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Posse Revival: Whitey On The Moon

Did you hear that Eminem has a new album dropping tomorrow? It probably warrants a mention, since so many of these media outlets will likely overlook it. But because I, like Marshall, am too lazy to actually come up with new ideas, I am instead reupping this lost post on rap whiteness. It originally ran on 7/6/06 as part of the since self destructed Posse On Blogway column at the other site, so forgive my inability to predict a future where an Asher Roth exists.

This weekend I had the displeasure of catching a rerun of the BET Awards and witnessing Busta Rhymes’ mess of a performance, on the whole just a weird string of uncomfortable celebrities seemingly pushed out on stage in succession. But the supposed big moment was the post retirement* return of Eminem, who was just a little too excited to jump on the “Touch It” beat. Dude came out of a hole in the ground just to scream off beat for like eight bars. And the crowd ate it up. Which is odd, because Em’s been pretty much on cruise control for some time.

Personally, I don’t really know anyone who listens to his music like that, but I know a gang of people who will begrudgingly say things like you have to hand to him – he’s got skills. And you do have to hand it to him. He came out hungry enough to eat the whole plate – killing the organized battle circuit when organized battles still sorta mattered, showing up on any and every record he could spit on (you better believe that Shabaam Sahdeeq has been bragging to the BK bitties that roll up to his drive thru window about how he discovered Eminem) and holding down bi-coastal radio sessions with both Stretch & Bob and Sway & Tech.

So when he signed with Dre it was met with much anticipation. Even when the corny pop single dropped, it was a great corny pop single. His first two albums had some quality material on it, not enough that I would actually buy either, of course, and definitely not enough to justify the classic status that publications like Rolling Stone have granted it, but it seemed cool enough. You had to hand it to him – he had skills.

But then complacency set in. His raps got lazy and he assumed this rap Weird Al Yanovich position that just doesn’t make any sense**. This sort of burn out is all too common phenomenon amongst Dr. Dre collaborators – 50 Cent and Snoop Doog also quickly went from being the biggest and best rappers in the world to basically just tabloid fodder by the time their sophomore albums hit shelves. And the tabloids love Eminem, he is white after all. Just like Lindsay Lohan.

It’s worth noting that Eminem basically created white rap. Sure, there had been white rappers long before him. But the “real” ones worked really hard to sound and act black (think 3rd Bass and all that blue eyed eyed devil talk). The others were either silly and irrelevant pop gimmicks or just some Rage Against The Red Hot Bizkit white guys who hid their rap aspirations behind a rock formula. (The Beastie Boys were so successful because of their ability to smoothly traverse all three categories.) But white rap is something entirely different.

Prior to Slim I had heard (of) would-be underground white rap mainstays like El-P, The Grouch, Non Phixion and Cage, but back then race was never really made an issue. Guys like that were only putting out 12″s with no artwork and their press photos were blurry, black and whites with their face conveniently obscured by a tilted brim or a hand or a mic so that you just might mistake them for hispanic or part cherokee or something (just look at Em’s own cover). They all sound really white in retrospect, but at that time there was no real precedent for what a white rapper sounded like. To me Eminem sounded a lot like Young Zee or Masta Ace (who are both black, in case you didn’t know).

And there was none of this great white hype talk either. Thanks to Jimmy Iovine, Em was really the first to be successfully marketed as a white guy winning at a black man’s game with a decidedly white approach. His whiteness became a commodity. His subject matter was white. His voice was white. His hair was dyed blonde so you wouldn’t forget that he was white.

This inspired many a white rapper to embrace his (or her) own whiteness, directly or indirectly ushering in a veritable cottage cheese industry of screamy battle rappers, drug addled psychopaths, emo fruitcakes, greasy haired white trash gangstas, hipster princesses, and pretentious dweebs who rap about their community college philosophy classes. Apparently there’s even a self-identified subgenre called “nerdcore” now (I am not joking). It’s all very frightening.

Even when Eminem was being met with all the Elvis comparisons it still seemed like rap was sure to prove resilient to the whiteys that took jazz and rock. In the past seven years since The Slim Shady LP, he’s still been the only white boy to truly dominate the charts. But now it’s not so clear now when you’ve got all these splinter genres, primarily by and for whites, some of which are unconsciously, anti-black.

Now I’m not saying there’s anything particularly wrong with white rappers. Just the bad ones. Which is most of them. But most rappers are bad, regardless of ethnicity. And not bad meaning good but bad meaning… ah nevermind. Oh, hey, audio.

*I honestly didn’t even know he’d retired. Allmusic tells me that Encore came out in 2004. Do we just assume any rapper who goes two years without putting a out a record is retired now?
** Albeit, an inexplicably gangsta Weird Al – coke deals and pistol whippings just don’t mix well with Pee Wee Herman impressions. It’s one or the other, buddy.
[DVD commentary bonus footnote: despite my some initially negative response to my drive through jabs, a colleague brokered a Farrakhan style peace agreement between Shabaam Sahdeeq and myself shortly after this article ran. Now we are Facebook friends, no torch lights.]

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22 Responses to “Posse Revival: Whitey On The Moon”

  1. MAYNHOLUP Says:

    luv it mayn

  2. er4se Says:

    yo yo yo… what about young black teenagers??? jk…

  3. noz Says:

    “what about young black teenagers???”

    I only know their single, but I’ve always thought them in the “worked really hard to sound and act black” category.

  4. ANU Says:

    I request the article about “trauma” for the release of the new kurpt/quik album.

  5. noz Says:

    “I request the article about “trauma” for the release of the new kurpt/quik album.”

    Definitely.

  6. p-417 Says:

    i vaguely remeber reading this when it first “dropped” and your argument still holds. (& I was an eminem fan, still is in a way, even tho he’s hardly making it easy for me these days. I listened to Relapse in its entirety yesterday and then jumped straight into Boosies “badazz”-album. The feeling of release was, for lack of a less-cheesy word, europhoric)
    I’m white.

  7. hotbox Says:

    “I request the article about “trauma” for the release of the new kurpt/quik album.”

    Yeah Noz could you get it posted? hahah

  8. PimpTrickGasngtaClick Says:

    lol @ torch lights.

  9. ramon Says:

    relapse is questionable (my partner over at athousandgrams.com just hated everywhere. better than any review in the game so far. and yeah, forgive the plug).

    great piece.

    you’re right on all fronts but maybe that’s the problem:

    eminem’s legacy and string-pullers make it hard for people who love hip-hop to truly cosign the guy. period.

    but who gives a shit if his battle scenes in “8 mile” made every fucking kid at my high school take up battle rapping? or that my african-american culture professor drew obvious elvis parallels for his theft and bastardization of black music and repackaged them to hammer home plight points to freshman in a class so vague and large, both kevin durant and dj augustin were on its roster?

    eminem is, by any measure, one of best lyricists ever. he’s nasty.

    in fact, more than any product of TRL hype, his longevity stems from his acclaimed badassness. if he wasn’t amazing, no one would have paid attention from the get go.

    it’s the summer blockbuster argument: industry types can always gauge how poorly reviewed summer blockbusters will ultimately fair at the box office. we can speak to the tragedy of the commons all day but ultimately, press endorsements count.

    eminem brought pestilence from D-12 to obie trice to asher roth. eminem has atrocious taste and makes shitty beats. but he’s remained interesting because he’s the best RAPPER of all-time.

  10. TSF Says:

    And this was written before ego trip introduced us all to criminally un-self-aware John Brown! Always loved Em’s skills, always have been disappointed with his slide into complacency. Can you imagine if he’d remained as hungry as he was in the beginning?

  11. no Says:

    eminem is, by any measure, one of best lyricists ever. he’s nasty.

    ^^^^^^^^

    If by ‘best ever’ you mean there are at least a few dozen dudes in line ahead of him then I agree 100%.

  12. E AKA THE REAL NORIEAGA Says:

    good write up Noz
    ——-
    some Rage Against The Red Hot Bizkit white guys who hid their rap aspirations behind a rock formula
    ^
    but Zach’s hispanic

  13. pileofshirt69 Says:

    “despite my some initially negative response to my drive through jabs, a colleague brokered a Farrakhan style peace agreement between Shabaam Sahdeeq and myself”

    You know, I remember you posting this back in ’06 and I didn’t take that line as a jab at all, but rather as Sahdeeq himself just hanging out around Burger King and picks up women as opposed to working there. I see no shame in that, although I gear myself more towards the fly honies at Taco Bell.

  14. Matthew Africa Says:

    “I request the article about “trauma” for the release of the new kurpt/quik album.”

    Definitely.
    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    Noz, I’ve got something that would fit really well with this. Can you hit me up by email? Thanks.

  15. Hop Says:

    To assert that EMinem’s first two albums aren’t classic?

    Not worth buying?

    He didn’t push the boundaries of Rap?

    I’m the last person to ever use the phrase “REVERSE RACISM” but damn, this article is kinda wack to me. There isn’t a whole of rappers of any race who would want it with Em…

    And from the lyrics to the character voices to the valium raps he is doing shit that NOBODY has done before.

    And Relapse is off the hook.

    And its a bout to go Gold, in one day. So I guess It really doesn’t matter what people think hahahahaha

  16. Hop Says:

    I would also add that the two best rappers in my book are Em and Ro, so its weird to me that people pre-hate on mathers.

    Again I don’t wanna say the pre-judging and dismissals are Racism, but damn…

  17. Al Says:

    I don’t really get what anyone’s going for here.

    Noz, is your argument that it’s not clear anymore, b/c of these white splinter-genres, if rap’s resilience to Elvis-ification will hold up and that Eminem led brought us to that point? Or just that we all probably woulda been just fine without Eminem? Everyone else just seems to be on one side or the other of whether Eminem is a great rapper.

    It all seems to me another battle in the never-ending war for the “soul” of hip hop; everyone’s got their own idea of what the golden age consisted of and who is the heir to the music’s legacy, the protectorate of its future.

    Nas and Kanye tried to stake their claims recently – which, relevant to this discussion, they both thought had to do with separating the music from white fans/influence by making the music socially unpalatable again – when they both, unsuccessfully and anachronistically, started calling their work “Crack Music.” Nas dusted “Hip Hop is Dead” in the imagery of the crack trade and Kanye had that little riff on rap as crack music on Late Registration.

    The whole thing is bunk. The only rap that matters is the stuff that’s good. The stuff that’s good that’s being made now, those are the people who are the heirs to the music’s legacy, whether they get the credit as such or not.

    I don’t really understand the people who say stuff like “you gotta hand it to [Eminem], he’s got skills” because it seems like you could say the same thing about Insert Generic Pop Phenom With A Couple Legitimately Catchy Pop Singles Here. What do I have to hand to him? The designation of “Great Rapper”? Why? If anyone in this thread reads this who said Eminem is the best rapper ever, give me your Top 5 all-time rappers, Eminem at the top.

  18. Al Says:

    On another note, Noz, I dunno if you read that Adam Mansbach book that the writer from XXL quoted in the post you linked to, but if you have, then I think that book is pretty well a prediction of Asher Roth. Roth is, I think, basically the antithesis of the book’s protagonist, Macon. Macon pushed back against all the tenets of suburban “white boy-ness” that Roth just figured he might as well embrace and, while he was at it, why not market, too?

    In that sense, I see how you would say that Eminem’s precedent brought us to a place where these splinter-groups “threaten” rap in some way – Em might have been a white rapper, but he was still counter-cultural in the sense that he always rapped about how fucked up he was which still kept with white expectations of the genre to some extent. Roth is just saying, I like college and I’m pretty boring and I’m gonna rap about it.

    Still, I’d say Roth isn’t, nor is his “prototype,” a threat to rap because he sucks.

  19. demApples Says:

    It’s all a simple matter of incentives: once rappers became fully vested stake holders in the status quo, with distribution rather than record deals, with Chief Executive Officerships and Steven Segal acting gigs, rappers became insiders- crack went from being the scourge of the community to a proprietary technology, a barrier to entry to the uninitiated competition. Conscious rappers lost their status as authentic voices of the invisible and dispossessed- their criticism of society and it’s perversion of black culture came to be regarded as haterade or worse fake proxy warfare on the behalf of self-righteous white ascetics and hipsters who couldn’t stand black people so visibly flaunting their possessions.

    Shit, Soulja Boy’s actually on record expressing gratitude to the slave masters without whom he couldn’t be out here blinging.
    And so, in turn, you’ve got entirely different white boys now. White boys who aren’t out to subvert established notions of whiteness or blackness or anything for that matter. White boys who are uncomfortably comfortable in their own skin. White boys who loved college, not for democratizing powerful and subversive truths, but because it allowed them the penultimate of white privilege: to drink away their precious access to such truth and still somehow land on their feet.

    3rd Bass was on some I hate whitey just as much as you- don’t hate us, we’re down- we’ll even feature Serch making an ass of himself trying to do the back-up dancer steps. El-P generalized hating whitey to just hating the status quo, and wore his beleaguered outsiderism/vandalism as his fuck everybody badge of honor. But already in ElP, Cage, Necro, Aesop, there’s the beginnings of, and, by the way, I hate myself more profoundly than you ever could, so why bother.

    With Eminem, you had the crystallization of it all: I hate white people, heck I’ll be your rap Jim-Carey-On-Living-Color who clowns everything white in the videos, I’ll call out and serve every white rapper I can think of, AND I hate myself more profoundly than any of you ever could, in fact I hate my own mother and my baby’s mother, AND what’s more I know that *I am a joke*, and will own my absurdity as well. And so he pantomimes and white faces with all the suppressed fury of a teeth baring Louis Armstrong. But, like Armstrong, Em is also a technical genius, who is forced by social strictures to present that genius in disarming self-mockery.

    Basically, there’s always been white rappers (you don’t stop- you keep on eating cars), it’s just, what kind of white rapper you get is a reflection of rap as a whole, just as what kind of rap you get is a reflection of society as a whole (just as Rakim and Tupac spoke to the the children of Panthers in an era of divestment, imminent apocolypse, social collapse, and Reaganomics , and JayZ spoke to Reagan Babies during a guilded age ).

  20. demApples Says:

    Just in case somebody actually read all that mess, I just want to make it clear, Em’s thing in no way approximates Louis Armstrong’s genius. But I stand by general thrust of the paragraph.

  21. D.O. Says:

    Good article that makes a fine point. What happened to backpacker rap, anyway? Is that still a thing?

  22. The Son Of Heaven Says:

    The Son Of Heaven…

    …a good post over at . . ….

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