems comfortable being white. He doesn’t appear to be trying to fake it or be something he is not, which was obviously the case with Vanilla Ice.
If you can recall his debut last year, his first single was popular because the track was knockin’ (produced by Dr. Dre), Eminem’s delivery was articulate, fresh and comedic and the chorus was mind-numbingly catchy. Many will recall that no one knew that Eminem was white until they saw the video, which was a huge hit, as it featured Eminem mocking President Clinton among others.
Once people knew that Eminem was white, there was a moment of hesitation among Hip-Hop die-hards who have always feared another “Invasion of the White Rappers”. But upon careful inspection, Eminem’s lyrical flow impressed even the most critical of hip-Hop aficionados. Though his voice can be annoying after a while, he honestly has some of the best mic skills in Hip-Hop today. And with Dre backing him up he really can’t miss. Those hoping for him to fall off may be waiting for quite some time.
It may be good to think of Eminem in the same light as Jayson Williams of the white point guard of the Sacramento Kings. Williams’ personality may grate on you like Eminem’s but there is no questioning of the skills. Williams can honestly do things with a basketball that few have seen before. That is why he is so popular among NBA fans across the league. It is interesting that Williams and Eminem find themselves alone in a world dominated by young Black men who have by and large given them their respect.
The next phase in the Eminem-era is to what degree it influences Music industry executives who are now more inspired than ever to find the next great white rapper. The bait is that Eminem has done what no rapper (white or Black) has ever done in the Sound Scan era. He has formed the most hardcore audience in Hip-Hop ( Black inner city males and white male suburban skateboarders) with the most uninformed of music consumers (white teenage girls) into a consumer bloc. That is the only way you get 1.7 million in sales – your Black and white core audience come out in droves in lock step with the white teeny-bopper pop crowd. It is an unusual occurrence. Maybe all of the stars are in alignment or something like that.
So be prepared for the emergence of the Eminem wanna-bes. They should be taking over a video show near you soon. But while they may equal Eminem’s skin complexion they will be hard-pressed to match his mic skills and R-rated brilliance much less his commercial success. For the real Slim Shady has already stood up.
Friday, June 2, 2000