I often find myself contemplating the nature of great people in history. The question that I keep asking myself is if history necessitates the emergence of great people or if great people change history? In the case of Eminem—one of the most influential and pivotal figures in the history of American music—I wonder if he was simply the right guy in the right place at the right time or if it was his idiosyncratic brilliance that changed rap around him.
There was always going to be one white rapper that broke through Hip-hop's color barrier, earning the culture's seal of approval. It was an inevitability. Several before Em had attempted to cross over with varying degrees of success, but few garnered the respect of their peers the way Eminem did. For as much as I love the Beastie Boys, they still don't get the respect of hip hop purists.
Eminem was lightning in a bottle. An obsessive rhyme machine (he read the dictionary cover to cover) who emerged in an era where lyrical acumen was paramount and was born around impoverished whites and Blacks. Add his penchant for lampooning pop culture, and you have the recipe for the perfect white rapper. His appearance courts a sea of hip hop-loving Caucasians, while his skill and upbringing earned the respect of hip hop fanatics. The album that cemented Em's status as a rap legend arrived on this day in 2000.
The controversial Marshall Mathers LP was the first album I paid for with my own money. I begged my reluctant mother to take my cash and swap it with the record store clerk, and somehow she agreed. At the time, I couldn't understand how meticulous Eminem was with his craft; I just heard funny jokes and stories. It's now 22 years later, and I'm a rap fanatic thanks to Em's wordplay and peerless delivery. Even if history was going to anoint any white rapper, I'm glad that fate settled on Mr. Mathers.