1. Two years ago, I went and saw Jay-Z and Kanye on the Watch the Throne tour. It’s still the best concert I’ve ever seen; my friend and I had seats in the lower 1/3 of the United Center, and the setlist was perfect. When I talked to my dad the next day, he asked me how it was. I told him I didn’t really know how to articulate it. I said the only comparison I could come up with that he’d understand was that it was like seeing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones play the same stage together in 1968. He kind of scoffed at that—he’s got that old man thing now where he thinks any music that he doesn’t like is “trash”—but then he asked if I really thought Kanye was my Beatles. I told him he was the only guy in my lifetime who felt like he was moving culture the way he told me the Beatles did. So then my dad started dicking with me, and asking me who the Jefferson Airplane was, etc. It was a funny conversation, where my dad was trying to show interest in the music I liked, in a half-assed way. The only one I remember for sure is that I called Eminem my generation’s Elvis Presley.
2. That was pretty dumb, I guess, but I think I still sort of believe it. I don’t think Eminem’s impact on popular culture—particularly in the parts of the country that DONT have a built-in hip-hop listening culture aka the middle of America minus Chicago and Texas, basically—has been properly articulated. In my middle school in Oshkosh, WI, there were maybe 20 of us in sixth grade who knew of Notorious BIG, who actually paid attention to the rap videos on TRL, who knew any rapper other than Will Smith. By the second semester of seventh grade, I bet there were only 20 people who didn’t know every word to “My Name Is,” who weren’t able to pick Dr. Dre out of a crowd, who didn’t at least know a Tupac song, and who didn’t try to get an older friend/sibling/sibling of a friend to buy them the unedited version of The Slim Shady LP from the only Target in America that actually carded kids trying to buy Parental Advisory CDs. And by high school, rap was the popular music. I mean, I still remember talking about the “My Name Is” video the day after all of us first saw it on TRL. It was like the Kennedy Assassination. Everyone saw different things of note. Bleached hair became the coolest hair style.
Now, I realize that in other places across America, you guys were all fans of rap as kids, you were weaned on Makaveli, or whatever. But that was not the case everywhere. It was hard to listen to any music style you wanted in 1998 in small town Wisconsin. We knew Garth Brooks and boy bands and pop punk, because that’s what got played on the radio station in Appleton. We saw TRL. And that was it, pretty much. High speed Internet didn’t come to Oshkosh until 2002.
Eminem basically invented a generation of Wisconsin kids who would be ready for Outkast, for Jay-Z to be the biggest pop star, for Kanye, for everything that came since, basically. It’d be hard to imagine a generation of kids from my high school buying tickets to see Kanye West at Summerfest—as many did—without Eminem.
Which makes him Elvis. He primed it for everyone coming later. And I don’t mean Kanye owes him anything, just like the Beatles didn’t owe Elvis shit. It’s just that Em helped create a larger audience for hip-hop than had previously existed. For better more than worse.
3. The thing I realized listening to this is that “Stan” is musically probably his best song, even if it’s maybe myopic topic wise. And “Lose Yourself,” despite being the Eminem song moms love, is overrated.
4. All of this being said, I don’t know that I “love” Eminem. I mean, I know all the words to “Real Slim Shady”—and performed it at karaoke when I was drunk—but apart from making me think at 12 that rap was going to be popular music from here on out I don’t think about him much. I think I even hate his last 3 albums. He’s an artist who stopped MEANING anything to all of us in about 2004. But at the same time, he’ll always be out here, reminding of us of how we used to be, what we used to be like, and what we used to like.
5. I opted to buy the Greatest Hits because I am of the rare camp that think Em was a way better singles artist than he ever was at making albums. You listen to this, and you get his song with Nate Dogg, you get every lead single, you get Elton John’s version of “Stan.” There’s no “Kim,” there’s no bullshit (except “Toy Soldiers”). Sometimes greatest hits album are better than the albums, and in this case it’s true.
6. I remember having my first censorship argument with my parents over Eminem. I told my mom that it was parents’ responsibility to make sure their kids knew that Eminem was making art, and wasn’t really killing people. She told me parents can’t always control what their kids listen to. And then I laughed, and said, “That’s true.” She didn’t even know at that point that I had two Eminem albums in my room that I listened to on headphones like every night.
7. Elton’s suit in this is so legendary.