How A Rapper Embodies the Spirit of Rock 'N' Roll (Eminem.com)
By: Alex Steininger
Eminem is out there fighting the good fight, saving rock 'n' roll. That's right, saving rock 'n' roll. How is that, you ask?
Rock 'n' roll is about not giving a fuck. Eminem certainly does not give a fuck. Just read any interview, listen to his music, or go see him live. He does what he does because he loves it, because he wants to speak his mind, and to battle his own demons (as well as to make himself wealthy). To quote Eminem, "Hey, there's a concept that works."
That, to me, is the essence of rock 'n' roll. With every radio format playing the same cookie-cutter pop and hard rock bands day in and day out, those annoying groups that manufacture angst and turbulence to sell records, something, or someone, needed to come along and shake things up. Otherwise, rock 'n' roll would die a slow death.
There are plenty of great bands below the radar helping to preserve the dignity of rock 'n' roll. Check out The Queens of the Stone Age and ...You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, two bands that will be touring together this fall. Both bands are signed to major labels and deliver essential listening for any fan of true-to-form rock 'n' roll. And both bands embody the spirit of rock 'n' roll. The same spirit that drives, or rather haunts, Eminem.
However, Eminem is selling millions upon millions of records, whereas Trail of Dead and Queens of the Stone Age are selling a small fraction of that.
I can hear you now. "Shut up you idiot, Eminem is a rapper. Trail of Dead and Queens of the Stone Age are rock bands". I'm sure I'll get plenty of e-mails stating something to that affect, though knowing some of you out there, you who have e-mailed me before to 'comment' on my reviews, it will probably be a lot harsher.
My reply is simple. Have you listened to his new album?
The Eminem Show is a rock 'n' roll album disguising itself as rap. Layers upon layers of production, noise, and screaming, along with Eminem's trademark lyrical wit and rhyming skills, make it a record that far exceeds anything going on in rap today. For that matter, it far exceeds the current offerings of 'modern rock' bands.
The first verse of "White America", the first song on The Eminem Show, poetically sums up the concept of the album:
I never would've dreamed in a million years I'd see, so many motherfuckin' people who feel like me/ Who share the same views and the same exact beliefs, it's like a fuckin' army marchin' in back of me/ So many lives I touch, so much anger aimed in no particular direction, just sprays and sprays/ Straight through your radio waves it plays and plays, till it stays stuck in your head for days and days.
It's been years since anyone has come along and truly shocked the nation. Elvis Presley did it, bringing rock 'n' roll to a whole new level. His provocative hip-shake wasn't allowed on TV; the Ed Sullivan Show filmed him from the waist up. The goal was to curb the chaos that was rising over Presley and his music - and rock 'n' roll.
It only elevated the power of rock 'n' roll and the will of those who listen to the music.
KISS came along and once again rocked the nation, with their make-up and loud anthems. Soccer moms everywhere united to put an end to the "Knights in Satan's Service". KISS reassured rebellious youth that rock 'n' roll was their escape, their way of getting out of the oppression that comes with being young, and their chance to express themselves when people wouldn't listen. "Give me a mic, show me where the mother fucking studio is at," Eminem asserts in "White America".
There are others, of course. But there hasn't been one in a long time. Take away the make-up and "scary" colored contacts from Marilyn Manson and you have another cookie-cutter rock band rehashing something that has been done before. Ever heard of Alice Cooper?
On this level, something needed to happen. There always has been bands on the verge of breaking that never got their chance or that succumbed to label and management pressures, selling their artistic souls in order to sell records. It's a bottom-line game, I understand that, and so do the artists. So they give in and become something they didn't originally set out to be, and end up becoming very successful at it.
Then you have the underground bands that shape and influence the stars of tomorrow, garnering influential status years after their demise. The Replacements and Husker Du, to name a few, kept the idea of rock 'n' roll alive throughout the 80's, when cheesy keyboard pop and hair metal were what was selling.
The Replacements and Husker Du never sold millions of records, but they influenced those who went on to sell millions of records. If it wasn't for The Replacements, a little kid named Kurt Cobain may have never got the confidence to believe he could pick up a guitar and sing songs about the world as he saw it. Cobain would later go on to form Nirvana and change the scene of commercial radio and send major labels into a signing spree to find another rock band as compelling as Nirvana - that would sell as many records as Nirvana.
Granted, Nirvana wasn't controversial. They did, however, make it on their own terms and go from being just another garage band to a multi-platinum selling band capable of packing arenas worldwide. They then opened the door to shove out all the hair metal bands as radio replaced their playlists with three-chord punk-inspired rock.
Eminem, with his rock 'n' roll soul, whether he knows it or not, is opening the door for radio to change, and this change is crucial to the survival of rock 'n' roll in years to come. After all, if The Replacements hadn't influenced Nirvana, who in turn blew up and reached a mass audience, thus influencing countless bands to come, Poison and Ratt's influences may have made a huge impact. Pearl Jam may have never made it on the radio, nor would have Stone Temple Pilots. The domino effect continues and radio today, and music, would be in a much more dire situation.
The fact is, Eminem is a very angry young man. As he has stated in countless interviews, he needs therapy - and lots of it - but he is afraid that if he takes therapy his edge will be gone. Take the edge from the Goo Goo Dolls and you have a multi-million selling pop band that forgot their punk-rock roots. Take the edge from Eminem and you have a skinny white boy with a troubling past rapping about all his money and girls he's slept with, his fancy cars, and his big house. Sound like every other rapper out there?
No, Eminem's honesty and I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude - his rock 'n' roll spirit - is what is going to save us from the likes of Limp Bizkit and their offspring. His attitude, his ability to make it on his own terms, anger intact, is what is going to catapult the music business into a better place within a few years. The wheels are in motion now. His presence has been felt.
The music industry is in a slump. Overall music sales are down 3% over last year, which was down from the year before. It is a perpetual spiral that could have continued to worsen if someone didn't come along and make waves. Nirvana did it with their music and insight; Eminem does it with his perception and controversy, taking the two things he could use to better music, and using the power for good.
Eminem isn't without his flaws. His records seem to live up to the honor I am bestowing on him, the honor of saving rock 'n' roll. His live shows certainly do not.
On the recent Anger Management Tour, Eminem did nothing but disappoint. From lip-synching to his own music, to allowing several other prominent rappers to rap along with him, much of the time overpowering Eminem in the mix, virtually destroying the credibility of the songs, Eminem became a run-of-the-mill rapper.
His show was overrun by eye candy, mindless indulgence for the mass public still feeding themselves on the bland and lifeless music that has taken control of the airwaves.
If Eminem can reach just one kid - JUST ONE - and that kid in turn uses the philosophy of Eminem to create music that is true to itself and has something to say, Eminem will have earned the honor.
We need to understand that Eminem is now more than a musician. He is an entertainer. He is paid to entertain, and, so it goes, his live show must be fun and frills-driven. That is how he affords to continue his pursuit, to continue his agenda, battling his demons and speaking his mind, inadvertently saving rock 'n' roll.
When he says, "20 million other white rappers emerge. But no matter how many fish in the sea, it'd be so empty without me," Eminem speaks the truth. There are bound to be imitators following in his footsteps. There were imitators that followed in Nirvana's footsteps, major labels approving, if not breeding, the lies, offering money for those that wanted to step up. It led to radio and music being in the state that it is in.
We can't reply on the music industry to learn their lessons, either. That is why, now that Eminem is bigger than The Beatles (at least for now), major labels will be in pursuit, looking for the next Eminem. Let me tell you now, there will never be another Eminem. There will never be another Nirvana. And there will never be another KISS. What we can hope for, what we need, is someone to understand, someone to take something from what Eminem has done, and continue to carry the torch of honesty and musical integrity. Eminem has done his part. He's saved rock 'n' roll.