All things considered, hip-hop culture is a relatively young one. Born on August 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc hosted a back-to-school jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, hip-hop currently sits at forty-eight years old — younger than many of its most beloved veterans.
Over the course of its deep history, we’ve seen the rise of countless influential figures, including the all-to-oft unsung pioneers and innovators that shaped the culture’s sound and attitude. Without them, perhaps we wouldn’t have the music we have today. We certainly wouldn’t have Eminem, who found solace in rap’s larger-than-life cast of characters during his youth. Throughout his career — especially recently — Em has lined his verses with tributes to those who paved the way for his own journey.
On Music To Be Murdered By: Side A, Em stood alongside a pair of legendary lyricists from his own generational class — Mos Def and Black Thought — on “Yah Yah.” To further enhance the experience, he enlisted Q-Tip for the hook and sampled one of Busta Rhymes’ iconic intro to “Woo Ha! Got You All In Check.” In his climactic verse, Em rattles off a list of OGs, taking it back to the formative influences during his childhood and teenage years.
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In what feels like a single breath, Slim namedrops LL Cool J, Big L, Del The Funkee Homosapien, K-Solo, Treach, Kool G Rap, DJ Polo, Tony D, ODB, Kool Moe Dee, Run DMC, Ed O.G, EPMD, D.O.C, Ice-T, DJ Evil Dee, King T, UTFO, Schoolly D, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, YZ, Chi-Ali, Rakim & Eric B, Notorious B.I.G, Paris, Three Times Dope, Poor Righteous Teachers, N.W.A, Eazy-E, and of course Dr. Dre.
That verse alone could probably cement him as the game’s biggest hip-hop head, insofar as pure encyclopedic knowledge. In interviews, Em has rapped verses from memory with startling precision, and he recently linked up with Big Daddy Kane to hold it down for an upcoming documentary. At concerts, he makes sure to wear t-shirts with classic rap album covers in order to introduce them to new fans. And let’s not forget that the man literally collects hip-hop cassettes, recently revealing the rarest one in his possession.
“My most coveted was probably Nas’ Illmatic,” he explained, speaking on his collection during his Shady Con in. “Man, I couldn’t find that shit nowhere. I finally found one, and it cost like five, six hundred dollars. For a sealed copy. Because who the fuck had a copy of Illmatic and didn’t open it. Nobody.”
Eminem in 1999. Martin Philbey/Getty Images
Yesterday, things came full circle for Slim, who held it down with his first rapped collaboration with Nas, “EPMD 2.” Appropriate, the song also featured a guest appearance from EPMD, who Em paid homage to on the aforementioned “Yah Yah.” Fun fact — last year, Erick Sermon was trying to send a beat to Bad Meets Evil, though a series of hilarious miscommunications ultimately led Joell Ortiz and KXNG Crooked to seize said beat for themselves. Circling back to “EPMD 2,” it seemed obvious that Em would use the opportunity of linking with his hip-hop heroes to showcase his vast knowledge of rap lore.
In that regard, he did not disappoint. As his verse reaches an apex, he pays homage to the rap game’s lost ones, including some who might not have garnered mainstream attention otherwise. “RIP out to DMX, Stezo, E and Nipsey, Ecstasy and Prince Markie Dee,” raps Em. “MF DOOM, I hit 50 via text / Told him that I love him cuz I don’t even know when I’m gonna see him next.“
A few bars later, Em once again sets his sights on immortality, highlighting some of the names he aspires to stand alongside. “I just pray for the day when I’m able to say that I’m placed with the greats,” he declares, though to some he has long cemented such a placement. “And my names with the Kane’s and the Wayne’s and the Jay’s and the Dre’s and the Ye’s and the Drake’s and the J-Dilla’s, Jada’s, Cool J’s, and the Ra’s and amazing as Nas is / and praise to the Gods of this shout to the golden age Hip Hop.”
A modern-day take on his famous “Till I Collapse” scheme, it’s an interesting burst of insight into Em’s artistic values. True, the names had to share some syllable similarities — this is a bar, after all — but it’s still cool to see him giving flowers to Big Daddy Kane, Lil Wayne, JAY-Z, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Drake, J. Dilla, Jadakiss, LL Cool J, Rakim, and Nas. Not many artists are so openly praising their influences on wax, but Eminem has been making a point to do so in his recent material.
Is it safe to declare Eminem to be the rap game’s biggest hip-hop head? It seems that there’s enough evidence to do exactly that. Were there to be a high-stakes evening of rap trivia, say for charity, it feels like he’d be a formidable contender to square off with. Perhaps one day we’ll see such an event take place — lest we forget, there was once a rapper-edition of The Weakest Link with B-Real, Nate Dogg, DJ Quik, and Xzibit. Say hip-hop trivia night were to go down, how much money would you place on Slim Shady?
LISTEN: Nas ft. EPMD & Eminem – EPMD 2