When Eminem put out “Rap God” off his highly anticipated album MMLP2, I was the first to shake my head thinking…”Oh no, another rapper claiming they’re a god (e.g. Kanye, Jay-Z, Lil’ B, etc…….what else is new”. But I am quite glad that I took a listen to it for not only did it give me a chance to peer into my own moral conscience deeper but it gave me great hope that Hip-Hop can move in a new direction.

            From the start I’ll admit, I’m an Eminem ‘Stan’ and will be probably incurably so until the apocalypse, but this track exceeded even every expectation that I had. Just take a listen, if there was anyone who doubted still that Eminem is a lyrical genius and extremely talented they should wonder no more. In the span of 6 min. he uses an uncountable amount of flows, types of rhyme, cultural references, disses, and more (here are the Rap Genius annotations).

            Personally, my favourite line is, “You witnessing a massacre Like you watching a church gathering take place looking boy”, but this song when you take a second listen creates a plethora of problems for anyone with morals. Let a DJ friend of mine say it best,

            Hatred of women, arrogance, hatred of homosexuals, reusing his line about the Columbine shooting massacre, and more, should cause anyone to really question their morality if they enjoy the song. How does someone like myself, highly educated and a committed Christian, enjoy this song so much as to play it on repeat? Perhaps we should bring in two ancient voices to illuminate the tension we have arrived at between incredible aesthetics and vile content. St.Augustine, the ancient African Christian theologian, describe this exact tension in his work Confessions, in chapter 16 of Book 1, as he is discussing the teaching of ancient pagan poetry to young children says,

“Not one whit more easily are the words learnt for all this vileness; but by their means the vileness is committed with less shame. Not that I blame the words, being, as it were, choice and precious vessels; but that wine of error which is drunk to us in them by intoxicated teachers; and if we, too, drink not, we are beaten, and have no sober judge to whom we may appeal. Yet, O my God (in whose presence I now without hurt may remember this), all this unhappily I learnt willingly with great delight, and for this was pronounced a hopeful boy.”

            Is this not precisely our dilemma? The words, the rhythm, the composition is of the most precious vessels, yet all they contain is poison.  Philo, the ancient Jewish-philsopher, in his preface to his biography of Moses is much more harsh than St.Augustine in critique of the Pagan poets who have ignored the life of Moses,

“Most of these authors have abused the powers which education gave them, by composing in verse or prose comedies and pieces of voluptuous licence, to their widespread disgrace, when they should have used their natural gifts to the full on the lessons taught by good men and their lives. In this way they might have ensured that nothing of excellence, old or new, should be consigned to oblivion and to the extinction of the light which it could give, and also save themselves from seeming to neglect the better themes and prefer others unworthy of attention, in which all their efforts to express bad matter in good language served to confer distinction on shameful subjects.”

            Philo is lamenting at what a waste of talent the epics of the pagan poets represent. May we say the same of Eminem? Consider what his talent could do for enlightening our society about politics, history, morality etc…and instead we get to listen to a forty year-old man make gay jokes. I’ll take it as far to say that I don’t care if (by some amazing chance) he’ll read that last sentence then diss me, I could use a maxi-pad joke or two thrown at me. We’ve seen really only seen three example of ‘moral’ tracks from Eminem namely: (1) “Love the Way you Lie”, (2) “Mosh”, and (3) “Stan” (and may be some others if you stretch it).

            Now, before I’m mistaking for not liking Eminem anymore, let me explain how “Rap God” has the seeds of Hip-Hop’s redemption in its fabric. First, most obviously, Eminem has taken multi-syllabic rhyme scheme, flow, and the whole ‘underground’ package to its absolute PINNACLE, and because of this, we may perhaps say that this approach has finally been exhausted. I’ll go so far as to say that it no longer matters how lyrical you try to be, you will never surpass this level of technicality, and precisely because of that we might finally stop making being ‘lyrical’ the be-all and end-all of Hip-Hop. At this risk of self-promotion, I had made this point on my early Sharp Tongue EP (2011), on the track “My Choice”*,

“Leave you dead still/ in your tracks; I know it’s either
‘That’s real’/ or “That Man’s gotta Chill”/ I could be like
“I’m ripping/ immigrants/ ligaments/ leaving disfigurements/ clipping Limb from limb/ you little kids/ won’t figure/ the Original tint/ Of the skin’s pigment/
But with that script/ I didn’t spit/ shit/ so instead of being The illest/ lyricist MC with two lips/ the Planet’s ever seen!/
Now real talk you’ll understand what it means/”

           We will finally move past focusing on being the best rhymers and turn our attention to be the best Emcees. Now, there is a second and final way Em’s “Rap God” can redeem Hip-Hop and it is in Em’s own self admission of this, saying  “But it’s honestly futile if I don’t utilize what I do though/ For good at least once in a while, So I wanna make sure somewhere in this chicken scratch I scribble and doodle/ Enough rhymes to maybe to try and help get some people through tough times/”. While he’s recalling his past, he has grown up, and perhaps this will encourage other rappers to do as as well…we can only hope.

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*Don’t worry I have improved a lot since then, check my album, The Audacity of DOPE (2013)

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