People are always shocked that a 43 year old black man, who was born and raised in a Cleveland ghetto, never bought a rap album until Eminem’s 1999 debut, The Slim Shady LP.
How in the hell could that be true?
Either way, that shit is 100% accurate.
Even as my cousin and friends salivated over the music of LL Cool J, KRS-One, N.W.A. and Big Daddy Kane as kids in the late 1980’s, I kept my attention on Michael Jackson and the awesome television series Knight Rider and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
Sure, I loved some of the hilarious songs from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and Kid ‘n Play were cool. But all the hardcore shit was too off-putting for my taste.
Except for a couple of Ice Cube classics.
I bobbed my head a few times to the silky flows of Snoop and Dre on the best songs from the 1992 classic, The Chronic. I even became fond of “I Get Around,” the 1993 radio hit from 2Pac.
But that was the extent of my relationship with rap and hip-hop.
Until March 1999.
MTV Introduces Me to Slim Shady
I had just gotten cable television installed in my new apartment and I had MTV on a lot. That’s when I started noticing this insanely catchy music video playing a lot on the network.
It was the clip for “My Name Is…,” the lead single from Em’s The Slim Shady LP, which had been released in late February. I fell in love with the song and the artist, especially his Slim Shady alter ego who was a wise ass. Within a few days, I made the choice to buy my first ever rap album.
Here are my reasons why:
He Was Visually Different
My perception of rappers before Eminem came along was that they were almost always young black men from the inner city. They wore gold necklaces, maybe flashy hats, shades or clothes. They were either bald, had braids, an afro or a fade.
But this new guy was not only white, he was pale. His hair was closely cropped and bleached blonde. His eyes were like blue marbles and his clothes were as basic as they could get; white T-shirt and unremarkable pants.
He looked like a lot of things, but a rapper was not one of them. And since I have always been drawn to uniqueness, his appearance really sold me on him.
He Was Hilarious and Shocking
That first single (and every song on the album) were filled with one ridiculous punchline after another. It was so funny and over the top that it almost felt like a comedy routine that just happened to rhyme. For the same reasons that I loved the quirky songs from The Fresh Prince, I was hooked on these.
Except, Eminem upped the stakes significantly because graphic language and cartoonish violence were staples of his subject matter. Will Smith’s Fresh Prince was deliberately G-rated.
Eminem had mastered the art of shock.
On his first album, he declared that he and his mom were drug addicts, he suggested that he may have AIDS, he took credit for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman and he indicated a willingness to have sex with 15 year old girls.
He Didn’t Try to Be a “Black” Rapper
It would’ve been so easy for Em to take the Vanilla Ice route; be white as snow but rap about “typical black subjects” and try to assume a black rapper’s cultural identity. If he had rapped about selling drugs, having a big cock, being a ladies’ man, driving expensive cars, smoking reefer and shooting people, Eminem would have been boring.
Instead, he went the other way and talked about “typical white subjects.” He rapped about doing ‘shrooms, coke and poppin’ Ecstasy pills. He was upfront about being “trailer park trash,” being unsuccessful with the ladies and instead of shooting people, he used chainsaws and even drowned the mother of his daughter — on record.
He came off as the standard, psychotic white boy we see getting arrested on the news.
That was genius.
The bottom line is that we should never give in to peer pressure to like something that doesn’t interest us. I never stopped being me. My friends obsessed over hardcore rap while I stayed loyal to Michael Jackson’s music as well as white pop and hard rock.
I am a non-conformist.
They said Outkast, I said The Wallflowers. They said Lauryn Hill, I said Jewel. It wasn’t until I decided to learn about the great hip hop artists through my own intentional research. That’s when I expanded my fandom from just Eminem to also include ‘Pac, Biggie, Snoop, JAY-Z and Ludacris. No one could make that choice, only me.
Be you. Always.