The following is an editorial and does not necessarily reflect the views of WestCoastStyles.com.
Eminem’s recent invitation into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same month that The Eminem Show turns twenty is very fitting. While he is a 15X Grammy winner, the best-selling artist of the 2000s, the most-certified artist for singles in RIAA Gold and Platinum program history, and the recipient of numerous other accolades, the man born Marshall Mathers deserves the induction for even another reason.
It’s one that trophies and metrics can’t measure either. And Em masterfully lays it out on The Eminem Show’s Aerosmith sampling stellar cut, “Sing for the Moment.” In the closing verse, he says:
That’s why we sing for these kids who don’t have a thing / Except for a dream and a fuckin’ rap magazine / Who post pin-up pictures on they walls all day long / Idolize they favorite rappers and know all they songs / Or for anyone who’s ever been through shit in they lives / So they sit and they cry at night, wishin’ they’d die / ‘Til they throw on a rap record, and they sit and they vibe / We’re nothin’ to you, but we’re the fuckin’ shit in they eyes / That’s why we seize the moment, try to freeze it and own it / Squeeze it and hold it, ’cause we consider these minutes golden / And maybe they’ll admit it when we’re gone / Just let our spirits live on / Through our lyrics that you hear in our songs.
The brilliance of these words is not only their honesty and delivery. It’s also the immediate realization Eminem is coming at it from both the perspective of the rap superstar and the kid for which Hip-Hop was a saving grace. Because he has always emphasized the latter, plus possessed a spectacular talent and dedication to the art of rapping, it is why he is the greatest. To be the best, it’s not enough to be good at your craft; you also have to connect with the audience, and no one does BOTH of those things better than Eminem. While performing for a sold-out stadium is a dream Eminem had realized at that point, those bars in “Sing for the Moment” are more about a young Marshall standing in his Uncle Ronnie’s driveway in Missouri performing LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad” for cars riding by. And that passion was something to which every rap fan in the world could relate. Thankfully, Mr. Mathers had the world as his stage and the courage to speak on all their behalves (present company included).
When Eminem inducted Run DMC into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, he said, “Two turntables and a microphone [were] all it took to change the world.” He wasn’t wrong. Everyone who came up after Run DMC, including Eminem, has to give the kings from Queens their props. “They [Run DMC] also refused to give up when much of the world refused to recognize rap as real music,” Em later said in his speech. Thirteen years later, to add to that, I offer up that once [rap] got recognized as real music, Eminem proved to more people than anyone it was a force with which to be reckoned. And as a culture, Hip-Hop is eternally grateful for that, and it is why he is worthy of a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside his idols Run, DMC, and the late great Jam Master Jay.
Eminem’s ability to combine the strengths of his predecessors, in addition to LL’s and Run DMC’s, like Big Daddy Kane’s technical skills, 2Pac’s emotional depth, and Redman’s sense of humor, was extraordinary. It made him a songwriter and performer, unlike anything Hip-Hop had seen or heard before. Records like “Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” “Still Don’t Give a Fuck,” and “Role Model” were both edgy and accessible because it was hardcore rap that was funny. And that persona laid the foundation for what would become his Aftermath debut, The Slim Shady LP. And while Eminem’s first official offering three years earlier, Infinite, received valid comparisons to the styles of Nas and AZ, listeners shouldn’t dismiss it. It does show early signs of Em’s abilities, which he would master over the next several years and ultimately come into his own as an emcee.
For example, it was an accurate assessment when Chris Rock said in Rolling Stone that “Lose Yourself” was the best song about wanting to be a rapper ever made. But a precursor to that was Infinite’s “It’s Ok,” which is an optimistic slept-on gem where, in hindsight, Eminem spoke lots of it into existence and then some. Even with the Academy Award winning record, which was a battle cry for the B-Rabbit character in 8 Mile, there is still a necessary suspension of disbelief because Eminem was still the performer who had already made it. It was a victory lap about the storm he had made it out the other side of; however, “It’s Ok” was a record (with mind-boggling rhyme schemes) about an actual person pursuing their dream but still in the trenches. And while the title track may be Infinite’s most famous song and the album sold very few copies, the promise “It’s Ok” showed surpassed some rappers that were putting up numbers in the millions. Fortunately, in just a few short years, Eminem would get his big break from Hip-Hop’s greatest producer, Dr. Dre.
As far as Eminem’s decade of dominance, what more can one say that hasn’t already? 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP. 2002’s The Eminem Show. 2004’s Encore. 2009’s Relapse. Even during many years when he didn’t put out a solo album, he still did incredible things that could make St. Patrick green with envy. These highlights include, but aren’t limited to: In 2001, he launched Shady Records and put on his group D-12, and they dropped their outstanding debut, Devil’s Night. Eminem also outshined Jay-Z on “Renegade” (Or as Nas put it in his legendary battle with Hov on the track, “Ether”: – Eminem murdered you on your own shit.) And in 2003, after he signed 50 Cent in a joint venture with Aftermath, it resulted in the biggest major label debut in Hip-Hop history, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.
Eminem had racked up production credits in the past. Still, people especially recognized his skills behind the boards in the early ’00s. One of the most notable pieces is his work on “Runnin’ (Dying to Live)” after it was the lead single for the 2003 documentary Tupac: Resurrection. The track takes old verses from both 2Pac and the Notorious BIG and places them atop thick drums and a high-pitch Edgar Winter vocal to create a haunting audio document that accompanies the film perfectly. And in the fall of 2006, Em added the only thing one could argue was missing from his repertoire, a “club” joint. At the request of Akon, the smooth singer and Detroit wordsmith linked up to create the Eminem-produced single “Smack That” which appeared on Akon’s multiplatinum, Konvicted. The song was a huge success and notably had the highest jump on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in a single week (no. 95 to no. 7). Most memorable, though, was in the video for it, where Em, as he starts his verse, is seen with a tattoo on his arm that reads “Proof” and is wearing a chain with the letter “P” on it to honor his best friend and fellow D-12 member DeShaun “Proof” Holton who got shot and killed just months earlier.
The evolution of Eminem continued, and by the 2010s, with the music industry in the full-fledged digital age, Em adapted right along with it. His seventh album, Recovery, widely seen as his comeback, was propelled by two singles, “Not Afraid” and “Love the Way You Lie,” which were the songs that earned him a historic milestone. He had the distinguished honor of becoming the first artist in music history with two digital single diamond awards. And, even with those colossal commercial hits, like many of Eminem’s albums, Recovery‘s actual staying power was in the set’s deep cuts. The album’s second song, “Talkin’ 2 Myself,” is a DJ Khalil-produced standout where Em addresses the demons that held him back during the past several years. ( “It’s different, them last two albums didn’t count / Encore, I was on drugs; Relapse I was flushin’ ’em out.”)
And immediately following that is “On Fire,” with an amazing beat courtesy of Mr. Porter, where Em’s mastery of wordplay and just straight splitting is on full display. After his hiatus and two subpar albums (when compared to his other work – it still towered over most of its competition), Recovery was going to be crucial to his legacy. He couldn’t afford to miss a third time. Fortunately, he didn’t. Taken as a whole, the content on the rest of the album covered everything between those second and third songs. Hit singles are great, they capture moments in time. But, if that’s all there is, their creators are a flash in the pan. True artists do that too, but simultaneously change with the times as well, and there is no more outstanding example of this in Eminem’s discography than Recovery. It was his redemption, both personally and professionally.
My favorite thing about his next album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, is that while Hip-Hop had entered a new generation, Eminem threw up his proverbial middle finger at it. He teamed up with Rick Rubin to create a handful of records paying homage to the old school via vintage production ala breakbeats and samples. The most exemplary of these songs, “So Far,” leans heavily on Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” and finds Em reflecting on fame. Similarly, “The Monster” video finds Eminem recreating scenes from his classic music videos. It was the first time he was seemingly reflecting on his career in the public eye, and it was plain as day that he had created something which no one had before, nor was it something that anyone could ever duplicate.
Perhaps, because of that, Revival was an LP that suffered since it seemed unnecessary after such strong posturing on the previous outing. But 2017 was still far from a huge dent in Eminem’s legacy. His performance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards in the cypher was amazing. And “Need Me” with P!nk was a great, but overlooked record on Revival. (It also helped me deal with the end of a relationship years later.) However, even with those positive marks, I think Eminem accurately summed up being in an uncomfortable space nicely on “Believe” when he goes: Man, in my younger days / That dream was so much fun to chase / It’s like I’d run in place / While this shit dangled in front of my face / But how do you keep up the pace / And the hunger pangs once you’ve won the race? / When that dual exhaust is coolin’ off / ‘Cause you don’t got nothin’ left to prove at all / ‘Cause you done already hit ’em with the coup de grâce.
But because he was still a battle rapper at heart who began in the Detroit underground, Em refused to let haters get the last word and essentially used his entire 2018 Kamikaze release to silence critics. “A beacon of hope, put a B-I-R-D in the air / Somewhere some kid is bumping this while he lip-syncs in the mirror / That’s who I’m doin’ it for, the rest I don’t even care.” Those lyrics in “Fall” may seem repetitive to others, but I beg to differ. I argue that they are there for emphasis. Ultimately, Eminem uses music to help people because it helped him, and the fact he continues to do so when he doesn’t have to is a beautiful thing. But if that leads one to believe he’s gone soft, he hasn’t. Check Music to Be Murdered By’s “Unaccommodating” for evidence he can continue to rattle people after all this time.
Eminem deserves a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he proves that the art of emceeing can enrich the human experience. He has spent the last quarter of a century doing so and besting all others from every angle, honing that skill and demonstrating just how powerful rap can be for better (“Mockingbird”) and for worse (“Stan”) while his aftershocks impacted every other genre of music in the process. Whether being the only rapper to go platinum in four different decades, delivering rhymes at an unbelievable level of expertise (“Godzilla”), or performing during the Super Bowl halftime show, Eminem redefines what Hip-Hop’s possibilities are. At this point, he is only in competition with himself but still never ceases to amaze. So to those who don’t think Eminem should get such a prestigious induction or that he should be canceled, dream on.