*“If you lookin’ for some hot sh##
I got that
I refuse to make a pop track
These rappers frontin’ like they hard
But they not that
I get it goin’
All I need is a boom bap”
– The Highest Low
I offer this quote from Chicago underground duo The Highest Low to illustrate a point about two things that cannot go together, which are the two things I institute in the title of this post. We could also reference the A Tribe Called Quest lyrics which are “Rap is not pop / If you call it that then stop”, a statement that Q-Tip adamantly stands by in his interview in Ice-T’s documentary Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.
And it has to do, I think, with the original conception of what hip-hop was supposed to be and the manifestation of that as something that was real and raw, from the streets, very much juxtaposed against, in this way, say, products of corporate America, or beguiling attempts at making “production” and “popularity” the primary motives. In its original incarnation, hip-hop’s only priority was artistic freedom, and with this came a natural ingenuousness and flair that made it vital music, without the need for any mainstream industry mold.
Eminem’s new stuff, if “Black Magic” featuring Skylar Grey is any indication, is very much molded to the industry (the fact that Eminem still observes an “industry” of any kind being of course pretty depressing in and of itself). I would say I bet he’s trying to bang this Skylar Grey chick except that I happen to think he’s attempting to cloak some homosexual inclinations, especially seeing as he’s at this point basically hiding behind that big beard and can never seem to muster even the faintest smile in his photo ops with Dre, Xzibit or whomever.
And I mean “Black Magic” is an attempt at a romantic song, a song about your sexual partner, which of course is pretty par for the course these days, in mainstream. It’s like we’ve all been reduced to little fu**ing toddlers in our sandboxes, Adele having thrown of course the grandest four-year-old hissy fit of them all with “Hello,” something amounting more or less to a primal cry of “Me want my penis bah-bah back”.
Eminem’s offering in “Black Magic” isn’t too much different — he really wants to fu**, hence representing just an alarming innovation on pop subject matter. But oh wait, he’s “hardcore” — and is so in a way that’s almost unprecedentedly disgusting, hinting at potential violence with the girl and an allusion to a “peg that’s too big for the hole,” which for decency’s sake I of course won’t parse at this time.
I mean, if there’s anybody out there who cares this much whether Eminem porks this chick or not, he or she probably single-handedly proves that psychologists are the nuttiest people of all.
But I was just actually yesterday thinking of a song like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get” and how it was a huge, hit single and also existed completely unreliant on sexual or romantic themes. It’s not even about women whatsoever — it’s about the endeavor of standing up and being a man and all its maligned, potential pitfalls. Is Eminem suffering from a homogenization in lyrical topic within the mainstream? Perhaps, but if he’s really a true emcee he should be going his own way and seeking to redefine the mainstream, which is exactly what he did with the self-deprecating, razor-sharp comedy rap of his first album and the beleaguering of professional music on the iconoclastic, brutally honest “The Way I am.”