I was all psyched for the new Eminem album, Recovery, but then I heard that song “Not Afraid,” and now I could give a rat’s ass. I’ll still DL and have a look, when the opportunity presents itself, but I won’t be furiously consulting the Google until it arrives, as if it was pr0n, the way I did the new National album. Which was so worth it, btw.
It’s not that “Not Afraid” is such a bad song. The rappin’ is about as strong as the rappin’ on anything else Eminem has done the past couple of years, which is to say stronger than a motherfucker. The production isn’t memorable in the least bit (I literally can’t recall how exactly it sounds, and I see the TIs had it pulled from this site’s Bangers section), but it’s not highly obnoxious or anything, which is about as much as you can ask from 2K10-era synthesizer-based rap music.
The part that’s really bothersome to me is the chorus. The line, “I’m not afraid to take a stand. Everybody come take my hand,” sounds like some shit Lenny Kravitz would write, if Lenny Kravitz tried to write the chorus to an inspirational rap song. (I don’t want to give Jay-Z any ideas.) Then there’s the fact that Em opted to sing the chorus himself, rather than bringing in Drake, or anyone who’s voice isn’t as white and whiny-sounding as his own.
But you know how Eminem is about doing things himself. Remember all of those shitty beats he made back in the early to mid ’00s? I wonder if that’s because he’s white. I went to high school with a guy – a cracka-ass cracka – whose father was always tinkering with his cars. Then you’d have to go pick him up from off the side of the road somewhere, when they broke down. There must be something about the white man’s psyche that leads you to want to do shit yourself, regardless of whether or not you’re capable.
Pro tip for black dudes who haven’t spent a significant amount of time around white people: If you go over to a white person’s house, and they offer you some meat they shot and killed themselves, tell them you would, but you just ate.
The fact that it’s cornier than a motherfucker hasn’t stopped “Not Afraid” from being remarkably popular. I read somewhere recently that it debuted at the very top of the pop charts, making it one of only a small handful songs to ever do so – and not just some obscure digital chart that that guy Sam Adams could probably buy his way onto. I’m talking the Billboard Hot 100. It took Jay-Z 46 years and more number one albums than the Beatles and Elvis combined to make it to number one, and Eminem did it with a song that’s not even that good.
But you never can tell what the pop charts mean these days. Maybe the fact that Jay-Z finally reached #1 doesn’t mean he finally came up with a song that was worthy enough, it means the charts have gotten that much easier to game. It’s not like Jay-Z hasn’t been making cynical concessions to the marketplace his entire career. For all we know, his cover of “I Know What Boys Like” by the Waitresses could have topped the pop charts, if it had been released in 2K10 rather than when I was in the 10th grade.
Then there’s the fact that people tend to like things with positive, uplifting messages. That’s why they stay showing Shawshank on the Superstation. (They still show Shawshank on the Superstation, right?) Book stores are filled with books about how to stay positive and get your life together. I was in a Barnes and Noble the other day – scanning the sex books, natch – and I saw where Russell Simmons has got a new one out. I don’t even think it was his first one. I hadn’t so much as heard of it, but you’d have to think he’s making a lot of money from it. Otherwise, why would he bother?
I’m sure Eminem understands this, and that’s why he decided to scrap Relapse 2, i.e. another album about the depravity and hence the hilarity of substance abuse, something I could enjoy, in favor of an album full of uplifting songs about joining hands and walking along the path towards clean living. (What part of the game is that?!) The original Relapse, much more along the lines of a classic Eminem album, didn’t sell nearly as well as he thought it would, so now he’s gonna do something way different, plus he’s gonna bring in a gang of producers to make him songs that sound like songs that are currently popular.
I’m not buying for a minute that this is a reflection of a genuine change in his point of view. He probably wasn’t on drugs back when he recorded Relapse. And I wonder how important drugs really were to his late ’90s – early ’00s-era classic material. So, he took a few drugs in his 20s. Who didn’t? It’s not like I copped the Marshall Mathers LP to find out what it’s like to be high. He could have been sober his entire life, for all I care. This is the Rick Ross era. Whether or not his music is an accurate reflection of his experience is beyond the point. I just think songs about getting fucked up and doing crazy shit sound more interesting than songs about not getting fucked up and not doing crazy shit. Call me crazy.