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.
- 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.