One of the most heated debates among hip hop fans over the last decade has concerned the much lauded and always controversial Marshall Mathers aka Eminem. Opinions on his status among the all time great MC’s vary from one of the greatest (if not the greatest) of all time to vastly overrated and undeserving of mention among the Rakim’s, Kane’s, KRS’s, ect. in the scope of hip hop history.
So What Is The Ultimate Consensus On Em?
Is he the proverbial “Rap God” that so many of his followers and the man himself says he is or is he an overrated product of the corporate rap machine who’s status is mere hype as his detractors claim. I will attempt to answer that question in an unbiased fashion with this article. I will present both sides of the argument and let the readers ultimately decide.
The Case For Slim
There are generally two stances on Em as an MC and his ranking among the all time greats. There are those that argue he’s the best rapper in the game, that his skill set is the illest ever. The way he combines multi-syllabic rhyming, punchlines, storytelling and wit is a talent that most rappers simply cannot do. There’s also the feeling that his detractors are biased towards him simply because he’s a white rapper that’s better than nearly every black rapper in a historically black dominated culture. As far as his talent with words, he is vastly talented and anyone who says he isn’t is lying to themselves. In conversations about Em, I often bring up the story of the first time I came to know of him. Now, I’ve always been a person who loves lyricists with intricate rhyme structures and witty punchlines so I can recognize when someone is nice. I first heard Em when “My Name Is” began making it’s rounds on radio and MTV. I thought “this is a nice little concept song that’ll catch on”. It wasn’t until I heard his debut “The Slim Shady LP” that I said “yeah, dude is nice”. However, his rhyme style was nothing new or unique. Anyone who follows the battle rap world knows that this style is common among the battle rappers. You have to be quick witted to survive there or the live crowd will boo you out of the building. Just check out the URL, KOTD, Lionz Den and other battle leagues and you’ll hear that this style of rapping is commonplace there. Now, where does Em come from? The battle world. So he’s not really doing anything new or revolutionary. To his credit, he is one of the very few battle rappers that figured out how to transition into a great songwriter. Another factor that greatly contributed to his success was the controversy factor.
“I never really heard a lot of street cats bumpin’ Eminem because his music isn’t really for them”
Everyone knows controversy sells and Em figured out a way to shock listeners by taking violent content to a level that hadn’t been heard since N.W.A. stormed the hip hop scene in the late 80’s. Em told tales of murdering his daughter’s mother, his own mother, stories of rape and homophobic lyrics that went into uncharted territory in a genre where violent lyrics had become the norm. However, this also was nothing new. Credit veteran Detroit rapper Esham for that influence, whom Em has said he’s always been a fan of. It’s basically horrorcore. Now, that wasn’t the only aspect to Em’s style and he would later move away from that but make no mistake about it. That’s one of the major factors that pushed sales of The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP into that 5 to 10 million range. His talent and the Dr. Dre involvement were also factors but these things weren’t enough to make non-hip hop fans pay attention to him initially and to reach those type of numbers, you have to reach those people . It also didn’t hurt that he was tapping into a demographic previously untouched by hip hop: suburban white kids that were looking for something to latch on to after heavy metal and later grunge rock more or less died. So as good of an MC Eminem is, those other factors are what ultimately pushed him into the hip hop stratosphere.
Rap Messiah Or Great White Hype?
On the other side of the debate, you have the Em detractors who say he’s overrated and simply not as good as dozens of other rappers in the game. They say the fact that he’s a white guy who just happens to be good at rhyming is what gives him undeserved status as one of the best ever. Personally, I’ve never been a huge Eminem fan as far as bumping his music in my ride which I do with my favorite MC’s. The fact of the matter is I tend to favor rappers whose stories are more close to my own. When I’m gettin’ nice and want to hear some ferocious rhyming and/or great storytelling,I can’t relate to Em’s subject matter. I never really heard a lot of street cats bumpin’ Eminem because his music isn’t really for them. But I also recognize that there are a lot of people out there that can relate to Em and his background so there’s definitely a place for him in hip hop. Personal preferences aside though, I can honestly say that Eminem is nasty with the lyrics. He’s mad talented and the “Stan” track is one of the best concepts for a song I’ve ever heard. Also,he’s respected by the greats and legends of the game. Someone in my Facebook group posted a story not too long ago on various rappers’ top five favorite MC’s and Em was a common denominator in a lot of those lists. His talent cannot be denied whether you love him or hate him. All that being said,who’s right and who’s wrong? Well,when you really sit back and analyze all these factors, both sides are right. Eminem is a dope MC, top tier and can rap circles around a lot of rappers past or present. However, he’s not the best or illest to ever do this. The greatest MC’s of all time are the innovators, point blank. I’m talking about MC’s like Rakim who restructured the way every MC rhymed,taking rhyme structure from the basic styles of early hip hoppers to the advanced styles of basically everyone that came after him. I’m talking Big Daddy Kane who took wit and personality combined with lyricism to an entirely different level than his predecessors and whose influence could later be heard in everyone from Big L to Em himself. I’m talking about KRS One,who could end your rap career in one moment then in the next educate you in a fashion that your school textbooks never attempted to do. Simply put,there’s not really much that could’ve been done after these legends to change the game as far as the sheer mechanics and personality of MC’ing. Is Eminem one of the best? Definitely. Is he the best or even top 5 of all time? Not in this longtime hip hopper’s book. But, this is just my opinion.
What do you think?