I once read a quote about Nintendo that said “I got older but Nintendo didn’t.”
Nintendo is amazing. Who doesn’t love Mario? The technology may change, the graphics may have improved but Mario will always be the same 2D platformer trying to save Princess Peach. Sure they’ve tried different things, but that’s what Mario is and will always be at its core.
I love Halo. It’s one of the few video games that I still play somewhat regularly. I was such a loser kid that at my 16th birthday party, we had a party to play Halo. Over time, Halo has evolved: modern mechanics, different modes, new weapons but it’s never lost that feeling that you felt when you first played. It’s steadily improved with each new installment and console generation.
Listening to The Life of Pablo finally made one thing clear: Kanye West is a far better artist than Eminem. Hip-hop is often measured in competition and debate. Eminem and Kanye West are two of the most prominent rappers of this century. The debate of who is best was always solid in my mind. But I was at least willing to entertain the back and forth. I can’t do it anymore. Stop the fight.
Eminem is to Super Mario Bros what Kanye is to Halo. One has long been stagnant while the other has continually evolved and grown.
Now don’t get me wrong, Eminem is the superior lyricist of the two. Kanye’s ego would even admit that. Em washes Ye on “Forever.” Kanye could NEVER make a song like “Rap God” and flow at that speed. I don’t know if Kanye could paint a story with the imagery of an obsessed fan the way Eminem does in “Stan.” Kanye’s ear for sound and album construction far outweighs Eminem’s lyrical advantage though. Kanye’s production has been always been light years ahead of other artists from a creative and sound standpoint. Kanye can take someone, who has never stepped foot in church, directly to the pulpit with a song like “Ultra Light Beam” and still be able to take you back to his early Rocafella days on “No More Parties in LA” on the same album. Eminem doesn’t have the ability to take you on that type of musical journey.
Look back to Em’s lead singles on his first four albums: “Hi My Name Is?”, “The Real Slim Shady”, “Without Me” and “Just Lose It”. It’s the same hokey, TRL driven, pop formula for every song. There’s no new ground or theme uncovered in those four songs. It’s the same concept repackaged. I rarely find myself revisiting Eminem’s albums or engaging in debates on which ones are his best or how I’d rank them. Unlike the seemingly constant Kanye debates, these conversations aren’t organic.
The debates where people rank Kanye’s albums and talk about their favorites come from Kanye’s ability to push the music forward. He matured from “College Dropout” to “Graduation,” and listeners can appreciate that maturation because you find yourself in the same boat. You weren’t the same person in 2003 that you were in 2007. I remember clicking on Eminem’s “Slaughterhouse freestyle” and coming away thinking “he’s still rapping about hitting women?” That was shocking and over the top to a 12 year old. I’m an adult now and it’s lost the shock factor. Eminem’s music hasn’t grown with most of us as we’ve travelled through life. His last release, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, is an admission that Eminem is still trying to go back to that house on the cover from 2000. You can’t recreate that sound, those moments, those feelings.
Eminem was my favorite rapper as a kid. I used my blue middle school Trapper Keeper to write accomplishments from Em’s first two albums. I wrote down the release dates, how many copies each album sold and which songs charted on Billboard. The Marshall Mathers LP is still one of my 10 favorite albums. From the moment I heard “When I was just a little baby boy, my mama used to tell me these crazy things,” I was hooked. The story in “Stan” still moves me: how detailed of a picture Em paints, the Dido “Thank You” sample, the realization the person from the letters and the man from the news are the same person. It’s an incredible song. The Marshall Mathers LP is Em’s true classic.
One of my favorite rap punchlines is “She got a light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson. She got a dark-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson.” Once I heard that line, Eminem stopped being my favorite rapper and Kanye took that honor.
I remember the first time I heard “Through The Wire” on MTV2 in October 2003. I told my friends at school about this new rapper named Kanye West. I heard “Slow Jamz” later and was sold. I had to hear more from him. That Christmas my aunt gave me a $20 gift card to Best Buy. I saved that gift card until Feb. 10, 2004 to buy College Dropout. You know how hard it is for a kid to save a Best Buy giftcard for almost 2 months?! I could’ve gotten a Playstation 2 Greatest Hits game with that money.
That love and excitement for Kanye has grown through the years with his music. The love I have for Eminem, however, has diminished greatly. I lost that feeling of shock and awe that pulled me towards Em as a kid. Songs like “Cleaning Out My Closet” don’t hit me the same as it did when I first heard it.
Kanye’s music on the other hand has been a complete evolution from the first time you heard him rhyme. Put in College Dropout then listen to The Life of Pablo. Everything has evolved: the sound, the imagery, the arrogance, the bravado. They’ve all gotten larger, meaner and more over the top while remaining true to Kanye’s sound. Kanye’s musical timeline shows clear progression and experimentation with different sounds while Eminem’s timeline rarely covers new ground and switches up sounds. It’s been a steady, constant and predictable formula throughout his entire catalogue.
There’s nothing wrong with being Nintendo. Some of my greatest memories are wrapped up in playing Mario Kart. I still own a Wii U. I haven’t touched in over a year, though. No one comes over and asks to play it. It sits there, on top of the Xbox where I still play Halo a few times a week. The Wii U isn’t too far away from my Eminem music catalog, which happens to be collecting dust, too.