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Music Monday: Eminem Reigns

July 26, 2010

Rapper Eminem

Last Friday I spoke about Drake.  Today, it’s all about Eminem who just snagged Drake’s position by selling the most records for any Hip Hop artist in one week in 2010. He’s also topping Billboard charts with the hit single “Love The Way You Lie”. This is the second hit from his new album Recovery to reign the Billboard Hot 100 (“Not Afraid” was the first).

Although Eminem came onto the scene in 1999 as a white rapper emulating other white rappers of the time, his style quickly shifted as he became a member of the Hip Hop community under Dr. Dre’s wing. As Hip Hop comes out of the African American community and Eminem is often surrounded by African American performers like Dr. Dre, 50 Cent and the group D12, it’s fair to say he relies on African American English (AAE) for his performances. However, it must be noted that many of the features he uses are also features of other dialects of English.

As we discussed recently, white speakers of AAE are often judged as authentic or not based on social factors like who they’re friends with and where they live. But sometimes it’s not so clearcut. Eminem was raised by his working class mother along the 8 Mile Road in Detroit, Michigan. This road is known as the dividing line between the poor, predominately black cities and the wealthier, predominately white suburbs. Although Eminem lived near the divide, he grew up in and attended school in the predominately white suburb of Warren. However, his status as a poor student amongst wealthy classmates may have influenced his choice to identify with Hip Hop, rap, and African Americans (who, according to the 2000 Census, only make up about 3% of Warren, but are a majority on the poorer side of 8 Mile).

Throughout Recovery, it seems like Eminem taps into AAE features and bends his pronunciation of certain words for rhythmic effect. Below are a few African American English features found in his chart topper “Love the Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna:

Deletion of word-final single consonant

  • ba’ for ‘bad’

Realization of ng as n in gerunds

  • leavin’ for ‘leaving’
  • goin’ for ‘going’
  • playin’ for ‘playing’
  • feelin’ for ‘feeling’

Realization of voiceless th as t

  • wit’ for ‘with’

Absence of r after a vowel

  • eva for ‘ever’
  • neitha’ for ‘neither’

Use of ain’t for isn’t/ aren’t

  • “no you ain’t” for ‘no you aren’t’

It may be the case that Eminem is trying to appeal to Hip Hop listeners (to whom authenticity is very important) and downplay his “whiteness” in order to make it in a predominately African American genre. However, as we mentioned before, simply because a speaker is judged inauthentic doesn’t mean they are or are not.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2010 7:53 pm

    This is my first post here, but I have been enjoying reading your blog.

    “However, it must be noted that many of the features he uses are also features other dialects of English.”

    As it happens, all of the features you specify in this post are features in other dialects of English. And all of them except the last can also be considered accent (as distinct from dialect) features.

    I know just enough about AAE to know how very little I know – and I know still less about Hip Hop culture. But even the most cursory reading on the subject leads me to believe that there must be much, much more to Eminem’s acceptance as an authentic Hip Hop artist and as a speaker of (or performer in) AAE than the features mentioned above. I hope you’ll discuss it in more detail when you get the chance, because I’d love to learn more.

  2. John Donahue permalink
    August 24, 2010 3:39 pm

    Good post. Here’s a relevant current event article on the DEA wanting to hire AAE “translators” so that they can get a better understanding of what criminals are saying. The DEA has said that there is nothing racial about this and that Eminem is “one of the best speakers of Ebonics there ever was”.

  3. Jordan S. permalink
    October 24, 2010 11:53 pm

    White musicans’ appropriation of black musicians’ musical culture, style, and instrumentation is a cornerstone of English-language pop music. In this way, the marginalized black populations’ best musical ideas are marketed to whites. One of the most obvious preformers who did this is Elvis Presley who borrowed/robbed/updated (depending on who you ask) but most importantly [i]repackaged[/i] what was at the time black music in a way that won acceptance with mass white culture. For example, the song “Hound Dog” was originally by Big Mama Thornton – a very fat, very black, very female singer. She had little sucess with it. But Elvis’ version became one of his hugest hits. It’s not as if Elvis was unaware of this. He was quoted in 1956 saying, “The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doing now for more years than I know. They played it like that in their shanties and in their juke joints and nobody paid it no mind ’til I goosed it up.”

    Not to say that we are still in the early 50’s but, to me it seems that some of the overtones are still around. Eminem is white and is therefore less threatening to white listeners. Also I think it is important to note that the establishment and mass music culture is still run almost entirely by whites.

  4. October 8, 2015 6:40 pm

    Kim, I love you to death, but anything invvoling Slim Shady is meaningless to me. He is not an MC and not HIPHOP, never has never was. Instead, the real king of Detroit, Royce Da 5’9 who is an MC should be mentioned. Bar Exam 2 in stores soon. You know I remember when the Source had Shady on the cover with his hands wrapped talking about if he is racist basically giving him all this press. That cover was a big mistake, it should have gone to Royce the 5’9 because his album Death is Certain which came out when the February issue was done is a classic. The truth needs to be told that 50 Cent, Eminem, and others are not down by law and do not rep HIPHOP on a consistent basis. I will leave you with this thought. Back in 1998, Dr. Dre has Rakim, King T, Last Emperor, and Eve on Aftermath and the album Let Thy Kingdom Come by King Tee was supposed the first big release for the label that year. What if those artist along with Game/Busta/Joel Ortiz was the face of the label instead of the Shady/G-Unit situation? Peace to you and your fam.Wex is Ghost.

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