In the decade or so since Eminem first appeared on the scene with his debut album The Slim Shady LP, he has changed the music game in more ways than one. His breakthrough 2000 release The Marshall Mathers LP paved the way for edgier hip-hop to live at the top of the Billboard album chart. He bridged the gap between the worlds of mainstream pop (he was a staple on "Total Request Live" with the likes of Britney Spears and 98 Degrees), pure hip-hop (he was a well-respected freestylist who associated with Dr. Dre) and the more aggro side of the rock world (his songs were often played on modern rock radio and would often tour with guitar bands). In addition to being the best-selling artist of the past decade, Eminem also changed things culturally (in many ways for the better).
When his first album became a huge hit, most people expected a whole new wave of white rappers to storm the gates and take over the music business. There were certainly a handful of white rappers who made an impression before Marshall Mathers did (the Beastie Boys, MC Serch and House of Pain's Everlast among them), but the whole concept had been tainted by that whole Vanilla Ice debacle in the beginning of the '90s. It took a force as powerful as Slim Shady to overcome the stigma on white rappers that Ice had left behind.
Eminem's ability to conquer the charts was impressive, but he didn't necessarily throw open the flood gates for the rest of the people of his kind. Still, he did give rise to a handful of white MCs who probably would not have gotten the opportunity were it not for Slim Shady (which would have been very disappointing indeed).
Perhaps the most successful follower in the shadow of Slim Shady (his upcoming second album is eagerly anticipated), Roth scored a massive hit with his first single "I Love College," a somewhat deceiving ode to laid back life on campus. But Roth is not some frat guy, as his debut album Asleep in the Bread Aisle (and especially his recent mixtape Seared Foie Gras with Quince and Cranberry) is full of complicated rhyme schemes and thoughtful observations about modern life.
The rapping half of Minneapolis hip-hop duo Atmosphere is actually of mixed race, but he is often lumped into the wave of white MCs who scored big at the beginning of the millennium. Like Eminem, Slug's raps are brutally honest, full of stories about relationships with women, the perils of fame and identity politics. Often dismissed as "emo rap," Slug is a perpetual underdog who continues to improve and evolve with each release.
Not only is Mike Skinner white, but he's also British. Though he doesn't necessarily traffic in traditional hip-hop (the four Streets albums adhere more to a European mutation called garage that was supposed to be the next big thing for a few minutes in 2004), Skinner is the British Eminem in many ways. His tales are about working class struggles, go-nowhere jobs, complicated relationships and the general malaise of modern life.
While he has never really had a mainstream moment, Sage Francis is an extremely talented rapper who put out some of the best indie hip-hop albums of the past 10 years. Originating from the hip-hop hotbed that is Providence, Rhode Island, Francis constructed his persona while borrowing from rappers, slam poets and spoken word artists for an extremely cerebral approach to modern rap. Many people would consider El-P the king of indie rap, but Francis' albums (especially 2005's A Healthy Distrust) are more consistently head-spinning.
The oft-maligned Sparxxx got started as a protege of Timbaland (he probably thought Sparxxx was Eminem to his Dr. Dre) and scored a big hit early with the country-flavored track "Ugly." Sparxxx had an unusual flow and represented for rural Georgia the way most rappers big up their own neighborhoods (he actually had raps about washing pigs and driving four-wheelers through the woods). He has bounced around to a few labels but has a new album coming out this year through his own imprint on Koch.
Who is your favorite white rapper? Let us know in the comments!