Monday, August 28, 2006

Where Is Slim Shady?

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 hatinJustust 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.


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