I recently watched Ice T’s documentary Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, and I found it to be a very informative and entertaining piece on hip-hop. I definitely recommend that you (yes, YOU) check it out, if you haven’t seen it. I was particularly interested when they featured Eminem. Ice T and the other rappers who discussed him couldn’t have been more complimentary towards him. Ice T flat-out called Eminem one of the greatest rappers ever. Ice T and Redman were talking about him, and they were both saying that they think that one of the reasons Eminem is so good is because he is White. He knew that as a White rapper he would be facing harsher standards and scrutiny and that it would be harder for him to get accepted, so he had to make sure that he wasn’t just good, he had to be great. And that’s what motivated to become as great as he is now.
And I do remember when Eminem first broke out into the mainstream, with the Slim Shady L.P. Even with Dr. Dre backing him there was still some resistance to him. I remember watching some music awards show, it was either the Soul Train Music Awards or the BET Music Awards, and when Eminem’s name was mentioned there were some audible boo’s from the audience. He’s won over most Black fans and critics now, but it took awhile. He had to prove that he wasn’t just a gimmick like the man who’s picture I’ve posted at the top of this blog. But a couple of recent examples shows that even with Eminem’s success, there’s still resistance to White rappers. I recall back in January when Macklemore won the Grammys for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance (along with Best New Artist), that caused a lot of controversy. I didn’t watch the Grammys myself (because, really, I don’t give a darn about the Grammys anymore, and am kind of surprised that anyone still does…) but I saw my Facebook and Twitter feeds blowing up that night, with Black folks going on and one about how Kendrick Lamar (or Drake) was “robbed,” and this was a huge outrage. I remember being a little surprised by the initial reactions I was seeing online. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as “up” as I used to be on current rap music (or pop music in general), but I thought Macklemore was popular, I thought everyone liked him. But then I started seeing the “they only gave him the awards because he’s White!” accusations popping up. It didn’t make sense to me then, but I kind of get it now.
Rap music is bigger now that it ever was. I remember when rap music was still consider a “fad” that wouldn’t last. Now there are rappers who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Dr. Dre may be a billionaire soon, or at least close to it. Yet I think that among some Black rap fans, particularly the older folks, the ones in their mid to late 30’s and up, there is still this fear that White people are going to “steal” rap music from us (by “us” I mean the Black community). That it will be taken and watered down and turned into something else, and that the Black pioneers of the genre will be shunted aside, similar to what happened to early Rock N Roll music. It was mostly older Black folks I saw complaining about the Grammys on FB. I remember back in 2008, when Vibe Magazine took a poll of its readers and they voted Eminem The Best Rapper Alive, and I was on the Reginald Hudlin message board, which had a predominately Black membership, and they were hating that, naming guys like Rakim, KRS-One, and Big Daddy Kane as better rappers. But the folks complaining there were also older fans. I tried to explain, look, Vibe Magazine caters to teenagers and young people. We should not be surprised that this is who their readers selected.
And then of course there’s the recent brouhaha over Forbes Magazine doing an article on Iggy Azalea titled “Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman” . That sparked many blogs like DEAR FORBES: THIS IS WHY IGGY AZALEA DOESN’T “RUN” HIP-HOP, and more conspiracy-minded articles like The Conspiracy to Whitewash Hip-Hop. But I’m not worried about this. Yes, I’m sure that there are probably several White music executives, A&R reps, managers, etc., who wish they could find the rap version of Pat Boone, and have him just copy Jay Z’s songs and style and become a big star. Or that they could just come up with a formula for creating rappers, the way Lou Perlman created boy bands in the 90’s. But rap doesn’t work that way.
In my opinion, rap music, probably more than any other genre of music, is based on authenticity. That ability to write rhymes and say something meaningful is an intrinsic part of the genre. That can’t be faked long-term. Anyone can get “hot”, have some radio hits and sell out concerts for awhile, based on catchy hooks, nice beats, and an attractive “image”, but it won’t last. And it doesn’t matter what race you are. Vanilla Ice sold 11 million but he didn’t last. And neither did his contemporary, M.C. Hammer, who sold even more than he did. The history of rap music is littered with Black rappers who went platinum and then disappeared from the industry. Remember Young M.C.? He’s around the same age as Jay Z, yet he hasn’t sustained over a decade of hits like Jay has. So the idea that the music industry can just “whitewash” hip-hop, by promoting White rappers, doesn’t make sense. If it was that easy then Eminem’s brother Nate Kane and protege Yelawolf would be as big as he is, but that hasn’t happened.
The fact is that rap music has gone global. Kids of all races love it. And some of those White kids who grow up loving it are going to want to do it professionally, just like the Black (& Latino) kids, and being White might get them some extra attention at first, but unless they’ve got talent they won’t last, no matter how many articles Forbes Magazine (which isn’t exactly considered an authority on hip-hop anyway…) writes about them. And those who do last, like Eminem (or the Beastie Boys before him), will be the ones who really feel affinity for the culture, and aren’t just faking it. So their success shouldn’t be greeted with suspicion or anger. Time will tell if Macklemore or Iggy fit that description and are here for the long-term or not. We’ll see.
Just my opinion.