Eminem seen by some as rap's salvation

October 31, 2002|By Lynette Holloway | Lynette Holloway,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - The Bronx River Houses are hallowed ground in the hip-hop world, one of the neighborhoods where young African-Americans and Hispanics helped create a new art form in the 1970s.

From there emerged a founder of hip-hop, Afrika Bambaataa, and the loose-knit group of disc jockeys, dancers, graffiti artists and rappers called Zulu Nation.

Three decades later, the No. 1 selling rapper is a 30-year-old white man, Eminem. But these days at the Bronx River Houses, there is no resentment, there are no complaints about Eminem's racial identity.

Not only is Eminem accepted as a supremely skillful practitioner of rap, but many also say he is the salvation of an art form that they say has been corrupted by a focus on Bentleys, yachts and Cristal Champagne.

"You don't see him wearing thousand-pound gold chains encrusted with ice," Manaury Reyes, 17, said of Eminem. "He's always dressed regular in sweats like us. The sweats might cost more, but he ain't frontin'. He's not rapping about clothes, cars and jewelry like all those other rappers. He's rapping about life - you know, stuff that we go through out here."

This is the kind of loyalty that Universal Pictures is counting on when 8 Mile, starring Eminem, is released on Nov. 8. The film, loosely based on Eminem's life, is the latest test of the rapper's crossover appeal.

While it is well known that hip-hop consumers are more than 75 percent non-black (Eminem's core audience is suburban white teen-agers), Universal will need to reach into minority audiences to make 8 Mile a hit.

"Eminem gets a pass in the same vein that back during segregation, black folks had to be better than average, had to be the best, to be accepted," said Stephen Hill, vice president for music and talent at Black Entertainment Television. "Eminem is better than the best. In his own way, he is the best lyricist, alliterator and enunciator out there."

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