Hate It or Love It

Remember the winter of 1999? Eminem and Royce Da 5'9" had just dropped "Nuthin' to Do/Scary Movies," a twelve-inch so hot that DJs spun it even though the shit wasn't on a major label. Em was on fire, kid, and rattling cages with wit like "Any man that dares to go against me is going to get taken advantage of like Monica Lewinsky." You knew he was going to blow because his rhymes were funny and spontaneous, as if he were a friend just cracking on you, making you laugh and fucking with you at the same time.

Yeah, Eminem was the lick back then, even if most of his records were a little weak. The Slim Shady EP? It was aiight. Infinite? That album was so obscure that most kids didn't know it existed until after Em blew up and everyone began downloading his old shit off Napster. Didn't matter: Infinite was wack. His best shots were in the margins -- the stuff he did for Rawkus ("Any Man" and the guest shot on Shabaam Sahdeeq's "Five Star Generals"), "Get You Mad" for Sway and King Tech's This or That, and his lyric on the Anonymous's Green and Gold EP.

That was six years ago. Nowadays Eminem's formula is grating on the ears of his apologists in the music press who theorize about his misogyny and homophobia and his legion of T-shirt-wearing, dub-rolling (FYI, Pimp My Ride fans, dubs are played out), freestyling-in-the-hallways-of-City-College fans. His latest album, Encore, is his poorest-selling effort in years (although four million units moved ain't nothing to sneeze at). Worse, Eminem is beginning to seem downright boring with his "Mockingbird" homilies to his daughter and his "Ass Like That" raps. No wonder he's threatening to quit the game altogether so he can crank out more wannabe Dre beats.

So why should you drop $50 to cheer on the Great White Hope one last time and sing along to "Sing for the Moment"? Yes, my friend, Anger Management 3 is the big rap tour of the season, a loud, ear-bursting karaoke show. Pow! Forget waiting to hear Khaled drop another exclusive joint from Thoughts of a Predicate Felon or read about the latest Shady/Aftermath action hero in XXL. They're all here, baby, representing the best -- and worst -- of what current hip-hop has to offer.

On the bright side, everybody's up in this piece: Em, Fiddy, Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, Tony Yayo, Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz, D12, Obie Trice, Stat Quo, and Pitbull. You might even see Alchemist, who produced Mobb Deep's "Twisted" last year, as Eminem's DJ if he can recover in time from the tour bus crash at the beginning of July; or G-Unit's latest recruits, including Olivia, M.O.P., and Mobb Deep. What does that mean? You'll get to scream along to lots of your favorite radio hits, from Pitbull's "Culo" to Eminem's "Mosh." Which incidentally might turn out to be the problem.

I'm not going to front like I've seen the show yet, but I'm not expecting any surprises like spontaneous freestyles, Eminem performing underground tracks such as "Bully," or even a backing band. More likely is the sight of one rapper after another wandering back and forth across the stage as the DJ cues up an instrumental record (or worse: a digital track). The crowd'll scream at first for each one and then will quickly fall into a dazed stupor as each performer struggles through his set. Exciting? Maybe.

It's difficult to imagine Eminem or 50 Cent putting on a bravura performance that, whether you love him or hate him, reaches you with the same visceral impact of a U2 concert. I'm not being anti-hip-hop, man, because the Roots, Jay-Z, and other less celebrated artists are capable of rocking shows that surprise you and move you, not just offer you the same ol' ear candy in a live context. Part of learning to accept the new rap era epitomized by Eminem's artistic malaise and G-Unit's dominance is to be content with lowered expectations. Screw transcendence; classic status is earned by simply making a CD to ride to and justify the consumer's purchase of it, not creating music that achieves timeliness beyond the here and now, the pop zeitgeist. Either you hate it or love it.

No wonder 50 Cent has a joint on his new mixtape, 50 Cent Is Still the Future, called "I Feel Like George Bush." He seems to subscribe to the same unwavering intellectual (dis)honesty that guides our beloved President, namely the belief he is right, his way of navigating the music industry is the only way, and if you think differently, then fuck you, he's making a dis track about you. If hip-hop culture celebrates the power of fellowship and community at its best, then Eminem and 50 Cent's dominance represents how the genre's groupthink can be a double-edged sword, leading to a culture that forces you to live by its trends and ideas or, hey, you ain't really down with hip-hop. Why else would he dismiss Jadakiss on "Piggy Bank" with the line, "Your shit is local," the most self-defeating words since Souls of Mischief boasted, "If you're really dope, why ain't you signed yet" on "93 'til Infinity"? What does being a local artist have to do with making good music? What do rims have to do with skills?

To be honest, though, these guys aren't all about being despots with the most chips. Most rappers attempt to rap about life as a struggling artist, even if those efforts sometimes tumble into self-pitying hagiography. But what happens once your dreams come true, when you get your first platinum disc? You get a bigger house, pricier gadgets, doper parties, better drugs, finer bitches, and plenty of haters who want to take it all away. Maybe that's the reason why the third installment of the Anger Management Tour, for all the fine entertainment it promises, seems creatively limited: 50 Cent and Eminem rarely conjure a life beyond the vicarious pleasures they consume to escape life itself.

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Mosi Reeves
Contact: Mosi Reeves