English 487W: Rhetorical Bodies
Eminem’s Cultural Embodiment
The world of hip-hop music is constantly changing as new artists enter the scene while others slowly fade out. With each new addition of a publicly accepted hip-hop artist the genre evolves. Its styles, sounds, and images become altered to encompass whatever qualities this new artist brings to the scene. However, there are some fundamental components of the genre that define hip-hop music and the artists who identify with it. These components make up hip-hop’s truest form and, in some way, all hip-hop artists embody these characteristics. From NWA to Jay-Z, hip-hop’s essential characteristics can be traced throughout the years no matter who the latest artist is. Hip-hop represents different things to different people, but in all cases it can be argued that hip-hip artists embody blackness, raw expression, homophobia, misogyny, and thug-life and criminality.
In 1998, Marshall Mathers III stormed into the hip-hop world. He was everything that hardcore rap represents. Young, loud, violent, and offensive, Mathers, better known as Eminem or Slim Shady, made his presence felt immediately within hip-hop. However, there is one thing about Eminem that makes him different than other more typical rappers; he is white. In a musical genre completely dominated by African Americans, Eminem seemingly did not fit the hip-hop artist’s mold. Not since Vanilla Ice had a white rapper come into the scene and become so popular so fast. There were a lot of skeptics that said Eminem would soon fall hard and fast just as Vanilla Ice had. However, more than four years later, Eminem is still on top of the hip-hop world. The reason Eminem remains so dominant is because he embodies the fundamental characteristics of hip-hop in its most raw forms. Eminem’s whiteness has not become an issue because he culturally represents the exact components that define black hip-hop artists and the genre in general. Eminem embodies many different ideas at the same time, yet the greatest thing that he embodies is the fundamental elements of the hip-hop genre. His image both suggests and supports all of the positive and negative connotations that define what it means to embody hip-hop in America today.
The images within the hip-hop culture have come to represent one aspect of blackness within American culture. Since the hip-hop genre is almost entirely black, the styles, ideas, and attitudes that are associated with hip-hop have come to symbolize one aspect of blackness within American society. Although Eminem is a white man, he embodies this form of hip-hop blackness. Through Eminem’s styles and attitudes he rejects his own whiteness and adopts the image of hip-hop blackness.
In pictures and through interviews, Eminem’s embodiment of blackness becomes very clear. In picture 4 we see Eminem performing live in concert. On his head he wears a red wave cap. Wave caps are stereotypically black. Their purpose is to help control the wave in a black man’s hair. Since black and white people’s hair greatly differ in curliness and waviness, white people do not usually have a need for wave caps. Eminem’s hair in particular is very short and easy to control. He would have no reason at all to use a wave cap, yet at this concert he wears one. However, Eminem does not wear a wave cap for its function but rather for its style. As stereotypically black attire, Eminem wears the wave cap to embody blackness.
In picture 4 we see Eminem wearing a black Jumpman tank top. Jumpman clothing is a product line of Nike and is named after Michael Jordan. The Jumpman clothing line is extremely popular within the black community. It represents a type of street fashion that connects basketball and hip-hop. This connection between basketball and hip-hop is very strong because both embody the same type of blackness. There are many similarities between hip-hop artists and basketball players. As children, many were raised in the same type of living conditions and overcame the same obstacles in order to achieve success. Often the styles that are popular in the hip-hop culture are also popular among basketball players because their identities are so interconnected.
We see this as Eminem’s Jumpman tank top reveals his tattooed arms. Tattoos are another style that embodies hip-hop blackness for both rappers and basketball players. Tattoos are extremely popular right now among the black hip-hop culture as they ubiquitously cover the bodies of many rappers like DMX and NBA players like Allen Iverson. In picture 4, Eminem’s tattoos represent the same hard exterior that many hip-hop artist and basketball players embody.
The tattoos are enhanced by the jewelry that Eminem wears as well. In this picture he is wearing an earring, a bracelet, and a chain around his neck. As many hip-hop artists today wear lavish jewelry, the jewelry itself has become another symbol of the hip-hop culture. Many hip-hop artists wear large chains and bracelets as status symbols to show that they have the money to wear expensive jewelry. While Eminem’s jewelry is modest in this picture, he still uses it to enhance his image and his black identity within hip-hop.
We see Eminem’s embodiment of the blackness of hip-hop music in picture 3 as well. Seated in picture 3 are three of the most successful and recognizable hip-hop artists of all time. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Doggy Dog are all sitting with Eminem. In this picture it is easy to see that each rapper has the same style. They are all sitting wearing big, oversized clothes and, with the exception of Snoop, they all have hard looks on their faces. The reason they wear the same type of clothing is because each one embodies hip-hop blackness. Eminem sits with Snoop, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube, not as an observer of their culture, but rather as someone who is as great a part of it as three well known hip-hop legends. Picture 3 also helps show that Eminem is widely accepted within the hip-hop culture. Even though he is white, his embodiment of hip-hop blackness is no different than any other hardcore rapper. The picture suggests that Eminem is on his way to achieving the success that these other artists have achieved because he is widely accepted as fitting the black mold of the hip-hop scene.
The blackness the hip-hop culture attempts to convey is an extremely rough, hardnosed image. The styles of rappers suggest toughness and a mentality of fearlessness. Often times in interviews, hip-hop artists use language that furthers their hard images and strengthens the image of blackness in the hip-hop culture. In one interview Eminem says, “I come from Detroit where it's rough and I'm not a smooth talker. I am who I am and I say what I think. I'm not putting a face on for the record” (Chocolate on the Inside). In the same interview he goes on to say, “Fuck! I say what I want to say and do what I want to do. There's no in between. People will either love you for it or hate you for it. That's what I've found just on a street level – fans, and people on the street. They either can't stand me or love me for telling the truth and saying what's on my mind” (It’s Lonely at the Top). Being true to yourself and true to the image of blackness defined through the hip-hop culture are essential components that have lead to Eminem’s success. As he suggests in the interview, his words represent who he is and he is not going to change that for anyone. This concept of free, uninhibited expression that Eminem refers to is another one of the fundamental characteristics of rap music.
Hip-hop is an art of expression and, since the beginning it has been a way for people who feel alienated and unheard within society to express their thoughts and frustrations. Hip-hop music is an open forum of raw expression that gives social commentary into a way of life that is often hidden from the mainstream American culture. Many of the predominant themes in hip-hop music center around life on the streets, drugs, and violence in America’s inner cities. These themes are very important as they affect the lives of so many of America’s poor, yet they are often conveniently forgotten in the media as they cast dark shadows on the supposed equal opportunity society of America. However, hip-hop music refuses to let these issues die and the genre has become a voice of social consciousness within American society due to its overtly expressive nature. Hip-hop music is raw, and rappers give a voice to people who otherwise do not have one. As so many racial minorities in the US continue from one generation to the next in cycles of poverty, hip-hop artists speak on their behalf and express the victimization of an entire class of people. This embodiment of raw expression that defines hip-hop is found in the artists who understand that an essential characteristic of the genre is to speak out against the injustices of society through their music.
In picture 1 we see Eminem’s embodiment of uninhibited expression. In the picture Eminem is sitting, signing autographs, and looking directly at the viewer of the picture while flicking them off. This expression shows that Eminem is not going to accept what is and is not deemed politically correct. He expresses himself in the way he feels at any given moment completely free and without hesitation. In this picture Eminem is saying, “fuck you” to whomever is viewing the photo. Like all hip-hop artists, Eminem is not concerned that he is going to offend someone with his words or his actions. He is going to speak his mind, and if that offends someone then so be it. This is the attitude of the hip-hop genre. Open expression is viewed as essential to the art and it would be an injustice to hold emotion and language back in order to appease a group of people. In the picture Eminem is saying, “fuck you” and he has a hard look on his face. He is implying that he is going to tell it like it is, and if anyone has a problem with it he really does not care. In fact, Eminem uses his freedom of expression to stir emotions within his various audiences and create controversy around his music. His “fuck you” attitude is consistent within the genre of hip-hop and shows that raw expression is the essence of Eminem and his music.
Picture 4 also deals greatly with Eminem’s embodiment of the free expression of hip-hop music. The picture shows Eminem performing during one of his concerts. Live performances such as these set the stage for the open forum of hip-hop music. During this concert Eminem is addressing thousands of people at the same time and informing them about his perspectives on life and society. Through his music Eminem gives commentary on how he sees things within American culture. The image itself also represents raw, uncut expression. In this picture Eminem has a very serious look on his face. The look shows that he is talking about serious issues that have great importance.
The clothes that Eminem wears in this picture also represent hardcore expression. Eminem embodies a hip-hop artist through his styles and attitudes. The styles of hip-hop indicate artists who are dedicated to spreading their messages without any concern or fear of the potential consequences. Hip-hop styles like wave caps, tattoos, and Nike products, represent the same hardcore, rawness with which these artists exhibit in their music. This connection between image and expression is vital to hip-hop artists as they seek to express themselves in the most uninhibited ways at all times. However, with raw expression comes inevitable negative criticism. As hip-hop artists continue to create their music without censorship, they continue to alienate and insult groups of people, often to a point where they must defend their words and attitudes.
Within hip-hop music and the hip-hop culture there is a strong sense of homophobia present. In a website entitled fuckemimem.com a list is compiled that quotes almost fifty hip-hop artists using words such as faggot or dyke in their music. The site also quotes lyrics that openly advocate violence against gay people (Fuckeminem.com). Hip-hop artists are often seen as threatening to the lifestyles of gay men and women within American society. There are many reasons why hip-hop is viewed as homophobic. Hip-hop artists often talk about having sex with as many women as possible and living hard, thug lives. This lifestyle present within the hip-hop culture is a total contradiction to the perceivably soft, same-sex loving gay culture. Also, within hip-hop, having a hard image is essential and gayness within American culture is viewed as anything but hard. The raw expression that is an essential part of the hip-hop genre has also led to public outcry from gay groups who feel hip-hop artist’s messages create and support hatred towards homosexuals and their way of life. The uninhibited context vital to hip-hop music has lead many rappers like Eminem to freely use words such as “faggot” and “homo” in circumstances that are highly offensive to members of the gay and lesbian community. As Eminem embodies hip-hop he supports its homophobic connotations, yet he is attempting close the gap between the hip-hop and gay communities.
In picture number 2, we see Eminem and Elton John holding hands at the 2001 Grammy Awards. Eminem and Elton John’s performance at the Grammy’s was highly anticipated as it marked the union between Eminem and queerness, represented by Elton John. In the months prior to their performance there was a great deal of public outcry surrounding Eminem’s latest CD and his use of the word faggot on the album. Eminem claimed that he was not homophobic, but because of the ties of hip-hop music to homophobia and Eminem’s derogatory references to gay people, many gay and lesbian groups condemned Eminem for his hatred and insensitivity. As a result, Eminem and Elton John performed in hopes of creating unity between Eminem and the gay community. In picture 2 we see Eminem, through his hip-hop style, embodying homophobia. Eminem wears an oversized white t-shirt and extremely baggy pants. He also wears a visor, turned backwards, and a long necklace around his neck. His style embodies the very hip-hop blackness that has connotatively evolved into a homophobic image. Elton John, on the other hand, embodies homosexuality. He is wearing a flamboyantly decorated pink and yellow, polka dot suit and wire rimmed sunglasses. His style suggests homosexuality. Yet, during this performance, as two opposites they come together through their music and strive to unite both hip-hop and homosexuality.
In interviews Eminem also tries to break down the idea that he is homophobic and hateful towards the gay community. Eminem understands that, through his attitudes and affiliation with rap music, he embodies homophobia. Yet, he attempts to make every effort to diffuse his anti-gay image. The performance with Elton John was shortly followed by an interview with Eminem that told about his understanding of the word “faggot” and his response to criticism that suggested his homophobia. He said, “I'm not gay bashing. People just don't understand where I come from. Faggot to me doesn't necessarily mean gay people. Faggot to me just means...taking away your manhood. You're a sissy. You're a coward. Just like you might sit around in your living room and say, ‘Dude, stop, you're being a fag, dude.’ I have something against assholes, but I'm not into gay bashing” (It’s Lonely at the Top). Here, Eminem’s comments suggest that he does not believe he is gay bashing when he uses the word “faggot.” He wants his image to exclude the homophobic component that defines one aspect of the hip-hop scene. However, as long as Eminem continues to embody hip-hop, his perceived anti-gay image will be preserved. Eminem’s negative image within the gay community is consistent among many women’s groups as he is seen as misogynistic and demeaning towards women.
Thursday, Aug. 23, 2001. (AP Photo/PA, M.J. Kim, London, United Kingdom England)
Wednesday, June 7, 2000. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, Warren, Michigan United States)
Works Cited and Consulted
Chocolate on the Inside http://www.planet-eminem.com/Info/Interview4.htm
It’s Lonely at the Top http://www.nyrock.com/interviews/2001/eminem_int.asp