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[whitespace] Eminem Rappers Are in Danger: Eminem is rap's anti-hero.

Eminem for Dummies

Two hip-hop fans debate the merits of the man behind Slim Shady

By Todd Inoue and Jim Harrington

JIM HARRINGTON is a music writer and digs Eminem, period. Metro music editor Todd Inoue is a hip-hop fan from way back (circa 1979) and respects Em's microphone skills but can name 10 MCs who are better. And he loves playing devil's advocate. Let's listen in.

TI: So you condone all this gay-bashing, bitch-playing rap stuff? You've got some real explaining to do, pal.

JH: Yes, I am very liberal when it comes to fiction and art. I have no problem with Al Pacino pretending to snort coke and shoot machine guns in Scarface. I have no problem with prostitution when it is shown on NYPD Blue. I have no problem with graphic violence when it is detailed in the pages of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho or, for that matter, John Steinbeck's East of Eden. And likewise, I have no problem with the music of Eminem.

The problem is with people like you who believe music should be placed under closer scrutiny than other art forms. For whatever reason, the same people who have no problem watching Arnold Schwarzenegger gun down thousands on the big screen can't fathom that what is said on record can also be fictional. Stephen King kills basically the entire population of the earth in The Stand, and no one raises an eyebrow. But the fact that Eminem pretends to strangle someone on record is unbearable?

What is really problematic is how people have reacted to his music. Ask yourself why is it that a white rapper is being blasted for spewing much of the same lyrical content that black artists have been rapping about for decades? Is it because his words are so much harsher than Tupac's or Ice Cube's? No. It's because a kid with blue eyes and blond hair, we are told, isn't supposed to talk like this. I'm much more troubled when I see someone like Common, a talented black rapper who pushes mainly positive messages, come out with some clearly homophobic messages in concert. That troubles me because, unlike the "Real Slim Shady," I know it's not an act.

Are you really a fan of Eminem or just what he stands for?

I'm a big fan of the constitutional right for free speech. And I'm also a big fan of goosing all the PC police and moral watchdog groups out there. Plus, anything that would piss off Tipper Gore is OK with me.

However, Em's sordid politics don't interest me as much as his awesome talent. He could stand for just about anything or, even, on his head for all I care. As long as he keeps making such solid songs, full of lines that make me think twice and make me laugh, I'll keep buying.

But what Eminem is doing ain't nothing new. Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison, Andrew Dice Clay all made a living out of what Em's doing. The last two caught hell for gay-bashing, too.

You've mentioned the issue of the gay-bashing. In effect, you've done what Eminem hasn't; you've singled out one group to focus attention upon. In contrast, the self-proclaimed "meanest MC on this earth" spreads his bile so evenly, from boy bands and fellow rappers to young women and the disabled that it is hard to take any specific attack seriously.

But he's taking potshots at soft targets like 'N Sync, Moby, even Tipper Gore and Lynne Cheney for chrissakes. This is hip-hop, not the fucking O'Reilly Report! Aren't there bigger fish to fry?

Make up your mind. First you are dogging the man for shooting at the big targets and now you are sweating him for taking on the small fries.

You ask, "Aren't there bigger fish to fry?" Well, yes. And you get them on The Eminem Show. "White America" takes on race issues that other white rappers wouldn't ever address. Em is consistently challenging both friends and foes. Most importantly, Em is not afraid to get scrappy with his own mystique. He builds himself up only to deflate his own superstar image. He is the subject of his own boasts and the butt of his own jokes. Plain and simple, he's hilarious. But the funniest thing is that people like you aren't in on the joke.

I refuse to be part of the joke. I especially don't buy that he taps into this frustrated white suburban kid mentality. What does a multimillionaire rapper have in common with the teens down at Nickel City? And don't pissed-off, latchkey kids already have Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit?

Yeah, but neither one of them is nearly as good as Eminem.

Well, Eminem's a hot MC, no question, but I can name tons of rappers that are clearly superior: KRS-One, Mos Def, Kweli, Black Thought, Aceyalone, even Common. Eminem is way overrated!

Eminem is one of the few cases where the hype is warranted. His three discs--The Slim Shady LP (1999), The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) and The Eminem Show (2002)--are as solid a trio of releases as any in recent pop-music history. And he keeps getting better. Eminem's rhymes are intricate puzzles of poetry and pain, hilarity and hijinks held together by his unapologetic panache.

Plus, having Dr. Dre produce is genius. This guy simply knows how to make great songs to bump with the windows down and the system up. In just three albums, Eminem has collected at least a dozen classic hip-hop tracks. The new album's "Without Me," "My Dad's Gone Crazy," "Business," "White America" and "Cleaning Out My Closet" all rank among his best songs yet.

[Concerned mommy voice] "But what about the children?"

Oh, come on. Do you really think Eminem is teaching the children anything that they aren't getting elsewhere? If you are so worried about lyrical content, then maybe we should just shut down hip-hop as a whole. That will solve this problem. Censorship is a great lesson to teach our children. If you want to discuss the merits of Eminem's music, that's fine. But don't give me this "What about the children?" crap. Go listen to Debbie Gibson!

Eminem headlines the Anger Management Tour (with Ludacris, Xzibit, Papa Roach and the X-ecutioners) on Sunday (Aug. 11) at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View. The show starts at 6:30pm, and tickets are $30-$45. (408.998.TIXS)

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From the August 8-14, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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