Welcome to the age of the white rapper. Indeed, musicologists and critics have long soberly claimed that hip-hop’s inevitable cultural shift would become a reality ever since rap immortals Run-D.M.C. co-signed white goofball provocateurs the Beastie Boys, whose landmark 1986 debut License to Ill became the first no. 1 album on the Billboard 200. But the former hardcore punks turned groundbreaking rap trio of Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and the late Adam “MCA” Yauch could have never imagined anyone like the loquacious Post Malone, complete with gold teeth, braided hair, culture vulture tendencies and five charting songs in the Hot 100, including his unavoidable No. 1 lit-and-wasted anthem “Rockstar.”
Nor could the iconic Beasties ever envision the likes of G-Eazy, Oakland’s platinum-moving, arena-tour headlining white shadow, who at times sounds like Big Sean doing his best impression of Drake in the shower. The hardworking Gerald Earl Gillum recently dropped his third studio release, a double album unleashing entitled The Beautiful & Damned. G-Eazy’s by-the-numbers strip club romp “No Limit,” featuring A$AP Rocky and Cardi B, finds him channeling Bay Area hip-hop O.G. Todd “Too $hort” Shaw with such doing-too-much lines as, “Told that b***h to kick rocks/She act like it’s a boulder…”
In fact, the overwhelming influx of white rappers has become so pervasive that hip-hop queen Nicki Minaj offered a tongue-in-cheek Instagram observation on the trend: “It’s a great time to be a white rapper in America huh?” Nicki also came with receipts — a screenshot of the iTunes Top 10 Rap/Hip-Hop songs displaying six slots filled with Caucasian spitters: the aforementioned Malone and G-Eazy as well as NF, Macklemore, Machine Gun Kelly and a certain gifted-yet-weary rhyme legend who is most responsible for flipping hip-hop’s racial course as Elvis Presley once did with the Black musical art form known as rock and roll.
Truth be told, it’s an insult to Eminem, who recently dropped his ninth studio album Revival, to even be name dropped as if he were just another member of the current white rapper brigade. Not only is the controversy-stirring Detroit native, born Marshall Mathers, one of hip-hop’s most gifted and imaginative lyricists of all time, he has consistently shown deference to rap’s Black and brown roots, swatting away any notion of white cultural appropriation. Since his 1999 commercial breakthrough, guided by all-world producer and mentor Dr. Dre, Eminem has made it clear that it is his white privilege that has given him the mammoth platform to become the biggest selling hip-hop artist of all time (100 million albums sold and still counting).
Which is all the more ironic that in an era when thriving white rappers are being invited to the cookout with plus-1’s, Eminem is trapped in the past, insulated and far away from his adoring “Stans.” Lyrically, he’s still a devastating wordsmith. But even when he’s delivering rewind-worthy lines on the Phresher-backed, Trap-ready “Chloraseptic” (“I’m truTV, you’re too PG/I’m Schoolly D/You’re Spoonie Gee/No diss there, just notice there are no similarities that we share besides the fact we breathe air…”) he comes off as a technically sound jazz guitarist without the swing.
And when Em isn’t forcing the stadium rap issue with formulaic guest-spot sing-alongs that sound like unimaginative sequels to his lighter-ready 2010 duet with Rihanna “Love the Way You Lie” (Pink, Alicia Keys, Ed Sheeran, Skylar Grey, the X Ambassadors and the usually reliable Beyoncé all sound like they are punching the clock), he’s rhyming on some of the most sterile production of his career. It would not at all be shocking to find out that revered studio shaman Rick Rubin wore a ski-mask when he threw together the comically lazy rock-rap throwback “Remind Me,” which samples Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ overworked 1982 cover of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The word is robbery, kids.
Is there a country for an old man who still enjoys igniting the wrath of women’s groups (On “Offended” he jokes of throwing Ivanka Trump in the trunk of his car) at a moment when #MeToo has become a transformative, empowering statement? Sure. If you are Woke Eminem and inspired to take on Ivanka’s old man with fully throated, righteous anger. This is where Eminem comes alive as he thinks back on his own culpability in normalizing a pre-President Trump who he believes “generally hates the Black people, degrades Hispanics” on “Like Home.” Em even manages to rise above a nearly disastrous, cheese filled chorus on the anti-police brutality statement “Untouchable,” on which he cleverly switches lanes playing the role of a white racist cop and a black kid just trying to make it in the ‘hood. “Every time we see a devil’s face/Lions, tigers, bears, oh my!/It’s more like billy clubs and gats/And we really love it when you think we’re guilty ‘cause we’re black…”
Of course, in this brave white rapper world no one would ever fault Eminem for wanting to call it a day after a storied and at times patchy run. Maybe he can truly experience an artistic “revival” by locking himself in a recording studio with white ‘90s rapper/producer/backpacker God turned revitalized indie music fave El-P. Could you imagine Em spazzing out over some of those intense Run the Jewels tracks while going bar for bar with Killer Mike?
But if you are Eminem, what’s the point of being an emcee in 2017 when hip-hop’s gatekeepers no longer wield the power to call out the posers? White rappers now enjoy a burgeoning career without ever acknowledging Black rap fans. Twenty plus years ago, the Wu-Tang Clan would be lining up to smack down a character like Post Malone for suggesting, “If you’re looking to cry, if you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to hip-hop.” And Eminem would have gladly joined in…preferably after Ol’ Dirty Bastard.