Eminem is one of the most unique rappers in Hip-hop history—and not just because of his whiteness. Oh, boy is simply nice. His introduction into the rap game has provided an amazing case study to analyze a phenomenon that only black performers and athletes had experienced: breaking down racial barriers.
The racial double standard that exists in America has meant that there have been higher standards for people of color seeking to exist in arenas dominated by whites. When a minority performer is admitted to areas exclusive to white folk, he/she does so by being so good at their craft that the audiences would be forced to recognize the talent for what it was; independent of their own prejudice.
Today’s most glaring example is Tiger Woods. Regardless of his personal problem, Woods has worked extremely hard from a young age to be accepted in a sport that is dominated by whites. His success has hinged on his mother preparing him from a young age for a high level of performance. On his first day of kindergarten, he was tied to a tree and “nigger” was written on his chest. And his early experience with racism, as the only minority family in his town, conditioned him to achieve at an even higher level and be accepted.
Eminem has also had to contend, to a lesser degree, with that double standard based on race. Rap music is and has always come from the streets of black and brown ghettos and had been exclusively a black occupation. Just as W.E.B. DuBois, the first black to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard, had to receive lectures from the hallway, Eminem had to do a jump through unnecessary hurdles to be accepted in an institution (e.g. the Hip-hop community) where he was the ethnic minority.
On a track from his third album, The Eminem Show, called “Til I Collapse,” Em expresses frustration with the haters of the rap world: “sometimes you just feel tired/you feel weak/when you feel weak/you feel you just wanna give up/you gotta search within you /you gotta find that inner strength and pull that shit out of you /and get that motivation to not give up/to not be a quitter/ no matter how much you wanna fall on your face and collapse.”
The opening prologue is alluding to the central thesis of the song: “Til I collapse/Im spillin these raps/long as you feel ‘em/Til the day that I drop /you’ll never say that Im not killin them.” He felt he wasn’t receiving the respect he deserved from the critical Hip-hop community after the release of his groundbreaking Marshall Mathers LP. While receiving perfect scores from the most major mainstream publications, it only received favorable ratings from publications like The Source.
Eminem’s philosophy is to kill the haters by kindly being better than most rappers. So at the end of the day, even if he does not receive the formal accolades he thinks he deserves, no one will ever be able to deny his level of skills on the mic. Especially those who’d hoped that he’d fail.
It’s the same type of respect that DuBois commanded by becoming one of the most prolific and gifted writers in the game (the academy). It’s the same respect that Tiger Woods commanded by adding Master’s titles and green jackets to his repertoire. To gain respect, Marshall becomes an irresistible force on this track: “you’re comin’ with me/feel it or not/you’re gonna feel it like I showed you the spirit of God lives in us!”
He knows that “music is like magic/there’s a certain feeling you get/when your real and you spit/and people are feelin your shit.” Talent is something that can never be denied and will always shine through no matter the racial barriers. When he is snubbed for consideration of the top 5 rappers in the game, he ignores it because “you hate/but you know respect you’ve gotta give [Him].”
In the last verse, he makes his last case for why he’s the best rapper alive; no one can come close to his talent. He rhymes, “ soon as a verse starts/I eat at an MC’s heart/what is he thinking?/how not to go against me?/smart. “ Its absurd that with how good his lyrics were, he wasn’t getting the props he deserved. But he’ll “never be served/[his] spot is forever reserved” because his music will speak to how good his material was/is, not the critics. That’s why he’s “clever when he puts together every verse because he is so above the fray on the mic that the respect inevitably will come with it; even if it’s delayed.
Even though at the time he was the #1 rapper in the world, shattering SoundScan and indoor attendance records everywhere, what was most important to him is the props that comes along with the respect of one’s peers. He was willing to achieve higher than all others to gain that respect. Em sums it up best: “a plaque and platinum status is whack if I’m not the baddest.” Thank God for Hip-hop.
*This is The Word…govern yourselves accordingly.