Eminem Embraces Hip-Hop History in 'Rap God' - Rolling Stone
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Eminem Embraces Hip-Hop History in ‘Rap God’

Rapper takes on Eighties Max Headroom persona in new video

At one point in “Rap God,” a single from Eminem‘s new Marshall Mathers LP 2, the Rolling Stone cover star says, “They say I rap like a robot, so call me rapbot.” It’s the line in the song that seems to have most influenced the look of the song’s video.

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Throughout the clip, Em appears in the Max Headroom-like guise he assumed in the video’s teaser, glitching and twitching against a colorful backdrop. He splices those scenes with shots of him sitting with his eyes closed, downloading info like a computer from cables that run out of him, as cameras move around the room. He becomes a Super Mario-like character in another shot and looks wholly digitized in another. The only time he seems human are in shots of him battle-rapping in a gray hoodie with a backpack on, possibly riffing off another line in the song: “I know there was a time where I was once king of the underground.”

As with his video for “Berzerk,” which borrowed visuals from the Beastie Boys and prominently featured producer Rick Rubin, Eminem has laced the clip with nods to hip-hop history. When he says, “Bust a rhyme,” a TV in the clip shows rapper Busta Rhymes. When he shouts out Lakim Shabazz, Tupac and N.W.A. another screen shows their faces. And, most prominently, when he shouts out J.J. Fad – whom he emulates in the super-speed rap toward the end of the song, referencing their 1988 track “Supersonic” – a screen shows that trio’s profile.

The nods at hip-hop past are fitting: Eminem recently talked to Rolling Stone about how being a student of hip-hop has influenced him over the years. “You may take a rhyme pattern or flow from Big Daddy Kane or Kool G Rap,” Em said. “But then you go to Tupac, and he made songs. His fucking songs felt like something – ‘Holy shit! I want to fucking punch someone in the face when I put this CD in.’ Biggie told stories. I wanted to do all that shit.”

One thing he does not represent visually in the video are the song’s homophobic slurs, which he had to defend earlier this year. When singer Sia, who identifies herself as “queer,” learned of his use of slurs in “Rap God” she decided to donate the royalties she earns from “Beautiful Pain” – an MMLP2 track that featured her – to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. Eminem later told Rolling Stone, “Those kind of words, when I came up battle-rappin’ or whatever, I never really equated those words [to mean homosexual].”

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