It was a short while ago that news broke of Eminem breaking yet another record, this time concerning Facebook fans or ‘likes’ – amassing over 31 million (staggering) thumbs-up so far, Shady has become the king of Facebook, Mr. Numero Uno. Dead or alive. He currently has 31,187,377 likes, to be exact.
Not to say Em is a total runaway winner – Lady GaGa comes in second with 30,781,318 and MJ third, with 30,283,609. I know, he still has a considerable amount more but, relative to the numbers, it’s not as significant.
Now, this is pretty fucking monotonous stuff I grant you. I mean, beyond the fact we can often discount a certain amount of users as inactive, clones, bots and so on (on any online service) and given the fact art should never be a popularity contest anyway – what’s the purpose of discussing this, I hear you ask. Well, maybe you’re not asking that, but, that phrase was convenient there so… tough.
Well, personally I think the fact Em has surpassed such massive POP figures makes this a discussion point worth having. Because, as incredibly talented as Michael Jackson was (and he was… astounding), there’s no denying that he worked within a genre that aimed for popularity. Pop itself is an actual genre, unbeknown to some (not just a shorthand tag for the word “popular”), it’s ‘technically’ a genre of music that formed in the late 50s and early 60s and it’s essentially watered down rock music (soft-rock) and ballads. Love ballads.
Now of course, genres are constantly meshing and borrowing from each other anyway so you should never take a definition too seriously but my point here is, MJ certainly worked within that world of music that aimed to please many people at once. Some elements were watered down or censored, and broad acceptance deemed more worthy than direct artistic fulfillment.
Which is why I feel Eminem’s popularity is even more impressive.
Because, consider the fact Eminem works in a genre of music that prides itself on rebellion, adolescent cockiness and realism. When you consider that fact, also consider that beyond the legends of hip-hop who had faint commercial impact on the general population and only truly immense impact within hip-hop, nobody had really affected rap music onto the masses to the degree Eminem did and is still doing.
And, of course we all hear the predictable “yeah but he’s white” thoughts ringing in our ears but don’t take those thoughts too seriously. If it was just because he was white, I ask you: where is Vanilla Ice? and if you say “yeah but Eminem is white and GOOD” – we’ve also had plenty of GOOD white rappers too. Paul Wall was GOOD, Bubba Sparxx was GOOD. Ah, but “they aren’t on Em’s level” I hear you say… exactly! my point has been made. So in that thought process you must concede Eminem is beyond good, if he weren’t he wouldn’t of had the impact, the race factor cannot be used as a serious argument any longer, it’s borderline racism and it’s old. Forget his skin colour.
There are so many reasons why Eminem has had the success and sales that he has but believe me, his race has very little to do with it. Not even a lot. I know even Em himself has attributed a fair bit of his success to his race, but before you use that as a response, remember: even Em saying it doesn’t make it the truth. I’ll give you one of many reasons for his gigantic commercial success *leans in as if telling secret*…
> Melody >
That’s right, melody. Go study some other rappers that have had huge commercial success, one of them being 2Pac. See what they have in common? they both laced their flows with melody and had an understanding of rhythm and musicality outside of simply spitting lyrics over a loop. Most rappers don’t. Most rappers spit aimlessly or the ones who can flow well do not create tightly bound melodical flows that work with or without a beat. Most rappers’ flows need a beat, or it sounds fairly random.
Now of course, there’s a lot of rappers with fantastic melodic flows and understanding who are not commercially successful, but I’m of course not saying this is the defining factor, it’s simply A factor. But it’s a very big factor.
I’ll give ya another guy, one I’m not a particularly big fan of and who I’d rather Em stay away from as I think he brings Em’s image down to simplistic gangster rubbish. Guessed yet? that’s right, 50 Cent. Again, as much as I’m not 50’s biggest fan, I will give him one thing, the man has an understanding of melody that extends beyond rapping. Take some of his biggest hits for example, “In Da Club”, “21 Questions” and “P.I.M.P.” – the hooks on those tracks are melodic, with or without a beat. You’ll notice his sort of… dull, half-sung tone on his hooks too. I remember reading a relatively recent comment from a critic stating that 50’s secret weapon was his singing voice. And, nail on the head really, I don’t think that critic knew to what quite extent that statement rung true but, I agree with it regardless.
So as much as Em’s music can be complex and sharp and groundbreaking (at times), as a fan I’d also concede the fact he does also make hits because his music is catchy. That’s without question and he’s said that himself.
So next time somebody says to you Eminem is only successful because he’s white, say “oh really…” and ask them if they’re aware of another rapper in recent times that’s written verses and a hook as deeply musical and compelling as “Lose Yourself” or a hook as insanely catchy and bouncy as “Without Me”. He constructs his flows outside of beats and then builds beats around them, or alongside the beats so that his flows are unique and fit the beat perfectly. This is one of many reasons his hits, are hits. His track record speaks for itself.
< Melody < I don’t want to make this an entire article about the black / white issue of Em’s success or simply lay out every single reason why I think Eminem is successful. I’m not that self-indulgent. Well, I am, but, I’ll leave that for a separate post maybe. I just wanted to digress a little to show that, his success in the mainstream arena and with what you could class as a popular audience or a worldwide scope is almost entirely due to his music. His race has almost nothing to do with it.
It’s just incredibly impressive how he’s able to do this constant balancing act, how he’s able to juggle the images of being a relentless, loud-mouthed psycho rapper with, an Oscar winning proud parent and international icon. And, he does it by compromising practically zero of his artistic integrity.
I mean don’t get me wrong, there have been compromises, such as the celebrity-jibing in first singles that started out as spurious and then became a gimmick / formula. But, he’s never compromised the core elements of what he does; he’s always kept the lyricism at the forefront and the music noteworthy.
Which is why he captured a generation and why that generation has followed him from their Saturday mornings watching MTV, to their Saturday mornings checking Facebook status’. All 31 million of them (I’m one of them). Well, not all of those will be ‘original’ fans, I wonder just how many are new fans too. I’m actually surprised by how many newcomers to Em’s music I see everyday.
Momentum like that is rare. And now with the Internet playing a much bigger role in the output and viral nature of music and an artist’s fame, it’s going to be interesting to see how Eminem’s career pans out from this point on. But as of his comeback (2009), it’s certainly been explosive thus far and it’s going to be exciting to see where he goes next.