Early Eminem’s Views on the Issues of Rap Culture

Although it may be around twenty years too late to do so, I would still like to analyze how Eminem viewed the US of A back in the early 2000’s. However, some parts of the songs that are to be analyzed are still very relevant, because they are concerned with the effects of rap culture on youth, and with censorship and free speech. 

In 2002 Eminem released his album titled ‘The Eminem Show’. The album was born in a rap industry still strongly dominated by African Americans such as Jay-Z, Nas, or Snoop Dogg. The album contains two instant classics: ‘Without Me’ and ‘Till I Collapse’. Unfortunately, those two hits overshadow lyrically much more important songs ‘White America’ and ‘Sing For The Moment’, in which Marshall Mathers reflects on the effects his alter ego, Slim Shady, has on contemporary youth and reacts to criticism on his previous controversial albums ‘Slim Shady LP’ and ‘Marshall Mathers LP’. In those two previous albums, Shady did not filter his fantasy at all. For example, he referred to the Columbine shooting of 1999, and that reference was censored in the official album. Later, in his 2013 track ‘Rap God’ Eminem referred to that reference once again saying:

You get too big and here they come trying to

Censor you like that one line I said on “I’m Back” from the Mathers LP

One when I tried to say “I’ll take seven kids from Columbine

Put ’em all in a line, add an AK-47, a revolver and a nine”

See if I get away with it now that I ain’t as big as I was

But back to 2002. As I said, Eminem had a chance to take some time and see the reactions of the people on his psychotic phase of Slim Shady. In the very first track of the album, Eminem shows his realization that his target audience consists mostly of middle class white teenagers who try to relate to him:

See the problem is I speak to suburban kids

Who otherwise woulda never knew these words exist

And continues explaining his popularity in that demographic briefly to transition to the issue of censorship in the lower two lines of the following excerpt: 

And kids flipped

When they knew I was produced by Dre

That’s all it took

And they were instantly hooked right in

And they connected wit’ me too because I looked like them

That’s why they put my lyrics up under this microscope

Searchin’ wit’ a fine toothed comb

The song concludes with rage-filled address to the government that attempts to completely ban the artist’s music:

F**k you with the free-ness of speech this

Divided states of embarrassment will allow me to have

The issue of effects of rap on younger generations and misunderstandings of motives, the one that was only slightly touched in ‘White America’, is covered in depth in ‘Sing For The Moment’. The latter is from the same album, placed in a very unrelated part between a skit and the song ‘Superman’. The first two lines directly expose a typical listener of Eminem songs at the time: 

These ideas are nightmares to white parents

Whose worst fear is a child with dyed hair and who likes earrings

Those kids with dyed hair are going to be criticized in the latter part of the song. And Eminem explains and shows that he has a good reason to do so:

But everybody just feels like they can relate

I guess words are a motherf**ker, they can be great

Or they can degrade, or even worse, they can teach hate

It’s like these kids hang on every single statement we make

Like they worship us

That is the moment where Marshall not only tries to show how he and other rappers are misunderstood by the kids who worship lyrics without the context of the life of the rapper, but also shows his own confusion with what is happening in the rap industry. In the following lines Eminem once again mentions his battles on multiple fronts of fame:

But then these critics crucify you, journalists try to burn you

Fans turn on you, attorneys all want a turn at you

To get their hands on every dime you have

They want you to lose your mind every time you mad

In the next verse come the lines that, in my opinion, are the best written description of how rap culture misunderstood, glorified, and appropriated by privileged youth:

They say music can alter moods and talk to you

Well can it load a gun up for you and cock it too?

Well if it can, then the next time you assault a dude

Just tell the judge it was my fault, and I’ll get sued

See what these kids do, is hear about us totin’ pistols

And they want to get one, ‘cus they think the s**t’s cool

I think that the observations made by Eminem back in 2002 still hold true. Moreover, the effect might have been magnified recently, when a lot of rappers popular among teenagers explicitly glorify drug abuse (I have an article published on that topic as well) and gang membership. I hope that this article for some readers at least became a discovery of criminally underrated songs from early Eminem discography. 

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