(photo by: www.sosoactive.com)
My 7am morning commute music is Eminem. As I drive to work in my compact, Japanese car through upper class sections of Dallas, slowing down for school zones and joggers, I listen to the King of Hip Hop spit about the living hell of Detroit ghettos and a bad relationship on an empty stomach to help me get ready to take on the monotonous day ahead of me. I always find it interesting that my stomach can’t handle food first thing in the morning but songs about the tough life with a heavy theme of misogyny go down quite smooth. A common theme of Eminem’s music is the ability to change your path if you want to bad enough. As the poster child of the rags to riches story, Eminem certainly knows a thing or two about commanding your own personal destiny. It also happens to be the same exact sentiment behind the philosophical branch of existentialism. The philosophy isn’t new but the movement in mid twentieth century France brought it back into the limelight as well as a few new interpretations by philosophers of the time. Listening to Em, I find myself wondering if he doesn’t have more in common with Jean-Paul Sartre, the prince of French existentialism, than he does with Lil’ Wayne his duet partner whose voice blares through my speakers. Maybe it’s the lack of food in my system or the result of listening to No Love at a higher decibel than normal. All I know is that I find some uncanny parallels between the Detroit rapper and the existentialism philosophy that makes me wonder: is Eminem a student of French Existentialism? Let’s take a deeper look!
What is Existentialism? It’s a branch of philosophy that believes each person is an individual who controls their own life with actions of their own free will. According to allaboutphilosophy.org, existentialism is about finding the meaning of life through your personal choices and responsibility without the pressure and influence of laws, ethics, rules or traditions. It’s often closely thought of as an atheist view point of the world thanks to one of its most famous champions, Jean-Paul Sartre, who took existentialism into the realm of atheism. This is not 100% accurate but with its focal point on individuality outside of religious, cultural or societal pressures, it’s easy to see why Sartre’s Godless interpretation sticks.
Who is Eminem? If you were 10 or older in 2000, I shouldn’t have to explain the music and cultural phenomenon that is Eminem but just in case you need a refresher… Born Marshall Mathers, Eminem started in humble beginnings with a single mother who constantly moved him around until finally settling in Detroit. He was a quiet kid who enjoyed spending time alone writing and playing (perhaps the early signs of an introvert- I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’s a part of the club ) who found out that school was not his forté – he failed the 9th grade three times before dropping out. Fast forward a few years, he’s working minimum wage, dead end jobs trying to support his baby daughter. The stress of a bad relationship, being a young, unwed father and having no future are a very grim reality. Marshall realizes that the only way his life is going to change is if he makes it happen. Combining his love of rap with his uncanny ability to write out of the ordinary rhymes took him out of 8 mile and into the CD players of every 10-30 year old in America.
What do Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Eminem have in common? They share a common belief that you can change your path in life; that it’s not predetermined by destiny or that your actions are pre-decided for you from religion, society or your culture. This is evident in multiple songs on each Eminem album but most notably in Lose Yourself. He could’ve stayed another Detroit welfare recipient barely making it but wasn’t satisfied with the lot life dealt him. In true existentialism style, Marshall Mathers changed the pre-established path set out for him by his mother, city and society by becoming the biggest selling artist of the early 2000s. His story is often portrayed as just rags to riches. Although it certainly is a rags to riches story, Eminem’s journey and determination to change this fate clearly show that he was influenced by a different way of thinking- my argument is that of existentialism. But Em doesn’t just share the core belief of existentialism philosophy; he also had an affinity for the earthly pleasures and experiences with no regards to morals or fidelity aka the rock star life just like Sartre.
Is Eminem a student of French Existentialism? He might not know of Jean Paul Sartre or this branch of philosophy or even how to say “thank you” in French but it seems that Em had more than just luck and talent on his side; he also believed that he was the commander of his destiny, not his poverty, and that kind of thinking is right in line with the teachings and theories of existentialism. So I say that yes, Eminem is a student of French existentialism- are you?
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