I was speechless while watching the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) as Eminem performed the song "Not Afraid" from his newest album "Recovery"- in fact I felt tears brewing. Through the years Eminem has been a controversial hip-hop rapper who seemed to thrive on offending and instigating public and political figures by speaking his mind without concern for others' opinions. He grew up in the streets of Detroit, had a difficult and poor upbringing and had the street credit and raw talent that quickly led him to the top.
(This MTV VMA performance can be viewed at: http://www.mtv.com/videos/misc/559918/not-afraid-love-the-way-you-lie-li... )
I also began to think about his evolution in terms of the content and theme of his past music compared to his latest album. In 2000 he released the "Marshall Mather's" LP which featured the practically addictive sound of the "Drug Ballad". One of the main "hooks" of the song was:
"They won't ever let me let them go
I'm a sucka' all I gotta say
These drugs really got ahold of me"
(Remaining lyrics available at: http://www.lyricsmania.com/drug_ballad_lyrics_eminem.html )
Fast forward to the 2009 release of his "Relapse" album, it was clear that he was wrestling with his addictions and then the 2010 release of the "Recovery" album marked a transformation for the artist. The lyrics of the song "Not Alone" are inspiring and drastic change in theme:
"It was my decision to get clean, I did it for me
Admittedly I probably did it subliminally for you
So I could come back a brand new me,"
(Remaining lyrics available at: http://www.directlyrics.com/eminem-not-afraid-lyrics.html)
When I personally got sober, I felt like the exciting and rebellious side of myself would be lost and that I would suddenly become ordinary and boring. I feared a loss of the "yin" to my "yang" that led me to feel balance in a world that I conformed to in the literal sense but used alcohol to rebel against.
In watching Eminem's performance and his coming out publically about being in recovery, I realized the true power that he could have as a positive influence on his fans. He still had the same swagger and attitude on stage—and his performance was better than ever...but he was SOBER. There are not many rappers that I can think of who have come forward about being sober—Snoop Dog comes to mind—but he is not putting it out there in the same way that Eminem has (nor is it clear if he is still sober). Eminem is still on top and just won MTV's Video Music Awards for both "Best Male Video" and "Best Hip-Hop Video." In fact, Eminem was recently featured on the cover of SPIN Magazine in a July 2010 article titled "Is Eminem Hip-Hop's Brightest Star?" ( http://www.spin.com/articles/eminem-hip-hops-brightest-star )and in this full article explains that his drug usage was starting to effect his ability to rap and that he was not proud of his last album "Relapse" as a result. Technically Eminem has been a "high-functioning drug addict" but his wealth and the music industry drug culture may have been the factors that enabled him to live his life the way that he wanted and not to have to account to others. I guess the argument that ‘drugs lead to more creativity' is lost on Eminem. Could this be a shift in the rap culture? Either way, it can hopefully encourage other musicians to come forward to use their influence in a positive way—while still remaining true to themselves.