Eminem appears to have transcended barriers by focusing on class over race, living out a sociologist’s dream:
- The Bronx River Houses are hallowed ground in the hip-hop world, one of the neighborhoods where young African-Americans and Hispanics helped create a new art form in the 1970’s. The housing project in the South Bronx takes its heritage seriously. From there emerged a founder of hip-hop, Afrika Bambaataa, and the loose-knit group of D.J.’s, dancers, graffiti artists and rappers called Zulu Nation.
Three decades later, the No. 1 selling rapper in the country is a 30-year-old white man, Eminem, born Marshall Bruce Mathers III. Only three years ago, he was derided as “the Elvis of hip-hop,” or a raw version of the 1980’s flattopped performer Vanilla Ice (no comparison could be worse on these streets). But these days at “the Bricks,” as the Bronx River Houses are called, there is no resentment, there are no complaints about Eminem’s racial identity.
Not only is Eminem accepted as a supremely skillful practitioner of rap, many say he is the salvation of an art form that they say has been corrupted by a focus on Bentleys, yachts and Cristal Champagne.
“You don’t see him wearing thousand-pound gold chains encrusted with ice,” Manaury Reyes, 17, said of Eminem. “He’s always dressed regular in sweats like us. The sweats might cost more, but he ain’t frontin’. He’s not rapping about clothes, cars and jewelry like all those other rappers. He’s rapping about life — you know, stuff that we go through out here. Some of it’s a goof, but some of it’s real, and it sounds like it comes from the heart, you know. A lot of us can relate to that.”
This is the kind of loyalty that executives at Universal Pictures, which is owned by Vivendi Universal, are counting on when “8 Mile,” starring Eminem, is released on Nov. 8. The film, loosely based on Eminem’s life, is the latest test of the rapper’s crossover appeal. The film’s title refers to the rough-and-tumble neighborhood that is Detroit’s racial and economic divide.
While it is well known among music industry executives that hip-hop consumers are more than 75 percent nonblack (Eminem’s core audience is suburban white teenagers), Universal Pictures will need to reach into minority audiences to make “8 Mile” a hit.
Hip-hop artists are a proven box-office draw. “Barbershop,” an urban comedy starring Ice Cube, grossed an estimated $69.5 million by Saturday since its release on Sept. 13. “Brown Sugar,” a hip-hop love story starring Taye Diggs, grossed $22.4 million since its release on Oct. 11. Last year, “Exit Wounds,” starring DMX, grossed $52 million. The main artists in these movies have been black. But no one expects Eminem’s race will keep blacks and Hispanics from going to the box office.
“Eminem gets a pass in the same vein that back during segregation black folks had to be better than average, had to be the best, to be accepted,” said Stephen Hill, vice president for music and talent at Black Entertainment Television. “Eminem is better than the best. In his own way, he is the best lyricist, alliterator and enunciator out there in hip-hop music. In terms of rapping about the pain that other disenfranchised people feel, there is no one better at their game than Eminem.”….