How Eminem and the Motor City Saved My Life

How Eminem and the Motor City Saved My Life

With Eminem’s much anticipated ninth studio album release finally upon us, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how his music and the mentality behind it has impacted me during my formative years.

It was fall 2008, a Tuesday I believe. Like any other Tuesday, I woke up that morning, got dressed, and hopped in the van with my mom to drive to school. What made this Tuesday memorable was that Eminem’s autobiography The Way I Am was coming out. This autobiography was a stan’s dream; complete with original lyric sheets, previously unreleased photos, and raw insight into the life and career of a legend. Knowing all this, I made my mom promise to go to Barnes & Noble and purchase it THAT day to make sure they didn’t sell out.

There’s no big ending to that story, as you might have expected. My mom (being the angel that she is) presented me with the book at the end of the school day and I digested it ferociously. It was the first release of any kind from the Detroit emcee since 2004’s Encore, and I was over the moon just to have something current in my hands from my favorite rapper.

But to me, Marshall Mathers was far more than just my favorite rapper. You see, in 2008 I was a 13 year old tomboy; exceptionally competitive and angry at the world for the perceived slights and social isolation wrought from my physical disability. For the most part, my age and personality meant that I was too old to hang with the boys but too rough around the edges to fit in with the girls. Looking back, I realize that this type of hardship isn’t unique to me, but most everyone spends their adolescence trying to find who they are. I was no different. I did, however have a more perilous road to travel than most. My physical limitations instilled in me an intrinsic sense that self-contentment was going to be elusive. My body didn’t afford me the freedom or opportunity to fulfill myself, so I had to be extra creative to find the outlet that would bring me confidence and a true sense of self. Enter Hip-Hop and Eminem.

I knew I wanted to rap, although I didn’t exactly know what to rap about. And as much as I loved and admired the strong, artistic backbone of 2Pac, DMX and N.W.A., I couldn’t exactly relate to them as a disabled, white girl living in the suburbs. It seemed as though I was struggling to find my place in an art form where the aethstetics suited me but I didn’t quite fit the aethstetics. That all changed due to a man called Slim Shady from Detroit. First hearing Eminem showed me that hip-hop could be whatever you wanted it to be. It wasn’t a monolith fossilized in topics that were off limits or unrelatable to me. I spent a large portion of my teenage years by myself, but with Eminem in my headphones I was never alone. On the D12 song “revelation,” he raps: “ no one could tell me nothing Hip-hop overwhelmed me to the point where it had me in a whole ‘nother realm”. That’s what hip-hop, and by extension Eminem, represented for me. I no longer needed popularity or a boyfriend or makeup or anything else that teenage girls normally place value on- I had hip-hop.

As much as he was derided by critics for his cartoonish violence and juvenile sense of humor, I reveled in it. This was partially due to my adolescent immaturity but he taught me that not only was it okay to be yourself, you could also take pride in it. He taught me how to take my anger and turn it into a motivating force instead of a destructive one. Eminem was more than just a rapper. He was a sidekick, a friend, a voice who said what I wanted to say, but couldn’t find the words to articulate. His courage and discipline in the face of adversity gave me something to aspire to and his lyrics still influence my forays into self-expression. His first three albums in particular saw me through some of the toughest days of my life, and the first line of the first rap I ever wrote ended with the words “Slim Shady”.

Becoming an Eminem fan opened my eyes to the city that raised him- Detroit. I soon began listening to other artists from the motor city like Elzhi, Black Milk, Danny Brown, and J Dilla. I should also mention the artists of Motown that were invaluable to my childhood. People such as Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and The Supremes, but the list goes on and on. It didn’t take me long to figure out that all these artists were immeasurably influenced by the working-class spirit of Detroit. One that may not be the prettiest on the outside, but is gritty and resilient at its heart and beautiful in its own way. For obvious reasons, I connected with that spirit immediately and took it on as my own. Similarly to how Marshall viewed rap battles at Saint Andrew’s Hall or The Hip-Hop Shop in Detroit, I saw each challenge in life as an opportunity to gain respect and prove people wrong. Now, as a 22-year-old whose free of the toxic environment in her grade school, I can say with absolute certainty that Eminem, the city of Detroit, and all of the other artists mentioned in this article saved my life.

So regardless of the recent criticism pointed at Slim for the presentation of his political views, or the content on his latest album Revival, I’d like to say: Thank You.