The Post-Postmodern Rap God

Few modern musicians can match careers with rapper Eminem. His 115 million albums sold puts him in select company commercially, ahead of legendary acts such as Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, and Prince (Billboard, 2013). Not only was he the highest-selling artist of the new millennium, but industry tracker Billboard named Eminem their “Artist of the Decade” for the 2000s (Press Association, 2013). Rolling Stone has featured his visage on their cover more than a half dozen times, and has even crowned him the King of Hip Hop (Molanphy, 2011) and as one of their “100 Immortals” (Rolling Stone, 2003). His backstory about growing up poor in Detroit and with an absent father has achieved such renown, no less than Hollywood luminaries Brian Grazer and Curtis Hanson have printed it for posterity in celluloid in the acclaimed 8 Mile. Eminem even became the first hip hop artist to ever win an Oscar the song “Lose Yourself” from the film (The 75th Academy Awards, 2003).

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His latest release, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, (released in November 2013), has garnered similar acclaim from the music critic literati. But amongst the claims of “virtuoso application of talent” (MacInnes, 2013), “wittily nihilistic” (Farber, 2013), and “burns with purpose” (Wood, 2013) an interesting critique runs throughout the number of reviews which harkens to notions of postmodernity in a postmodern age.

For example, Christopher Weingarten of Spin writes:

Instead, Eminem is mostly making his version of John Lennon’s Rock ‘N’ Roll, or Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man or U2’s Rattle and Hum or the Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty: one of the biggest artists in the world indulging an elaborate revisionist fantasy where he gets to goof around in the era right before he started making music. In his case, it’s rap’s Golden Era, andMMLP2 co-executive producer Rick Rubin brings an arsenal of the type of glue-sniffer rock riffs that peeled the sod off suburban lawns in the Beastie Boys’ 1986 (Joe Walsh, Billy Squier), not to mention the type of Cold Lava Lampin’ acid-rock kitsch that lured us into 1989’s D.A.I.S.Y. Age (the Zombies, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders). (Weingarten, 2013)

If we consider “All this is to say that a persuasive model of postmodernism requires a constellation of particular styles, features, attitudes, placed in a particular historical context” (Hassan), then what to make of this particular narrative surrounding Eminem’s “elaborate revisionist fantasy?”

From the opening ghetto blaster, to the insertion of the old school mix tape, the video strikes a definitive historical cord. This would seem to imply the model of postmodernism Hassan details above. But while the video harkens to a bygone era, it’s impossible not to note the images of “rap’s Golden Era,” one in which Eminem was not a part of. Bassil (2013) suggests Eminem has undertaken this revisionist track in order to reposition himself in today’s postmodern era.

Eminem realises he has to find a new foothold, perhaps moving back toward the rock infused rap world. In the early 00s, Eminem’s face was plastered across black hoodies with the same frequency as the Slipknot or Korn logo. Alongside Fred Durst, Eminem helped bring rap music to a new audience. It’s not a coincidence that this year he headlined Reading Festival, and weeks later, released the Beastie Boy’s homage “Bezerk”. The track was produced by Rick Rubin, and alongside its “So What Cha Want” inspired video, cemented Eminem’s intention as returning back to heavier driven rap music. If Slim Shady isn’t working any more, maybe he’s going back to another style that did. (Bassil, 2013)

Jameson notes that nostalgia is a “particular practice of pastiche is not high-cultural but very much within mass culture, and it is generally known as the “nostalgia film” (what the French neatly call la mode rétro – retrospective styling)” (Jameson, 1988, p. 18). So in effect, Eminem is reinventing himself through the lens of nostalgia, placing himself in a prior context with a post-postmodern interpretation. He achieves the post-postmodern perspective.

By harkening back to “rap’s Golden Era” and inserting himself into it all while subverting that text by alluding to his own personal history post-Slim Shady, Eminem is performing an interesting exercise in resurrection. Where once Eminem was the edgiest and most wickedly sardonic rapper around, it seems as if every modern musician plays with the margins for controversy. Bassil suggests “Eminem, like JAY Z, is cashing in on his former success and opting to move toward a comfortable commercial audience” (Bassil, 2013). On the track “Rap God,” his second release from the The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem raps:

You get too big and here they come trying to censor you like that one line
I said on “I’m Back” from the Mathers LP one when I tried to say
“I’ll take seven kids from Columbine
Put ’em all in a line, add an AK-47, a revolver and a nine”
See if I get away with it now that I ain’t as big as I was but I’m

This line is particularly revealing in the post-postmodern projection of Eminem, as he mocks not only his current stature as an aging hip-hop star with less commercial appeal, but the notion of how controversial he was and now, is. He could rest on his laurels, he truly has nothing to prove; but Marshall Mathers has always thrived on his insecurity, that’s what differentiates this persona from the bombastic Eminem and the disturbed Slim Shady. The Marshall Mathers persona has always been the personal and introspective of these personalties, after all, it’s the one who’s over 40 with a daughter in high school. It is this awareness that allows Eminem to perform this post-postmodernist critique, exploiting his past as Slim Shady, with lyrical wizardry and wicked humor, while at the same time, subverting the text in these nostalgic contexts.

References

Bassil, R. (2013). A textual analysis of Marshall Mathers’s Predicament. Noisey. Retrieved from http://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/blog/a-textual-analysis-of-eminems-rap-god

Billboard. (2009 Dec 7). Best of the 2000s: The Decade In Charts and More. Billboard. Retrieved from http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/266420/artists-of-the-decade

Dolan, J. (2013 Nov 3). Eminem ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ Review. Rolling Stone.

Farber, J. (2013, Oct 30). ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’: album review. New York Daily News.

Hassan, I. (1987). From Postmodernism To Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context. From Postmodernism To Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.

Jameson, F. (1988). Postmodernism and Consumer Society. In E. Ann Kaplan, ed. Postmodernism and its Discontents (pp. 13-29). London and New York: Verso.

MacInnes, P. (2013, Nov 8). Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 – review. The Guardian.

Molanphy, C. (2011, Aug 15). Introducing the King of Hip-Hop. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/introducing-the-king-of-hip-hop-20110815

Press Association. (2013, Jan 18). Eminem to headline new Glasgow Summer Sessions festival. The Courier. Retrieved from http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/scotland/eminem-to-headline-new-glasgow-summer-sessions-festival-1.66184

Rolling Stone, (2005). “The Immortals: Rolling Stone.” Rolling Stone. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20081016210530/http://www.rollingstone.com/news/coverstory/the_immortals

The 75th Academy Awards, (2003). Nominees and Winners. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/75th-winners.html.

Weingarten, C. R. Eminem, (2013, Nov 3). ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ Review. Spin.com.