Let me pontificate a bit. I don't think that there is any question that Eminem is the biggest thing to happen to MAINSTREAM hip hop in quite some time. And I understand that the roots of hip hop go back farther than most people think (Afrika Bambaataa is often cited, but you can find the stirrings farther back). I got into "good" hip hop in the late nineties - just so you know. Anyway, it is interesting. When I was a kid, Vanilla Ice was the biggest joke in the world, and the idea that there would ever be a successful white rapper was ridiculous. Time passes. Along comes Mr. Mathers.
You could argue that he's fallen off his game a little, but he is truly a genius - there's no doubting that. When I was a teacher and working with high school kids (black and latino for the most part), they universally agreed that Eminem was the best rapper of all time. And I tend to agree, if we restrict ourselves to the mainstream. But, like with any kind of music, you have to look to independent, underground artists to find real innovation and creativity. Not that Eminem isn't creative, but he doesn't have as much leeway as someone who is making music without any expectations placed on them. He has a big ass corporation depending on him to make them money.
The diversification of hip hop has been interesting to watch. There are rappers of all colors from all countries. And you don't have to look as far to find truly brilliant lyricists (I was a big Tribe and Nas fan back in the day, still am). But now you've got Aesop Rock. Del. Those guys are insanely good. Detron 3030 might be my 'desert island' album. These guys are smart as shit. Dead Prez did the best song about 'Animal Farm' ever...Orwell would have been proud. I used to read the book with my students when I was teaching English and then we'd listen to the song:
Check it out. It's pretty amazing. And if you don't see the connection to what we're talking about...look again.
If you want to know what's going on in the underground now, keep your eyes on these guys (not that there aren't many others, but these guys are on it...and I happen to know NASTYFACE which makes me one of few. He operates anonymously...and will be appearing on this blog soon.):
Which brings up a connection I have made many times with punk rock and indie publishing. The PR revolution was all about DIY and taking back the means to production, distribution, etc. It was about community. It was about looking at the conventions of the time and saying 'fuck it'. Let's strip it down. Rap/Hip Hop came on the heels of this with two turntables and a mic, and then they took it to the next level by MASTERING self promotion. You want to know how to promote your novel? Look at the guys selling mix tapes out of the back of their cars. They are on the grind 24/7 and it works. It is all a question of how much time you are willing to devote to it. Eminem gambled everything because he knew he had what it took. And he did. I don't care for 50 cent, but he went from selling mix tapes to selling companies. Something to think about.