Eminem Raps About How He & Elvis Are Alike While Blasting His Haters
Twenty years and one month ago, Eminem’s single “Without Me” spoofed the late singer Elvis Presley. In the Bass Brothers-produced song, he rapped, “But it’s just me, I’m just obscene / Though I’m not the first king of controversy / I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley / To do Black music so selfishly / And use it to get myself wealthy / There’s a concept that works / Twenty million other white rappers emerge / But no matter how many fish in the sea / It’d be so empty without me.” The comparison came as Marshall Mathers had clowned consumers’ parents for still listening to the self-proclaimed “King Of Rock & Roll,” who had died approximately a quarter-century earlier.
The Joseph Kahn-directed music video also featured Em’ dressed as Elvis, dipping an overstuffed sandwich into a toilet before chewing on a bite. The moment eventually earned “Best Music Video” at both the Grammy Awards and MTV VMAs. For his third major label album, Eminem adhered to a formula of pop star pot-shots, bigger-than-life personas, and saying the quiet part loud. He charted the course to a second #1 album by pointing out that he was a white disruption to Black music. While the D12 member may have been sarcastic in calling himself “selfish” in an attempt to make himself rich off of Rap—especially as somebody playing the Robin to Dr. Dre’s Batman, and helping make Aftermath Entertainment a Black-owned powerhouse.
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The remarks reflected a 1950s where Elvis Presley’s stardom in the mainstream eclipsed talented Black counterparts such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Fats Domino. Although The Fat Boys flipped “Jailhouse Rock” in 1984 for “Jailhouse Rap,” Presley had never been a welcome reference in Hip-Hop—especially after Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” decried the singer as well as actor John Wayne. Like The Fat Boys, Shawn Duke’s “The Rappin’ Duke” had referenced the film star in the earlier part of the ’80s. By the end of the decade, both white mainstream icons were reconsidered in Hip-Hop—even as the USPS paid tribute with postage stamps. In 2009, Eminem channeled Elvis—an artist with a few comebacks—during his own. “We Made You” spoofed Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”
Chuck D blasted the lyrics: “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant sh*t to me, you see / Straight up racist that sucker was, simple and plain / Mother-f*ck him and John Wayne / ‘Cause I’m Black and I’m proud, I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped / Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.” Elvis, a product of Mississippi, has been regularly attributed to a circa-1957 quote: “The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.” However, researchers have never been able to find the quote. That same year, the press-shy Presley did an interview with the Black-owned Jet magazine, where he asserted, “I never said anything like that, and people who know me know that I wouldn’t have said it,” as confirmed by Stereo Williams in a Creative Loafing feature titled “Why I Stopped Hating Elvis.” Presley continued, “A lot of people seem to think I started this business. But Rock & Roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing like Fats Domino can. I know that.” That same article referenced comments by James Brown and Muhammad Ali, regarding Presley’s respect and support. However, history also supports facts that Elvis’ hit “Hound Dog” was not that for its Black woman songwriter and initial performer, Big Mama Thornton. Stereo Williams’ report acknowledges that in most cases, Elvis’ hit songs paid royalties to their Black writers.
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Still, Elvis’ superstardom in the 1950s had a rough translation by the decade he died. The weight gain, the association with Richard Nixon, Presley’s condemnation of artists like The Beatles’ promoting drug use faded him for glory in the eyes and ears of the new, young America.
In 2022, Eminem is still making comparisons to Elvis. Today, he teamed with CeeLo for “The King & I.” Produced by Dr. Dre and Em, the song is a soundtrack spot for Elvis. Em’ begins by referencing iconography like blue suede shoes, before touting “Me and Elvis gelled together like cellmates.” After CeeLo tackles the chorus, Eminem uses the second verse to say, “Rap is my new Vicodin, Moxin is how I treat it / Still goin’ toe-to-toe, I’m still boxing with all my demons / A couple Xanny bars and I’m Danny Gar–, see-ya / Been stuntin’ on you from the jump like Evel Knievel / I’m back in the cut and stackin’ chips up like a can of Pringles / Sometimes I feel like Pete Rose, I got so many hit singles / B*tch, I barely have any free throws, you sleepin’ on me like I’m ZzzQuil.” The bars are an odd choice, given that many have long speculated that pills played a roll in Elvis Presley’s 1977 death. Eminem, who opened a door for D12 with “Purple Pills,” has been transparent of his own struggles with substance abuse and addiction.
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It’s the third verse in the song that is most on the nose. He revisits that sentiment from “Without Me.”I stole Black music, yeah true / Perhaps used it as a tool to combat school,” begins the series of lyrics. Moments later, the Shady Records founder spits, “Now I’m about to explain to you all the parallels / Between Elvis and me, myself / It seems obvious: one, he’s pale as me / Second, we both been hailed as kings / He used to rock the Jailhouse, and I used to rock The Shelter.” Em’ acknowledges the overlap between two white icons often considered the kings in their respective Black music genres.
Like Elvis, Eminem has faced push-back for past quotes—whether true or misnomer. In late 2003, The Source magazine, led by Eminem’s Rap nemesis Ray Benzino, published an issue that alleged to include Eminem saying the N-word in a pre-fame demo. At the time, Eminem acknowledged other pre-fame lyrics with disparaging remarks about Black women: (“Black girls are dumb, and white girls are good chicks.”) The MC/producer said, “[The lyrics were] something I made out of anger, stupidity and frustration when I was a teenager. I’d just broken up with my girlfriend, who was African-American, and I reacted like the angry, stupid kid I was. I hope people will take it for the foolishness that it was, not for what somebody is trying to make it into today.”
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Earlier this year, many associated Eminem’s taking a knee during the Super Bowl Halftime performance as an act of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who has been protesting against police brutality against Black people. It was the latest act in a series of comments and actions that the avid sports fan has made in support of justice. While Em’s collaborator and onetime friend Kid Rock has appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, Em’ used his Revival campaign to ask Donald Trump supporters to part ways with him. The mogul challenged his fan-base to the do the same, while using the 2017 LP to condemn white supremacy and racism at large.
Like Elvis praising Fats Domino in Jet magazine, Eminem seems set on uplifting his counterparts, most recently paying tribute to The D.O.C. He’s done so in the past with Redman, Masta Ace, Kool Keith, Lakim Shabazz, and more. However, Marshall Mathers’ latest song may be one of his polarizing, especially arriving just months before Marshall Mathers heads to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
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#BonusBeat: A recent episode of Ambrosia For Heads’ What’s The Headline podcast that examines the history of Marshall Mathers as an activist: