Wrestling Over Eminem’s Place In The Modern Hip-Hop Landscape

Getty / Uproxx

Every time Eminem comes out with something new, I race to see what my friend, Uproxx hip-hop editor Aaron Williams has to say about it. My workday doesn’t leave time for zoning out to a whole record, so I’ve typically digested Aaron’s reviews by the time I get to turn my attention to whatever Em actually put out. Since Uproxx’s chief hip-hop head and I differ greatly on what we think about the self-proclaimed rap god, my first listen is usually spent formulating counter-arguments to drop on Aaron in Slack.

When Kamikaze came out, I was quick on the draw — listening to the album right after it launched and subtweeting Aaron before his review had landed on our site. The next day, when I read it… we actually agreed, finding the album to be a masterful example of frivolous art. Or “much ado about nothing” as another famous poet once said.

Still, the two of us have enough to spar over and Em has thrust himself deep enough into the cultural conversation that a little back and forth seemed warranted. What follows are three rounds of word-boxing between two hip-hop lovers who find themselves deeply divided on the subject of the genre’s most polarizing rapper.–Steve Bramucci

STEVE: Are we doing this? We’re doing this! And I’m charging out the gate swinging because for a person who I like so much, you are deeply anti-Em — I think even more deeply anti-Em than maybe you realize — and I want to wrap my head around that. Maybe you’ll convince me this time around.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to convince you. Not that Em matters as an artist in 2018, because I think he’s given that up, if you understand art as “processing my demons, forcing myself to be emotionally honest, etc.” But that Em was a truly transformational artist who is still very much an important voice in music (even if only because by dropping a whole album based on petty beefs and perceived slights he’s become deeply relevant to a whole new generation of listeners who will absolutely show up to listen to that drama). Because, while I do agree with you that his music is mostly devoid of meaning for our current cultural moment, I think it’s often plenty of fun. Wes Anderson movies and Ice Cube’s Big 3 League are entertainments that fail to stir deep thoughts too, but they’re fun and sometimes that’s enough.

What Eminem is doing is bringing his considerable reservoirs of skill to bear, crafting verses that push deep into the frontier of what it means to be an exceptional MC on a rhyme scheme level. He studies words, breaks down syllables, twirls them on his finger, and recombines them in surprising ways — that has to count for something.

I’m not saying he’s the best rapper out. Not at all. But if my life depended on me picking a rapper to write a single verse that showed verbal-gymnastics, a complexity of rhyme and the ability to be razor-clever without ever losing the thread of the verse’s central thesis, I would pick Eminem. Because the cordwood syllable stacking that you’re not a fan of is absolutely exquisite on songs like “No Love” from Recovery (which you didn’t like).