Review: ‘Eminem and the Detroit Rap Scene’
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — A new book about the life and career of Eminem has now been released, satisfying fans throughout the world with more material about the rap superstar. But here in Detroit, the city he claims, the book raises questions about whether he has returned the favor for the gifts that Motown has given him.
“Eminem and the Detroit Rap Scene: White Kid In A Black Music World” draws readers’ thoughts to the tensions between Black and white communities in one of the nation’s most segregated cities. The movie “8 Mile” played on the same idea, a white rap underdog trying to become recognized in the Black community.
Author Isabelle Esling, a French native living in England, wrote the book from numerous magazine and television interviews with Eminem, plus her own interviews with members of Detroit’s hip hop community.
Esling describes the hard life Eminem experienced growing up, through poverty and stress of troubled family members. Eminem’s success as an artist is in his ability to compose lyrics honest and imaginative about his rough upbringing, always with a punchline ready.
When his music first became popular in 1999, Eminem’s global fame was a perfect storm of talent and imagination reflecting the spirit of the age. Hyperactive youth faced the future of a troubled world economy, with media feeding the public violence on a 24-hour cycle.
“Eminem and the Detroit Rap Scene” focuses on the genius of his writing, but his dedication to helping Detroit is also questioned. DJ Butter, for instance, was an early collaborator with Eminem and his group D12, and tells his experience of Eminem’s Shady Records having bad business with local artists.
“When Eminem and D12 went against me,” says DJ Butter in the book, “I just never understood how I could break bread with those guys before the big label deals and they couldn’t break bread back. They made me out to be the bad guy.”
Eminem has become a world symbol for Detroit, but here he is an artist who gained fame and wealth and then left. His upbringing in the city’s hip hop scene of the 1990s was heavily based on helping to make the community a better place, building businesses and opportunities for youth to escape life in the streets.
The famed Hip Hop Shop, open during the mid-1990s as a hub of the Detroit hip hop scene, was a turning point in Eminem’s career, where the Saturday afternoon open mics were flooded with a community of highly talented artists.
The success of artists like Elzhi and Royce Da 5’9” validate the Shop’s creation of top skilled emcees through artistic interaction, and Eminem was a key participant of this collective. The common chant was “3-1-3,” the area code that everyone wanted to help make better for the future.
Proof, known to the world as a member of Eminem’s group D12 before his death in 2006, is referenced in the book as a close friend, mentor and artistic inspiration. Proof was also in the group 5 ELA, or 5 Elementz, where he and members Thyme and Mudd worked at Hip Hop Shop and set up the open mics each Saturday.
“He was the leader (of D12),” says Mudd. “They listened to whatever ideas he came with. He could sit down, calm them down, bring them together enough to whereas they respected him as a leader.”
Though Proof left 5 ELA, Mudd and Thyme give testimony that he always wanted his own success to be used for the betterment of the community. This aspect of Eminem’s upbringing in hip hop through Proof is not discussed in “Eminem and the Detroit Rap Scene.”
“We ain’t trying to be out there on the mountaintop,” says Mudd. “We’re with the people, we’ve always been with the people. We’ve always brought the community together. To me it’s just the right thing to do. It’s like a church or a synagogue — once you get the congregation you can lead the flock, just as long as you’re leading them in the right direction.”
Today, 5 ELA’s community spirit lives through 5e Gallery, located on Michigan Avenue in Corktown. The gallery is owned and operated by DJ Sicari, the group’s newest member, who was also employed at the Hip Hop Shop. The space struggles for financial resources like others in city, but Thyme views this hip hop community center as an opportunity to help realize the dream of the “3-1-3” movement. This is the unrealized potential of a “White Kid In A Black Music World.”
“The hip hop in this town is an economic force that is never used,” says Thyme. “It’s always used for someone’s particular personal gain. We can’t even think about none of them. All of us that’s here doing it, we have to say the responsibility is ours. How you gonna handle that?”
“Eminem and the Detroit Rap Scene: White Kid In A Black Music World” by Isabelle Esling is available for purchase online at www.Amazon.com