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“Look. If you had… One shot, or one opportunity. Would you capture it? Or just let it slip?”. Does it familiar to you? Does it remind you anyone? This was a part of Eminem’s famous song, ‘Lose Yourself’. His stage name ‘Eminem’ was formed from the sound ‘M and M’, which referring the initials of his true name ‘Marshall Mathers III’. The album featuring the song ‘Lose Yourself’ ranked the first on the US Billboard 200 Albums Chart that year with over 702,000 copies sold in the 1st week. Have you or your friends ever heard of Eminem?

Nowadays, hip-hop culture has been popular throughout not only America but also other countries like China. In the history of rap, Eminem is definitely the most celebrated and debatable white rapper. He once was known as the GOAT (Greatest of All Times) in the hip-hop world. However, his great reputation brought him not only tremendous wealth and high social status, but also ethical responsibilities. He was soon catapulted into the vortex of moral controversy after being celebrated among hip-hop world.

This essay will explain his moral responsibility as a famous singer and evaluations on his reactions to these criticizes.

The first main point is that Eminem performed an art form originated by blacks who suffered from white oppressions as a white artist. The art form ‘rapping’ was a musical form of vocal delivery that mainly depends on rhythmic sentences consists of rhyme words, originated among African-Americans, particularly MCs— microphone controllers. Even now, rapping is considered as a unique artistic part in black culture. Meanwhile, the white involvement in black art forms is immediately problematic. A common viewpoint is that the history of black music has been a continuous one of whites’ lucrative expropriation of black cultural forms. From the perspective of elder black artists, there are two major problems with Eminem’s celebrity. White kids want their own rap hero rather than black rap stars. Since then, rap will no longer be a symbol exclusively for African-Americans. During that period in America, the conflict between the black and white races was so serious that every artist had to avoid racism problem though examining their works. Because popularity can enlarge their influences, while art can change people’s mind. The exist of a famed white rapper proved that Caucasian can not only play their own music but also black music well, even better than African-American themselves. Thus, as Eminem’s success implied a gap of capability between two races due to the unique property of rap. Another point is that there will be more white artists imitating Eminem since he gained a lot of attention and wealth, so the history of black music has been a continuous one of whites. How did Eminem react in his songs? He announced his racial identity and verbally attacks dissenters in lyrics. He situated himself as a victim of discrimination by implying people that for a long time he was attacked in his race by critics. He did garner sympathy though this way, but it is still considered as a fault that white artist chose an exclusive art form of African-Americans.

The second main point is that Eminem should be responsible for the influence of his songs and his behavior in reality that beyond the lyrics, since rapping had enormous audiences especially teenagers among almost every country in the world. Rap is arguably the most dominant force in popular culture. American teenagers rate rap as their favorite musical genre, and rap has reached ascendancy globally. Nearly every country in the world features some form or mutation of rap music. Every well-known rap star should confront the bad influences of hip-hop culture. It is undeniable that music had his educational function, and there is relationship between juvenile delinquency and rap music. Cutler (1999) explores how a white teenager from one of New York City’s wealthiest neighborhoods aligned with hip-hop by adopting African-American vernacular English and stereotypical features of urban street culture such as gang membership and drug use. Eminem repeatedly take violent, guns or drugs and other contentious topic as the theme of his songs. Therefore, a considerable amount of teenagers did imitate what described in Eminem’s songs, and he was called into question soon. He mentioned these in the song ‘Sing for the Moment’:

“They say music can alter moods and talk to you

But can it load a gun for you and cock it too

Well, if it can then the next time you assault a dude

Just tell the judge it was my fault and I’ll get sued

See what these kids do is hear about us totin’ pistols

And they wanna get one ‘cuz they think the shit’s cool

Not knowin’ we’re really just protectin’ ourselves”.

In the lyrics, Eminem described a ridiculous example to present the satire fact that there are actually not direct connections between songs and crimes, but government, public and parents blamed the increasing juvenile crimes on the rappers instead of examining their education. However, this response will definitely satisfy people, since there still teenagers who cannot distinguish the difference between artworks and reality and blindly imitating what lyrics mentioned existing. After a short period, Eminem seemed picked up his ethical responsibility though releasing albums that describes positive attitude towards life or states social problem. For example, in the song ‘Stan’ he raps:

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“I just hope it reaches you in time.

Before you hurt yourself, I think that you’d be doin’ just fine

If you’d relax a little. I’m glad that I inspire you, but Stan

Why are you so mad? Try to understand that I do want you as a fan.

I just don’t want you to do some crazy shit”.

The song ‘Stan’ was ranked at #236 in ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ by the Rolling Stone magazine. Because this song, the word ‘stan’ was included by New Oxford American Dictionary in 2017, meaning “to be an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity”. The song ‘Stan’ described a frictional crazy fan who was fascinated by Eminem, sent 3 letters to Eminem, but received nothing. Therefore, the fan decided to revenge, he locked his girlfriend who was pregnant in the trunk and drove a directly in to water. According to Eminem himself, ‘Stan’ was an adaptation from a true story, but not serious like this, and he wrote this song in order to warn his fan. From the audience’s view, even teenager can recognize the crazy things did by ‘stan’, and they probably back to examine themselves spontaneously since they are also the fan of Eminem.

And the last main point is that as an influential artist, it is moral obligation to provide a positive guidance for population. In rap world, racial problem probably is the optimum topic.

According to Edward, racism is a problem that originated from thoughts and formed a strong structure from the top to the bottom in the society. Though race is fluid and unfixed, it produces real effects in the social world. Bonilla-Silva (2006) uses the term ‘racial structure’ to describe how race has historically provided privileges to those with white skin and restricted the distribution of economic, political, and social capital to those with darker skin. And music is a relatively effective way to change people, particularly white adolescents from their mind aspect. The majority of hip-hop audiences are juveniles who readily believe their idols. Therefore, the content of songs should be considered carefully by rappers. Nas (Nasir Jones) is a typical model among all the educational singers. Nas is another rapper whose music and public discourse can help white adolescents disrupt America’s dominant ideology of race. Nas has specifically used his music as a platform to challenge color-blindness and America’s racial politics. Eminem was one of those artists who advocate racial equivalence. But differ from black artists, he undermines racial discrimination by revealing white privilege. In the song ‘White America’ he raps:

“Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself

If they were brown, Shady lose…

Look at my sales, let’s do the math If I was black, I would’ve sold half”.

In the lyrics, he pointed out that there is a reason of race in his commercial success. Blue eyes, brown eyes, black, and also ‘blonde’ which mentioned in the song implied racial differences. Besides revealing, Eminem started from another perspective – he was discriminated in the rap world because he is white. There might be factors that I mentioned in the first main point, but it is unquestionably that racial hostility also results in Eminem’s case. In his song ‘The Real Slim Shady’ he said: “Ya’ll act like you never seen a white person before”. Or in ‘White America’ he raps: “When I was underground, no one gave a fuck I was white, no labels wanted to sign me, almost gave up, until I met Dre, the only one to look past”. The lyrics exposed Eminem’s experience as a victim of discrimination. This is appealing not for black but for all the races. In fact, some blacks are abusing their rights and welfares under the flag of racism by raising a small problem into a higher plane of principle.

In conclusion, being a popular white rapper, Eminem may lead to racism and juvenile delinquency. He must be prudent with all the lyrics and his behavior, or there might be serious consequences due to his young audience.

References

  1. Stephens, Vincent. “Pop Goes the Rapper: A Close Reading of Eminem’s Genderphobia”. Popular Music, vol. 24, no. 1, 2005, pp. 21–36. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://jstor.org/stable/3877592
  2. Williams, Justin A. “BORROWING AND LINEAGE IN EMINEM/2PAC’S LOYAL TO THE GAME AND 50 CENT’S GET RICH OR DIE TRYING”. Rhymin’ and Stealin’: Musical Borrowing in Hip-Hop, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2013, pp. 140–166. JSTOR, http://jstor.org/stable/10.3998/mpub.3480627.9
  3. Armstrong, Edward G. “Eminem’s Construction of Authenticity”. Popular Music and Society, vol. 27, no. 3, 17 May 2010, pp. 335–355.
  4. http://sdonline.org/36/hip-hop-white-wash-the-impact-of-eminem-on-rap-music-and-music-industry-economics/

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