Rapper Bizarre, whose Attack of the Weirdos album Eminem guest-raps on, Eminems former manager and Federation Records head Marc Kempf, and Bugs and Da Brigade Eminems cohorts in Detroits all-star MC group the Dirty Dozen watch. There are some grumblings from those who prefer Mathers, the underground rapper who won freestyle battles at Maurice Malones Hip-Hop Shop, over the little goof lampooning the Lewinsky scandal on the screen.
Kempf is quick to defend. "Ive heard the word sell-out used, but his music really hasnt changed at all. The only thing thats changed is that he got a great video budget that put him out there in MTV la-la land."
"MTV la-la-land" is where Eminems been spending his time these days, signing posters for kids whod line up at record stores to see anybody with a hit video. They dont know or care what battles hes won, just that "My Name Is" is catchy with its game show-funk hooks. Theyre in for a shock or at least their parents are when they get Slim Shady home. On one track, Dr. Dre is the doomed voice of conscience trying to talk Ems Slim Shady alter ego out of killing his babys mother a topic the rapper visited on the gruesomely articulate track "Just the Two of Us" on Ems 1998 indie Slim Shady EP.
No one can accuse Eminem of not speaking his mind on or off record. On "If I Had," he flips the Barenaked Ladies hit "If I Had a Million Dollars" into an exhausted blue-collar bitch. "Im tired of working at Builders Square/ Im tired of not working at GM," he says, adding a long overdue, "Im sick of WJLB saying its where hip hop lives."
That the station has picked up the single only irks him more. "Man, I wanna go down to WJLB and tell them to take my record off the air," he says. "It makes me mad as fuck," he says of the lack of support from radio coming up.
"Everybody was so hungry in Detroit," he says. "I feel like I earned my stripes there. You ask Proof (winner of the Sources freestyle competition last month), you ask anybody, they can vouch I won every battle I was in."
But for the rest of the world, hes a poor white kid from Detroit raised on "Yo! MTV Raps" saying hip hop isnt a black thing anymore, but a working-class thing. To which Detroiters could say, to quote Bob Seger, "Shit, Ive known that for ten years." Insane Clown Posse built an empire selling shock-value raps to white teens. But unlike ICP whove never won a freestyle battle or even Eminems close friend Kid Rock who came to hip hop as a DJ, not an MC Mathers has rhyme skills few rappers black or white can match. You cant blame Dre for wanting to replace Snoop with a kid who looks like a Backstreet Boy and can rap like Biggie Smalls as his featured protégé on Dres Y2K release Chronic 2000.
And though critics and parents may balk at his market-savvy mix of street-cred freestyle-skills and daytime-talk show shock value, Em isnt having it. "Put my tape back on the rack, tell your friends its wack, I just dont give a fuck," is what he raps, and "Anybody who takes what Im saying seriously is a fucking idiot," is what he says.
Adds his manager Paul Rosenberg, "Theres nothing you can say about Em that he hasnt already said about himself."
Back at the Wired Frog, "My Name Is" comes on again. This time the reactions different. "Its giving Detroit a lot of limelight, to which I add a resounding finally," says Kempf. "But its what we do from here thats gonna change or not change the Detroit scene."
As for the rest of the county, Eminems already changing that. Hobey Echlin is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]