As I surf through the internet engaging in daily debates about Rap music and the culture it creates, one thing I often see brought up is the topic of white rappers and the benefits and disadvantages that come with being white in a predominately black culture. The subject of Eminem, the Beastie Boys, Iggy Azalea and the multitude of other white rappers who have been able to break through and find mainstream success within Rap music is a reoccurring topic that seems as if it’ll never go away. As Rap is a genre that was created in an effort to tell the stories of a race of people who were being abused and oppressed for simply existing, a lot of people find it hard to accept the very people who benefited from that oppression into the genre that was created to rebel against it.
Although extremely talented and arguably one of the greatest MC’s to ever pick up the mic, Eminem’s entire career showcases the different extremes associated with being white in a “black genre”. Eventually outpacing Rap legend Tupac Shakur for most albums sold by a Rap artist, Eminem’s career immediately benefited from his being white. Regardless of his talent level, his skin allowed him something that most rappers were denied, mass appeal. Eminem was immidiatley embraced by a wider audience than most rappers, as he was relatable. As he looked like most people in America, the general public felt more comfortable listening to his music, regardless of the violent and harsh topics he spoke about in his music and the fact that he grew up facing the same levels of impoverishment as most of the other stars in this genre. Although as aggressive and brash as other Rap stars, he was viewed as someone who had a rock star persona versus being labeled a “violent thug”. Though he would would sometimes face backlash for the things he said, his skin shielded him from extreme levels of criticism due to his antics. Although talented, Em realized that a large portion of his success was due to his race, he would even go on to refer to himself as “the worst thing to happen to black music since Elvis.” This critique isn’t to say that his career went without struggles and issues, as the same reason for his success was the same reason many Rap fans were hesitant to embrace him early on in his career. His skin made him someone who was benefiting from the culture while also receiving benefits that many legends of the genre didn’t, something that made the casual Rap fan weary of embracing him. As a result of this, he was forced to constantly prove his worth as an MC, delivering “stank face” worthy rhymes and phenomenal bodies of work. Although being white helped him gain commercial success, it made it more difficult for him to be respected as an MC, something a Dr. Dre cosign couldn’t help with.
Although working for Eminem, whiteness doesn’t always correlate to a vast amount of commercial success in Rap music but it usually does always brings doubt. Rappers MGK and Mac Miller have both been able to maintain a career in Rap longer than the average rapper, but neither has been able to capitalize on this success and create a movement on the level of those at the forefront of the culture. Although they both seem to have a cult like following, they are neglected by a large portion of Rap fans regardless of their talent level. Their skin color causes them to become invisible in a space in which they are the minority, a feeling usually associated with being black or brown in America. Although both have proved more than once that their skill level is equal to or greater than a vast amount of their peers, their skin has counteracted this. Although having the ability to appeal to the common American person, their skill level hasn’t reached a level for them to appeal to the average Rap fan.
Being white in America usually comes with the advantage of being the majority and having something in common with the vast majority of people you encounter, regardless how abysmal. In Rap music, this is both true and false. White rappers have the ability to appeal to and connect with the vast majority of those in America, usually inflating their sales but just as this connects them with people, it disconnects them with those in Rap culture. White artists in the genre usually have to somehow overcompensate for their whiteness by proving that they belong in the genre and that their skill level is as high as any other artist in the genre and that they aren’t “culture vultures”. Being white in Rap can be seen as both a gift and a curse, having just as many advantages as disadvantages for white artist in the genre.