Eminem is one of the most polarizing artists hip-hop has ever seen. I remember first finding out about him when The Slim Shady EP was making its way around the internet. I became an instant fan and loved his first three full length albums. Then he started to slide. It’s a slide that’s been constant, and, in my opinion, may have bottomed out with his most recent work, and the Super Bowl commercial for iced tea that turned him into nothing more than a caricature of himself.
Em was actually featured in two Super Bowl commercials. There was the one for Chrysler, which was also essentially an ad for Detroit, that was classic Eminem. He was reppin his hometown. I thought it was great. Then there was the one for Lipton’s Brisk iced tea that featured a claymation Eminem ranting about how he didn’t do commercials and was angry that Lipton wouldn’t rename the tea after him. This, my friends, is rock bottom for Eminem.
I have no problem with rappers making money doing commercials. Common’s Gap ad – fine. I’m sure he wears Gap clothing. The classic Sprite ad from the 90s with Pete Rock & CL Smooth – brilliant. They actually found a way to rep hip-hop in it. Eminem taking the character he used to use to subtly hide his messages, and stripping it of its meaning to sell iced tea? Sorry, but I’m not cool with that at all.
Some people would argue that he was just being funny, like he’s always been, but his humor used to have a point to it. The people who argue that he was just funny have completely missed the point of his music. Yes, he had his one song on each of his first three albums that was made solely to appease the label and get radio airplay, but even those songs had a political and societal lilt to them. There’s a reason “My Name Is” starts with the line “Hi kids, do you like violence.” He’s telling the world not just who he’s addressing, but what he’s addressing them with. He’s saying if you aren’t teaching your kids, there are a host of other people, people who may not have strong morals, that will. This is all wrapped around a humorous song to help the medicine go down, because if he said it straight up he’d be an annoying preachy rapper that no one would want to listen to.
Need another example of this? Listen to “My Fault” and really pay attention to the lyrics. Em managed to be humorous, at some points downright hilarious, while talking about an ex-heroin addict, who was sexually abused by her father, overdosing on mushrooms. Turning that situation into something humorous takes a lot of talent, and to say it’s just a funny song is to miss the point of it entirely. The easy way to tell this kind of a story would be to make a depressing song, but Em didn’t take the easy route. Now he is.
Eminem used to destroy pop culture. The great poetry of his most pop songs was that they were anti-pop culture. He made pop music that criticized pop music. It was really genius. Knowing he was getting played alongside the likes of Christina Aguilera what did he do? He tore her a new one in his music. He knew radio would play them in the same set of songs. Pure brilliance.
Unfortunately, Eminem has gone from ripping the pop world to working with it. A decade ago Eminem would have made an artist like Rihanna a punch line (no pun intended). Now he’s getting her to sing the chorus on a song. The same goes for Pink. These are artists that should be subjects of Eminem songs, not part of the liner notes.
People, unfortunately, have reacted well to it. Em was nominated for album of the year at the Grammys. You just won’t see me spinning it. At this point I think Marshall Mathers is alive and well, but Eminem is dead.
Getting back to Eminem’s iced tea commercial (that phrase alone has to grate on you if you’re an Eminem fan), I also have an issue with the anger displayed in it. Em used to be angry about society. He used to be angry about the way he had been treated growing up, both by his mother and his peers. He used to be angry at a world that relied on entertainers to raise their kids. Now he’s angry about not having iced tea named after him? Really? I’m supposed to believe that the same Eminem that wrote “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” suddenly gives a fuck about, of all things, his name being on an iced tea bottle?
Excuse makers will say he’s grown out of that phase of his life. I have no problem with emcees growing. What I have a problem with is emcees selling their soul, and it really feels like Em has wiped himself clean of the essence of who he was in an effort to prolong his career. His botox infused face that’s so line-free it’s downright scary is yet another indication that the man who once ripped everything Hollywood related has become pure Hollywood.
I still hold out hope that Eminem can be resurrected. I view him in the same way I view Andre3000. Andre3000, in my opinion, has made some horrible missteps in his career – the terrible Prince wanna-be experiment, and meaningless “Hey Ya,” being two of the worst offenders. That being said, verses like the ones he laid down on the remix to UNK’s “Walk it Out,” and the remix to Ke$ha’s “Sleazy,” prove that he’s still one of the greatest emcees of all-time. I’m waiting for Eminem to have that kind of a moment. He came close with the “Airplanes” remix, but I’m still waiting to hear Eminem, the REAL Eminem. The Eminem I haven’t heard since The Eminem Show. I’m hoping Marshall Mathers still has it in him to be that creative and witty, although I’m afraid we’re more likely to see him battling an Old Navy mannequin over a pair of cargo shorts.
We can only imagine what the old Eminem would say about an artist making a move like that.