The Eminem Debate....pt1

Why Should Color Matter?
by Chris Hall WRAS Atlanta

I have received numerous e-mails, phone calls, etc, about Eminem and the debate over his meteoric rise to stardom. Here is my viewpoint. Please feel free to reprint this in your magazine, mass e-mail, newsletter, whatever as it is meant to provoke thought and discussion. I hope you will read it and think on the points and please write back with your insights:

The Eminem debate has become tiring and useless to the hip-hop community. The fact is that Eminem is white. Another fact is that he will benefit from his color. So what? Neither of these circumstances are of Eminem's choosing and he could not change either if he decided to try. It is a sad statement to the American condition that color still matters. It is an even sadder statement to the condition of the hip-hop community that we cannot see past this societal conditioning even as we universally acknowledge its presence.

Eminem benefits from his color. However, understand that black artists have benefitted from their color for years in terms of record sales. How many fake gangsters, pimps, and hustlers have we heard on records that went multi-platinum. If a white artist were behind the same records they wouldn't have sold five copies. For instance, if Snoop Dogg were white, "Doggystyle" wouldn't have sold. The reason behind this is that it is somehow accepted as authentic when a black artist speaks of the trials and tribulations of an inner-city gangster, even if that artist has never set foot within the confines of an American metropolis. To my mind, this is tenfold more disturbing then the fact that Eminem is lauded as the great white emcee.

Why do we accept the manner in which black artists are given universal credibility as urban story-tellers? Are all blacks poor? Are all blacks gangsters? Are all blacks pimps, hustlers, con-artists, living in the dirtiests slums, prepared to sell their mama for a rock, urban dwellers? If not, then why do we accept any black artist who tells these tales as authentic. If these presuppositions are untrue for the large majority of black Americans then we should be incensed that these stereotypes are accepted as given fact as black artists consistently put them on records. Unfortunately, no one argues that these fake gangsters are benefitting from their skin-color. They are consistently applauded for keeping it real, or telling it how it is, even by people living hundred of miles from the nearest urban center who have no idea what it's like to grow up in an American city.

Eminem has and will continue to cross-over to an alternative, suburban white community that has always played spectator to the largely urban black phenomenon of hip-hop. True, these kids have emulated, imitated, duplicated, and replicated hip-hop culture in the process diluting and mutating its meaning. The cause behind this is that they have never been allowed to participate on a large scale in order to develop an adequate understanding of the foundations of hip-hop culture. In the same way blacks universally rallied to Jackie Robinson, even if they didn't like baseball, because he represented their opportunity to participate in something that had been denied them. Eminem makes white suburban participation in hip-hop possible and these kids, who genuinely love the music, will latch onto his music and his image like no previous suburban hip-hop icon.

Eminem will also benefit from the same mindset that allows white people who hate hip-hop to have Cypress Hill and The Beastie Boys programmed in their CD player. These people don't understand and never will understand the important cultural role of hip-hop because hip-hop music, or music in general, does not hold the cultural importance to the majority of suburban kids (black, white, etc.) that it does to inner-city blacks, whites, and latinos. Hip-hop is an urban form of expression. It is predominantly a black form of expression, but don't mistake predominantly to mean solely. As those who were there at the beginning will tell you there were whites and latinos at those early block parties as well as blacks.

What disturbs me the most is that we have become so obsessed with Eminem's skin-color that we have largely ignored the greater issue of why skin-color matters in hip-hop. Why do we care about the color of our favorite or least-favorite MC's skin? If Eminem is a dope MC, as he was called almost without dissent before he blew-up, then why do we now all of a sudden take exception to his skin-color? Eminem is not guilty of stealing or copying a culture. His skill demonstrates his sincere appreciation for the art-form of MCing. His skill reflects the hours upon hours of practice and work he has put into being an MC. If you take offense to his content then you have to take equal offense to the multitude of black artists who have similar if not more offensive content. I know a young music director at an underground station in Atlanta who has refused to play Eminem's music while at the same time seeing no contradiction in playing Mobb Deep, Noreaga, Jay Z, (insert your favorite thug-rapper here), etc. Do her motives reflect her sincere consciousness and concern for the content of her programming or do they reflect a deeply embedded bigotry which she probably doesn't even fully comprehend?

Unfortunately, Eminem is being treated to the same types of blind bigotry that pioneering blacks such as Jackie Robinson, Joe Lewis, The Tuskeegee Airmen, etc. were shown. The people concentrating so intensely on Eminem's color are feeding the hatred, bigotry, and racism, that hip-hop at its best destroys. The reason hip-hop was able to weaken the gang culture of New York prevalent at its onset was precisely because it was all-inclusive. Hip-hop embraced people and that is why people of all races flocked to it.

Urban black youth played the predominant role in the creation and development of hip-hop. That is a wonderful and historically noteworthy achievement, but you cannot logically conclude that since blacks created hip-hop, blacks should be the sole keepers and producers of hip-hop. By that thinking, we would have no Michael Jordan, Willie Mays, Joe Lewis, Muhammed Ali, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, etc., etc., etc. Follow my meaning...A white man invented basketball and yet Michael Jordan perfected it. A white man invented baseball and yet Willie Mays played it to a level seldom reached before or since. A white man invented boxing and yet Muhammed Ali can legitimately call himself "The Greatest". A white man invented the system of justice in the United States and yet Thurgood Marshall stands as one of the most accomplished Supreme Court justices in history. A white man invented the bus and yet Rosa Parks shook a nation with her refusal to move on that bus. Applying the same standard to hip-hop, we see that there is considerable room in hip-hop for the contributions of people from all nationalities, races, and cultures.

I personally have grown to dislike Eminem's lyrics. I recognize that he is a very skilled MC, but for the same reasons that I cannot watch a whole episode of Jerry Springer I cannot listen to Eminem's whole album and enjoy the experience. Personally, this is because I have gotten older and am no longer so enamored with the gruesome, the outrageous, or the outlandish. In addition, it is because I have grown much more conscious and spiritual over the past year or two. I do not personally listen to a great many emcees whom others load with accolades. Jay Z, Noreaga, Black Rob, most of Nas' material, No Limit, Cash Money, Cage, etc., etc., etc. have joined Eminem on the list of artists who I don't listen to at home. I don't care for these artists music for a variety of reasons, but none of them have to do with their skin. Can you say the same?

Chris Hall
WRAS-Atlanta, WRFG-Atlanta

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