Eminem at 40: Is the rapper still relevant as an artist?

Sam Gould
eminem getty 300x225 Eminem at 40: Is the rapper still relevant as an artist?


Who would believe that the boy christened Marshall Bruce Mathers III but who will forever be known as Eminem, has turned 40?

What an impact he’s made in his life so far. The enfant terrible of the early Noughties, the first rapper to embrace and commercialise his whiteness to the full, he has become not only an unforgettable part of the hip hop narrative, but also an indelible presence in popular culture.

Let us begin with his legacy as a rapper. Eminem’s rapping style, an intense, unhappy whine, delivered in complex, rapid-fire form, places him amongst hip hop’s greats. It’s a sound grounded not only in his experience on the battle rap circuit of the Nineties (popularised in 8 Mile) but also in Marshall’s studious reverence for rap’s greats. Everyone said his first album, Infinite, sounded like AZ or Nas, and it did. Em was a great hip hop listener as a youngster and he became a great rapper once he realised that he had to tell his own story, perfect his own persona.

Yet the form in which Eminem tells his story, or Slim’s story, is rooted in irreverence. If, on the one hand, he’s never been scared to put the most painful aspects of his private life into the public sphere, then on the other, he’s never stopped at himself. His lyrics, often comic, but frequently offensive, drag presidents, celebrities, gay people and women into his imagination, where they can be mercilessly attacked, physically and verbally. As a result, controversy has followed him around for around 25 of his 40 years.

Does it tell us something about ourselves that we’ve bought and bought and bought, despite the controversy – and often because of it? Is Eminem proof that a good story shouldn’t have to please the palate, as long as it fills the stomach? In his case, success had always reflected a marriage of talent and fearlessness, shock tactics he backs up with sheer force of personality.

That personality, so outwardly weird and angry, has been behind five triple platinum albums, three of which were hip hop classics. The agonies of failed relationships, infant daughters exposed to the world, and friends lost to it, are all parts of this character. Like any great pop artist, Eminem’s story is both unique and instantly relatable.

Like many others, it is often tragedy in modern musical form. Who else has been so contorted in the public view and so universally successful? The same things which make Eminem arguably the most recognisable rapper on the planet, the Elvis of the Facebook generation, have in recent years driven him into precipitous retreat, sleeping pills and relapse. His has a more uncomfortable self-consciousness than the one Kanye West gave us, a more mysterious battle with fame than Britney’s, and like a truly twisted tabloid story, it carries on selling.

This leads me to ask: is Eminem still relevant as an artist or only as a human being? His work with super-group Slaughterhouse and long-term associate Royce da 5’9’’ certainly can’t be knocked, and he himself doesn’t seem that bothered about full retirement. Rap has become so inextricably linked to his personality that he said, “Ima rap ‘till I’m fossil fuel” in last year’s brilliant Shady 2.0 Cypher, and in August he announced that another solo album is on its way. His music is a massive influence on that rabble of punks who call themselves Odd Future, and it hangs over the head of every aspiring white rapper.

All-in-all, I think it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see another Slim Shady LP or Marshall Mathers LP, but I think it would be wrong to write off one of this century’s most fascinating living artists.

Happy birthday Marshall.

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  • Emily Thorne

    Pretty much..i think? Nb. are you the article writer? If so i am deeply honoured:) =cool

    i dunno if Cypress Hill was That good..

  • Emily Thorne

    That sounds interesting

  • stonedwolf

    Cypress Hill are talented comedians, but as sample-based rappers they are not musicians.

  • Caleb Muibu

    Whaaaa!!! Sounds the typical “I like to be offended easily” American to me. I’m sure you’re the friend they all have to walk eggshells around because of your oh so exalted opinions. The lyrics you quoted pretty much sums up his ability to use words very and explicitly well. And as a matter of fact he’s mentioned a million times that as soon as people got offended and began to attack his lyrics the more it egged him on.

  • Caleb Muibu

    80% of hip hop consider him the best. Rakim does, Treach fro NBN does, Snoop Does, Scarface does, Masta Ace does, the list is endless with hip hop pioneers who laud his artistry. Go headbutt a chainsaw you sanctimonious, bonehead!!!

  • anonymous person

    Eminem actually inspires people through his amazing lyrics. Do you? I doubt it. You probably just sit on your computer at home and make comments about successful artists because you’re jealous of their success. So if you’re a better artist than him, how come we don’t hear anything about you?

  • anonymous person

    Last time I checked, real hip-hop artists say he’s the best.

  • anonymous person

    He has won 13 Grammy’s and has so many fans. I’m pretty sure he is relevant.

  • anonymous person

    They would have been perfectly fine songs without the sampling. Anyways, what’s wrong with sampling? Just because you sample another song in your song, doesn’t make it a bad song. It’s all about what fits the song. Also, Eminem has many songs where he doesn’t sample any other songs. You probably only hear the stuff that goes on the radio. You’re probably one of those people that think all rap is trash. Be a little more open-minded, and once you ha gone through everything Eminem has, then you can judge. So get your facts straight, and shut your mouth. Stop talking about things you know nothing about.

  • anonymous person

    Eminem is an amazing artist and he is still relevant as one.

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