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Militant rapper makes waves


No other white artist has made such an impact on the world of rap music as Eminem. This controversial figure hailing from the mean streets of Detroit has also accomplished the seemingly impossible: to gain the respect of the black community as a rapper. Rap veteran Dr. Dre of the group N.W.A. from Compton, South Central Los Angeles, even signed him to his label, Aftermath, and has co-produced his three albums to date.

Eminem’s first movie, “8 Mile,” opened the second weekend in November with an impressive $54.5 million in box office sales. The soundtrack topped the Billboard Top 200 album chart, with the single “Lose Yourself” also topping the Billboard Hot 100 charts as of the Nov. 16 issue of the music magazine.

Pop culture critic Mim Udovitch wrote in The New York Times last year: “If you know one single thing about Eminem, besides that he is white, it is that he is one of those artists people fear create an evil that will, if allowed free reign, destroy civilization and corrupt American youth.” Critics are beginning to like, or at least be in awe of and respect this bad-boy turned rap-superstar, acknowledging a sophisticated talent underneath the hype. Whether Eminem is here to stay is still in question, and for how long is anyone’s guess.

He has surpassed the sophomore jinx by making three best-selling albums since his major label debut in 1999. His first, “The Slim Shady LP,” debuted at No. 3 on the pop charts, sold 3 million copies and armed him with a Grammy award for Best Rap Album. “The Marshall Mathers LP” made its 2000 debut at the top of the charts, selling about 1.7 million copies within the first week and earned him another Best Rap Album Grammy. “The Eminem Show” has been on the Billboard Top 200 charts since its release last spring, where it still holds a spot in the Top 10 along with the No. 1 “8 Mile” soundtrack.

Eminem is a stage name derived from the initials of his real name, Marshall Mathers. Slim Shady is the name he gave to the devious alter ego introduced on his first album. The fact that he goes by these aliases seems to mirror the multiplicity of his persona. His lyrics read like chapters of a book loosely based on his life, with his different albums fleshing out different characters, or at least split personalities. His rhymes are steeped in violence, anger, homophobia and male chauvinism. Though he raps lovingly about his daughter, on two different albums he talks about killing his wife and he criticizes his allegedly shifty, apathetic mother all along the way.

Though he did not kill his estranged wife, his lyrics reveal that the thought may have entered his mind by way of one of his album alter egos. He has been sued for defamation by his mother. His wife also sued him, though that suit was dropped, and the couple is now divorced. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has protested against the rapper for the rampant homophobia dispensed on “The Marshall Mathers LP.” Yet, openly gay performer Elton John took the stage together with him at the 2001 Grammy Awards to perform Eminem’s hit “Stan,” and they ended the performance with a hug and a pat on the back. John is also a self-proclaimed Eminem fan. The song “Stan” deals with an unstable fan who takes Eminem’s lyrics too far by acting out some Slim Shady-like violence.

Eminem is a media magnet whose broodingly bleak beginnings include being born just outside of Kansas City, Mo., growing up there and in a mostly black Detroit neighborhood in a poor, single-parent home. He has never met his father. Though he was often ridiculed and bullied by others, his rhyming abilities were revered. After flunking the ninth grade three times, Mathers dropped out of school and competed in local rap freestyle competitions, was eventually discovered and now stands as one of the giants of pop music today.

Eminem is still the man people love to hate in many circles. He often justifies his presence as a bad boy in pop culture:

Now this looks like a job for me so
everybody just follow me
cuz we need a little controversy, cuz it
feels so empty without me.

Eminem’s film “8 Mile” draws upon the autobiographical themes heard in his music and puts them on the big screen. The song “Lose Yourself” from the movie soundtrack shows a hopeful, driven side of the many-faceted rapper:

Look, if you had one shot, one
To seize everything you ever wanted
One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

“There are millions who are just like him,” Udovitch concluded, “who cuss like him, don’t give an expletive like him, dress like him, walk, talk, and act like him, and, based on his sales, feel like him. That is: They feel incredible anger. They may be, as he was, children of welfare families, growing up to work for minimum wages while enormous wealth accrues to the privileged few. They may have their own reasons. But that these millions exist, and that Eminem speaks for them, is probably what is both truly subversive and truly threatening about his success.”

From any viewpoint, Eminem has made waves for the last few years and come into his own as a music giant, selling albums like candy. He is a “violently warped and vulgar yet extremely talented wordsmith,” as described by his Web site. So love him or not, respect him or not, he has made his mark.

Matt Stoulil is NCR layout assistant, a bass player and an avid observer of the music world. His e-mail address is mstoulil@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, November 22, 2002