In elementary school, I would wake to the sound of my brother blasting 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P” through the bathroom door. I sat outside looking at the warm yellow glow around the door’s perimeter waiting for him to shout “G-UNIT,” as he did every morning, paying homage to the rapper’s previous hip hop group, Guerilla Unit, a.k.a G-Unit. Other times, I would come home from school and find him on the couch watching Eminem’s music videos on MTV. I was confused as to why he listened to both rappers, but I never questioned him about the dichotomy of the two.
At my school, white kids listened to Eminem and black kids listened to 50 Cent –– that’s just the way it was. The white boys dressed in baggy sweats, bandanas, and beanies or baseball caps trying to emulate the “bad boy life” and the black boys wore gold chains, durags, and undershirts attempting to mimic the “hustler culture.” When it came to the girls, some just picked whichever rapper looked most like them or who they hung out with, despite whether or not they were actually into rap music.
For me, and for my brother, we struggled to pick one artist because 1) we both appreciated the wordsmithing and musicality of both and 2) we didn’t know which artist we saw ourselves in the most.
This was one of the first times I noticed my mixed-ness.
Even though my brother and I aren’t mixed with a white background, other people didn’t know that. Our peers saw us as light-skinned and assumed we had a white and black parent because only those two colors existed in their minds. The pressure loomed, even if I didn’t know it as a small elementary schooler. In my mind, I saw 50 Cent as a weird representation of my Jamaican heritage and Eminem as my Chinese heritage, despite 50 being from New York and Eminem, Missouri. If I picked Eminem or if I picked 50 Cent, I was denying that other part of myself. Of course you might be thinking, “Danielle you could have simply picked one of the artists and gotten it over with.” But later I learned that’s the box society wants to put me in.
I found my brother listening to 50 Cent around his black friends and Eminem around his white friends (the few that he had). This action later became known as code-switching, which for my brother, meant changing his musical interests according to the group of people he was hanging out with. I started to do the same thing. I downloaded Eminem and 50 Cent songs onto my iPod Nano memorizing all the lyrics to keep up with my friends. I watched MTV music videos like “Stan,” and “Candy Shop” so I could discuss whether the video did the song justice.
The sad part is that Eminem and 50 Cent have songs featuring each other like “Crack a Bottle.” The whole time while my school was eager to cast them into white and black categories, both artists were collaborating, wordsmithing, and creating together. In a 2014 Music Choice video, 50 Cent expresses his respect for Eminem and the fruitfulness of their collaboration. The most notable thing he points out is the talent Eminem brings to a historically black genre: “Hip hop is black music, without question. And unfortunately for some people, it’s tough to accept that you got a white artist that does it better than black artists. It is what it is,” said 50 Cent.
This sudden flashback to my childhood inner battle was triggered by Ed Sheeran’s song “Remember the Name,” off his recent No. 6 Collaborations Project album featuring both Eminem and 50 Cent. When I saw their names on the track, I remember how shocked I was. I was shocked because I was taken back to that mentality of either or –– not both. Then a new shock took over –– the shock that two iconic rappers are brought together and I finally have the absence of pressure in picking one or the other.
“Give me a song with Eminem and 50 Cent in the club” –– Ed Sheeran
Feature image: flickr