So he’s back. Presumably with another multi-platinum bitch. The kracka you love to hate. Only don’t hate Eminem because he’s white. Hate him because he’s the only free man in commercial hiphop. (As Lauryn is the only woman who’s taken Ntozake Shange’s advice and found god in herself and is loving her fiercely.) Hate him because he’s the only man in hiphop not burdened with representing the ‘hood and black sex to hiphop’s prime real estate, the vanilla suburbs. Hate him because he gets paid by the industry to be whimsical and personal. Free to be Em when such whimsical and personal negro geniuses as Beans, Vast Aire, Jean Grae, and Prince Po got to mine the more-freelance-than-free hiphop underground. Of course they’re free too—free to never be seen on a Viacom-owned negro entertainment station, free to never get played on hiphop radio. But this is a price negroes must pay when their music can’t be used to score Girls Gone Wild.
Of course Mr. Em has his own crosses to bear, since he knows better than most how guilty he is of being white. So guilty that on Encore Mr. Em allots much of his time as a free man coming on humble, begging forgiveness, tripping over lines to explain himself to the negro community for getting involved in coon bidness such as 50’s beef with Ja Rule and those rediscovered ancient rhymes riddling black girls with Mick Jagger–worthy abuse. His exercise of white freedom has also gotten him banned from Viacom-owned BET, presumably on the sensitive negro community’s behalf, for his Michael Jackson–mocking video. It has also found him scribed on the covers of hiphop magazines as the greatest living rapper, which always makes me laugh and think of how predisposed white supremacy has made even colored journalists crown any white man who takes a Black art form to the bank, to mo’ money than Shine ever seen, as the greatest who ever lived. Fred Astaire, Benny Goodman, Elvis, Eric Clapton, Larry Bird, take your pick. As if any of them understood the kind of casual fatalism I overheard on 116th and Adam Clayton Powell the other day, where one brother say to another, straight-faced and not a hint of irony, “He’ll be out soon, he didn’t get much time, he only got 10 more years.” All that August Wilson sheet in other words. That real Black Angst. The kind of angst that only the burdensome, belaboring crucible of white supremacy could twist into those bizarre, contorted, and comforting expressions of Black Pleasure and Irony known as bebop and hiphop and the blues.
There’s no denying that with his broken home, Eight Mile origins, druggy mama, and babymama drama, Mr. Em does the sound of white male angst as well as Iggy Pop, Woody Allen, and Bill Clinton combined, and that given how you never see another white man within 10 feet of Mr. Em if he and D-12 can help it, you figure he feels he has adopted himself into the Black Guerrilla Family. You could also argue that anything that foments unity in struggle between the youth of America across color lines and late-stage capitalist hiphop is hardly an awful thing. Especially given that being poor and white in this country is considered such a sin against god it’ll make you vote for his only begotten Bush, there’s little reason to doubt Mr. Em when he shares his passionate love affair with hiphop or tells how during PE and X-Clan’s heyday that love drove him to wear an African medallion and Flavor Flav clock knowing brothers liked to snatch it from his neck. Such love of hiphop and to such a degree that Mr. Em feels the need to share how genuinely hurt he is that a nonentity like Benzino has made him persona non grata at The Source, a magazine he grew up on. And to such a degree that those who found Mr. Em far funnier and more irreverent when he used his ghetto pass to hang himself, call his mama a cunt, and stab his babymama problem to death may well be disappointed, all the bzangin Dre-like beats here notwithstanding, with how much quality rhymetime he gives over to apologia to the community negro, to assaulting safe and easy negro targets like MJ on “Just Lose It” and “Ass Like That,” to the 24-hour motorbootyfest known as KneeGrow Uddertainment Television. And can’t nobody be mad at him for trying to rally his flock against the President’s War on Iraq in “Mosh.”
Yet and still, the fact that Mr. Em could get that sentiment out on music television when Dead Prez, hiphop’s most been-trigger-ready presidential assassins, never-ever will is less a testament to Mr. Em’s white male freedom than it may first appear. More a testament, indeed, to the fact that the powers that be are more skeered of the Black Guerrilla Family’s militant wing speaking to family about revolution through this cable-televised hiphop medium than the angriest wigga alive. See, end of the day, Howdy Doody just don’t cut it when your tired poor sleeping masses need to hear it from Malcolm X. Or god forbid from Fitty Lloyd Banks Jay-Z Lil Jon Nelly Chingy Fabolous pass the smelling salts what kinda agitprop ra ra hiphop planet you think this is we living on?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 9, 2004