two cents on Eminem, and Rap in general

I’m bracing myself to get flamed here, and I’m hesitant to even bring it up, having read a couple of fairly scathing indictments of Eminem on this board in the past, but the grammy’s last night made the subject sort of topical again.
Before I get in to the main event I’d just like to say a couple of things.

  1. I like rap (hip hop)a lot. I also like Miles, Coltrane, Verdi, Chopin, The Replacements, Marley, Debussy, Cole Porter, Sondheim, and ani difranco, to name a few of the top of my head. One of my great pet peeves, and I’ve seen it here on this board from time to time is people who call rap “music” in quotations, as if it isn’t actually music and is just “a bunch of foul mouthed guys talking over beats”. I suppose rap isn’t for everybody, but i find this attitude really offensive, culturally insulting and ultimately, ignorant.

It doesn’t take much of a leap to realize that Rap was music long before classical music existed. Storytelling, chanting and inprovisation over percussion goes all the way back to rain dances and was in a sense, the first music. I mean, think about it, Homer and Ovid were rappers.

Its also fairly easy to trace a more recent lineage thru Jazz, in that many of the defining conceptual features of Jazz (Call and Response, Improvisation, syncopation, and swing time) are also the foundations of hip hop and rapping.

So my requst to those of you (and you know who you are) who only begrudgingly call rap “music” or art is to think afor a moment before doing so. It makes one look ignorant and arrogant. Not liking it is one thing, but outright denying it as a valid for of expression makes you sound like those crazy people smashing elvis and chuck berry records and chanting “rock and roll has got to go!!!”

That said, I know that within this very hot button arguement there is an even deeper arguement surrounding Eminem and his vulgar and often homophobic and misogynistic rants on CD.

In a number of ways this controversy resembles an amplified version of the age old arguements that have surrounded lightning rods like South Park, Beavis and Butthead, and before them The Simpsons (and before them Johnathan Swift, if you wanna go waaay back).

They, like all great social commentary, work on a number of levels, and the basest of those levels is misinterpreted by impressionable youth and willfully ignorant adults a an endorsement of bad behavior. This is unfortunate, but IMO speaks more to ignorance on the part of the audience than to a culpability of the artist for the ills of society. Its easy to mistake Eminem (as so many youngsters do) for flash in the pan novelty acts like the embarrassing Vanilla Ice, or the truely loathesome Insane Clown Possee), or to lump him in with his compatriots (like the Deeply cynical Dr. Dre or the stoned beyond intelligibility Snoop Dogg), but to do so would miss the point.
Eminem is a brilliant, troubling talent, and his refusal to walk away from the persona or delineate the private person from the public figure from the characters he plays on record make him difficult to defend, but ultimately in all of its gruesomeness, The infamous Marshall Mathers LP contains more meaningful insights into the world we live in than almost any other owrk of art I’ve encountered recently.

Ya know, people get so worked up about his negative remarks towards women, his wife, and gays, and forget that:
A) he also makes jokes about killing Dr. Dre (who is his mentor and actually produced the album. and raps on the songs in question) so while he taste in comedy might be questionable, its hard to argue that he’s any more than a stand up comedian and a fairly astute social critic.
B) he’s playing one of the most brilliant public mind fucks in recent years, with his every word, or as some magazine or other put it, Eminem wins the “disguising genuine talent behind shock tactics” for the year. The boy can rhyme like william blake.
C) His supposed mysogyny is actually (whether intentional or not) a pretty scathing and insightful exploration of male fraility and insecurity, as opposed to just being a lame excercize in run of the mill machismo. the now notorious song “Kim” while difficult to listen to repeatedly is actually a beter insight into the underpinnings and motives of domestic violence than any ten Lifetime movies.
D) Getting mad at Marshall Mathers because Slim Shady claim’s he’s a serial killer is like being mad at Anthony Hopkins cuz Hannibal eats people.

I know this may seem out there to some of you, but I am not trolling, a assure you, and I also don’t expect to will over a lot of fans, but I think its important that people realize that this isn’t just a matter of some ugly pied piper leading the youth of america astray, and there is at the heart of the phenomenon, an important (if sloppy and sometimes grotesque) artist, who will onmly become more powerful and brilliant as he matures artistically.

I won’t flame you just give you a stern talkin’ to. I don’t think Eminem will be the ever popular rap artist and become all powerful like you prophecize him to. Granted I dig his music and his style but he gets annoying. I think his lyrics are just a release honestly. I don’t think he intentionally tries to piss off every single group of activists there are out there. I’m sure he’s pretty laid back in all actuality.

And about rap being around before classical music? Nuh-uh! Seriously though where rap got its roots from was the tribal drum beating and chanting, but surely you don’t think there were say a prehistoric Dre or Snoop busting it up many many years before music was technically around. Classical music has been around a long time my friend. The rap that you hear nowadays originated in the 20th century. I think that speaks for rap not being the oldest form of music.

Whats up with calling people ignorant just because they put rap in quotations? Is that really needed? You could have said it was in bad taste or even said it was unacceptable in your view, but you have to remember not everyone views things your way. I’m fairly sure there is some form of music that you think shouldn’t be considered music. For instance I cannot stand country music doesn’t mean I bash the people who do I just prefer not to deal with it. Hell alot of people don’t consider stuff like Techno, Electronica, and forms of Industrial music real music but is it? Why yeah of course. I could run around banging a piece of dried up fecal matter on a snare drum and call it music. It’s all about peoples tastes. Some people just don’t like certain types of music and they find it repulsing.

So yeah I kind agree with you about the Eminem thing but the rap part being the first music? Come on honestly! It’s all good though I thought your post was well written and you stuck to your point. Keep it up and don’t let people influence and change what you like just because it is popular.

Tiki, we’ve never intereacted before, but I’ve read a lot of your posts and I respect you a lot. Nice to finally “meet”.

As far as your points, I do think that anybody disregarding rap by saying: rap “music” (putting the music part in quotes) is ignorant and, to me, offensive. I can really actually only point to one genre of music that I flat out don’t get, (death Metal) but I would never imply that it isn’t music. This is fairly common among people who criticize rap. They often refuse to recognize it as music or as an art.

which brings me to point number 2: Rap as we know it today, is a fairly young form, owing its origins equally to dancehall and toasting from jamaica, scat jazz, and to a lesser extent, disco. But in a broader sense, what I was getting at is that as a form (storytelling in verse, over percussive accompaniment) it actually does have an older tradition than structured, arranged classical music. It was the original oral history, and (granted this is a fairly liberal association, but I think, a valid one) if we look back to the origins of performance art (rain dances and other similar rituals) we find that- subject matter aside- they are based upon the same basic elements as rap. Those include- as I mentioned earlier in a slightly different context- call and response, repetition, imprivisation and chanting over percussion.

What I find offensive is the attitude that if it doesn’t have a guitar or a string section or a melody that it isn’t music. I don’t expect everyone to appreciate rap, anymore than I could be expected to suddenly dig death metal, but I will defend to my death, (or at least my moderate discomfort) the idea that Death Metal, is “music”.
does that clear it up at all?

As for the eminem thing, yeah he gets annoying sometimes, I think he is young and immature as an artist, thats whats so frightening. His promise is pretty amazing, if he survives. Hes just a ball of unfocused energy and talent. I mean the Marshal Mathers LP is 75 minutes long (17 songs!!!), and for a guy that talks as much and has as little attention span as Eminem, thats a lot of thoughts on a lot of topics. A lot of it is offensive, but a lot of it it truly provocative as well, and of course this is the part that his detractors will likely never hear.

and most important, ultimately, he’s really funny

really really funny


Well it might be music but if it doesn’t have some sort of melody then it is bad music. Granted that’s just my opinion and you may be offended or disagree with it.


It would be too easy to say, “It’s been done before”. While you seem to lurk a bit more than I do Bad Hat, all I can say is that in a world that is already filled with violence and discrimination, people like Eminem are putting out the fire with gasoline.

I do not support censorship of any sort. Rap “music” is art every bit as much as the Osmonds are art. Every single bit as much as Thomas Kinkade is an artistic painter. Just as much as Yoko Ono is a vocal artist. Equating Eminem with William Blake was a supreme bit of irony. Mastery of the English language usually includes the ability to utilize some of the quarter million words in place of the one dozen cuss words more commonly found in Eminem’s drivel. Oops! Did I type that out loud?

Spewing murderous hatred and homophobic tirades places Eminem at the same level as a cranky five year old who has missed his nap. I will defend to the death the right he has to artistic expression. I will not accept the worthwhile aspect of monotone, thuggish adolescent harping upon inflammatory and quasi-legal topics. You are certainly entitled to your own opinions and tastes. I am obliged to wonder if you honestly think that a one trick pony like Eminem and his music will be included in serious discussions one hundred years from now. Blake is still taught, so is Bach, the same with Da Vinci. I am unable to isolate any sort of timeless aspect to the teenage angst that Eminem spews.

Feel free to enlighten me.

I feel the same way about Eminem that I do about Mariah Carey – so much talent applied to songs of so little substance.

You’ve got some good points Bad Hat and your not getting heated in this semi-debate thing going here. I like that.

Now back to rap getting it’s roots in certain different areas. I’d say that all those conjoined to create what we call rap today. I’ll admit I’m very open musically about the only music I don’t listen to is country (something about evil cowboy/hicks dancing around scares me). I watched a documentary awhile ago about the foundation of rap and they called it as it began in the New York City area. It started off while young African Americans where playing basketball in the hood with people just screwing to make their own style of music (scratching old jazz, blues, and even rock records to create new sounds). Then it grew to where MC’s would “battle” each other. Then it spread to the west coast and well you probably can figure out the rest for yourself. In my opinion that there is the root.

I was clear on your whole definition of what music is basically by your first post. Not a bad one I might add. My point is that it isn’t necessarily ignorant to categorize any type of music as “rap” or “music” it’s just in bad taste. It’s a completely different genre than what some people are used to and they are narrow minded enough to not realize that something other than what they like is music.

To lighten this up a little before responding (and in hopes of not getting this moved to Great Debates), I’ll throw out a quick joke on the subject. Chris rock said not long ago: “You know times are strange when the best golfer in the world is black and the best rapper in the world is white.” :slight_smile:

I’m not really disagreeing with anything you are saying Tik, which makes me think that maybe I am not articulating my position very well. And I am starting to realize that there are 2 very distinct discussions going on here.

All I am saying re: rap as art is that I am offended by people who don’t consider rap music because is isn’t generally melodic and doesn’t adhere to western conventions of musicality. I feel it is Eurocentric and narrowminded to disregard a form that can point to such an ancient and primative tradition as its inspiration just because it doesn’t play by rules (tonality and theoretical structure) that weren’t established until MUCH later.

Again, I’m not saying everyone should have to LIKE rap music, but I would love for those who are dismissive of it as thuggery and foul language to aknowledge that it is an art form, instead of condemning that which defies thier conventions.

I find MGibson (who I don’t know very well) to be perfect exacmple of the mindset to which I object. While I mentioned earlier that I don’t like Death Metal, I would never be so bold as to call it “bad music”. I would feel comfortable calling, say… Insane Clown Possee, or Third Eye Blind BAD music. This is because I understand and appreciate thier respective genres and think that they are poor examples of the aesthitics inherant therein. I understand what they are attempting and think they suck at it.

To dismiss an entire genre of music as BAD music, when there are many intellegent learned people who agree with me that rap is among the most important social and artistic movements in recent memory, is IMO, ignorant and (not to pull the race card too hard here) demonstrative of Eurocentricity. And before this gets ugly, I’m not calling MGibson, or people who don’t like rap racists.

I’m just reasserting that I think theres a difference between saying “Eh, hip hop isn’t my thing, though I do recognize that it is a valid and tremndously popular form of expression for millions of americans to whom largely white rock and roll doesn’t speak” and saying Rap isn’t music". The latter is what I find offensive.

And interestingly Snoop, I agree with you to an extent too. I do think that Eminem hasn’t focused his energy yet and I do find myself listening to some of the rhymes on his albums and finding them less than completely coherant. But his facility with language, sense of syncopation, and staggaring mastery of internal rhyme are powerful tools, as is his sense of irony and his social critics eye.

I’m not gonna resort to full out line quoting in his defense, but I would encourage concerned parties to actually listen to the mans music and if nothing else, just marvel at the fluidity of his delivery. I stand by the William Blake comment, its probably hyperbolic, but the man (Mathers) is a deft poet technically. He uses a great deal of profanity, but is speaking a vernacular which doesn’t attach the same severity to these words as most of us do. Don’t assume that using slang or profanity points to a lack of intelligence or a deficit in capacity for articulation. It certainly does sometimes, but is also often a deliberate reaction or form of protest against a society which some view as less than ethinicly or culturally inclusive. To quote another important rap figure (Mos Def) on the subject: “I used to speak the King’s English but I caught a rash on my lips/ so now I chat just like dis.”

I know this has been done before. And if you haven’t noticed I’ve been exceding careful NOT to turn it into a race issue, since as Eminem proves it isn’t, entirely a race issue. But that element does seeth beneath the surface here, as rap is just the latest in a long series of black musical forms (like Jazz and rock and Roll before it) to emerge as an expresion of the black cultural experience only to frighten or disgust white american establishment, simultaneously seducing its youth with the promise of rebellion. Until the establishment finds a way to sanitize the form. In this case the packaged version taking the form of the new Rap Metal hybrid bands like Limp Bizcut and the like, who in my opinion are A) frightening and vaguely fascist in presentation, and B) not terribly far removed from Jolson-esque blackface or minstrelry in concept.

They are however, music.


Zen, I actually remeber that thread from earlier, but I wanted to kind of start clean, and not have to deal with issues like BOOMIN’ car stereos and other baggage associated with the topic beyond rap itself as an artform. I liked some of the thoughts in that thread, but i didn’t want to start out on the defensive, so I started clean.
BUt I welcome your contributions to this discussion, if you are interested in revisiting the discussion in a differnet context. Conversely, I understand if you feel your peace has been said on the subject.

I don’t know much about rap music, but I would like to know of one rapper who has been at the top for longer than two years. Real talent survives. Who has the #1 album in the world? THE BEATLES.

While I don’t mind people using bad language, I don’t like them using language badly and I do not tolerate the language of badness. Rap does all three.

In two years, Enimen will be a memory.

I have met a few rappers at work. Some of them are very bright, knowledgable people. One of them was in here doing the whole rapper, bad boy image. I started talking to him about music and music technology, and he dropped the whole charade and starting talking very nicely and normally, even apologizing when he said the s-word (which he must have said about 20 times already, along with every other such word) to me, a middle aged white lady.

On the other hand, some of them are absolutely disgusting people you wouldn’t want in your house.

Well I gueess we need to define on top, don’t we. Surethe beatles sell a lot of records and were viable artists for a long time. But coltrane was viable for a long time to and was never a unit shifter the same way they were? what exactly is our criteria for being at the “top”? And does Nivana not count as important because they were only at the top for 3 years? or REM? cuz while they’ve been important artists for ages, they were only chart toppers for a short time in the late 80s and early nineties.
But for a short list, here are some rap acts that have had long careers.
Dre (15 plus years and a lot more albums sold than REM)
Cube (15 plus years as well)
Public Enemy (really important for 7 or 8 years)
Dela Soul (better than ten years of solid music)
Wyclef (five or 6 years)
WuTang Clan (Six years)
Gang Starr )better than 10 years as thier best of compilation Full Clip:A decade of Gang Starr testifies)
Ice T (10 or 15 years)
LL Cool J (coming up on 15 years as well)

Lets also keep in mind that rap (as we know it today) is a young form and a fifteen year career in a barely 20 year old genre is logevity IMO. The Beatles were around for about 6 years, all told. I like the beatles too, but I don’t be surprised to find public enemy’s “It Takes a nation of millions to Hold us back” mentioned in the same breath with Sgt. Pepper when the history books try years from now to make sense of the nmusical and social landscape fo the later 20th century.
I think that tyour argument is ill defined, and i think that if you are equating artistic merit to sales, we have a whole other debate brewing, best left to another thread.
“On the other hand, some of them are absolutely disgusting people you wouldn’t want in your house.”
I think there are easily as many dirty rock stars I wouldn’t want in my house. Could we please refrain from imposing generalizations on entire genres of music!!! Because of the ills of a some deciples? I mean I wouldn’t want Jimmy Page or Slash in my house either, but i still like Zoso and Appetite for destruction.

Preach on, Brother Bad Hat!

Rap music, like most other forms of popular music (Including rock and country), suffers from a preponderance of mediocrity. A few really great artists whose works are copied again and again by thousands of crappy bands.

I’m a huge fan of techno, but I’ll readily admit that 90 percent or so of it is crap. I feel the same way about country, rap, and rock.

The thing is, most people have an image of “rap” that doesn’t even include half of what the genre’s all about. They only see the medeocre gangsta rapper shouting random obsenities and basic rhymes while keeping more or less on the beat.

I’m not even knocking gangsta rap here. I think it falls under the same %90 rule as above. It’s just that when you mix in controversy with medeocrity, it becomes even easier to write the entire genre off as a waste of time.

Rap isn’t music? Then free style isn’t poetry.

word brother Seal… word…

I’d like to add to my list of important rap acts by contributing The Roots, and offering the rap gods my humblest apologies for failing to list a group that has been making some of the most important, exiciting pop music of the last seven or eight years, and putting on onehelluva live show.
For the Roots crew curious, check out Illadelph Halflife or Things Fall Apart. IF they don’t convert you, you probably weren’t born to get it.
(that was a joke)
I’m really not trying to be condescending about this whole thing, and I’m sorry if my last post to AnnieX seemed a little hostile, but I feel like most of the arguements she brought up had either already been disputed, or were based on faulty logic to begin with.
I’ve never met you before Annie, and I’d hate to make an enemy on this board over aesthetic issues, but the vagueness and willful ignorance (by your own admission) in your tone set me off a little. I’m late for work, so I’m typing too fast and not proofreading. I’ll be back tonight!!!
see yall then!!!

Well said that man.

Except Mariah Carey sucks more than fifteen kids in a lolly factory. :slight_smile:

I have to agree with Bad Hat and Sealemon88. Rap is a creative artform that doesn’t deserve to be dissed because it lacks a melody.

I am not a fan of rap, but I do enjoy the occassional song (see the 90% rule). Eminem has been able to produce several songs that have caught my attention and have enjoyed thouroughly. I’ve found myself defending his songs to several different people. There is an honesty and insightfulness to his work that most artists lacks.
Oh, and Bad Hat you forgot to mention Will Smith. :wink:

Brilliantly said Bad Hat.
I read this entire thread this morning, and it’s just what I need to show someone I’ve been having this argument with.
You put it into words much better than I could have.
OH, and JayZ is one of my favorite rap/hip-hop artists along with his whole roc-a-fella crew, thier raps/stories stem from everything on growing up in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn to love and family. There’s no song of any type of genre in music out there that doesn’t deal with topics on childhood problems, romance, and family.


::lurker peeking in, decides to post::

In order to hear the underlying genius in Eminem’s work, one needs to look no further than one of his current hits garnering airplay, “Stan.” The song tells the story of an obsessed fan writing letters to Eminem from the fan’s point of view. In the voice of the Eminem, as Stan, you can hear the tension and desperation begin to build as Stan tries to reach out to his idol but receives no response. Through Eminem’s vocal inflection, you can actually hear Stan losing a grip on everything around him. The way Slim Shady draws you in is unmistakeable. The unreturned affection Stan expresses to Eminem eventually lead him to commit suicide and bring his pregnant girlfriend to death with him.

While the picture Eminem orally paints may be graphically violent, it is also very vivid, and in some ways reflects very well the star-crazed culture we live in. Yet, at the end of the story, we hear Eminem writing a reply to Stan explaining that all of the things he says in his songs are merely jokes; that he’s “just clownin’.” While Eminem’s message may not always be the pretty images we desire, there is a great talent and a clever lyricist at the helm. We may oneday recognize Eminem as a social commentator of Bob Dylanesque proportions.

Lastly, to the contention that rap is not music, I challenge you to listen to Dr. Dre 2001 and tell me that there are not portions of the album through which you can find beautiful rolling melodies. Hmmm… Did anyone happen to notice that a recent Erykah Badu song sampled the beat and melody from Dr. Dre’s Xplosive completely?


::lurker runs out::

Granted, Rap is music and art. Bad music and bad art,IMHO, but these things are completely subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Rap doesn’t speak to me the way that other forms of music do. I like punk rock much better. It speaks to me. I’m sure that some people liken it to nails on a blackboard. To each his own.

It doesn’t offend me at all if somebody wants to put quotation marks around ‘music’. I get what they’re trying to say. I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

Personally, I think M&M is opportunistic little snotbag, playing to the lowest common denominator. But that’s just me. YMMV.

Sealemon88’s 90% rule puts an awful lot into perspective. I also think most people have bad taste in music which is why so much of it is around… Not straight dopers though. It’s no more fair for me to judge rap and hip-hop by bad examples than for someone to judge “white” music by Donny and Marie.

It’s very easy for us to dismiss something outside our own culture and only see the aspects we percieve as negative. How do I feel about a fashon statement like baggy, droopy pants that is an emulation of prison garb? Maybe no different that my grandparents looked at kids in black leather jackets who fit the '50s mold of a juvenile deliquent.

Still, I’m conflicted. Eminem is an incredibly talented person but his hate spewing lyrics still stick in my craw.