Money Mike (MM) and I (GG) went back and forth in e-mail over the weekend to discuss Eminem and his upcoming release Relapse. The conversation is below.

GG: It’s been nearly five years since we’ve seen an Eminem solo album. Relapse comes out on May 19th in the US in a very different market than when he last dropped an album. Is this thing going to sell?

MM: Well, you hit the nail on the head. The market is different. Will it sell 10 million copies like The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show did? No. Does it have a chance to be the year’s biggest seller. Definitely. There are a lot of variables in place that will ultimately determine how it does in the marketplace.

GG: What are some of those variables? Do you think quality matters as far as his record sales are concerned? Is his fan base even the same as it was five years ago?

Will Relapse sell?

Will Relapse sell?

MM: Well, that’s the biggest variable; his fan base. How many of the kids who were listening to Eminem 5, 6, or 7 years ago have grown up and started listening to different kinds of music or different artists? I think that’s the most important thing to look at, and then you have to look at the fact that the quality of his music has seriously declined over the years. The Marshall Mathers LP was a cultural event. Relapse just kinda seems like just another Eminem album.

GG: But what’s different about the two releases? Is it the musical quality? The marketing? Just the idea that he was once this rebellious, young white kid who was breaking rules and today, he’s just a regular dude now? Why would The Marshall Mathers LP be huge, and this one not so much?

MM: I think it’s Eminem’s age and his hunger. There’s a relatability that was there before that isn’t there now. While in 1999, Em was this smart-ass, rebellious kid in his mid-twenties who appealed to a bunch of other young adults who wanted to resist authority, now he’s a superstar in his mid-thirties bitching about his drug addiction. The kids who were his main audience can’t relate to that anymore. Eminem stopped being a regular guy and became as much of a celebrity train-wreck as the people he makes fun of.

GG: But how much of that has to do with fickle fans in general? You’d think that Eminem as an artist shouldn’t always be who he once was and would have to evolve. If you were ridin’ with Eminem in 2000, shouldn’t you still ride with him? I’ll probably buy every Jay-Z album no matter the quality, simply because I’m a fan. Do you think fans in general are way more fickle than ever before, and that’s part of the reason why they look at him differently?

MM: You’re right, fans in general are fickle, but I also think that as fans grow older, they want to see some kind of artistic or personal growth. The difference between Jay and Eminem is that Jay’s music has gotten more mature as he’s gotten older. Eminem’s still talking shit about his mother and making fun of Mariah Carey. There’s been no growth.

GG: I think there’s been some growth, but he seems to go back to the silly stuff for his singles. Maybe he’s still trying to chase that TRL audience that was so good to him but doesn’t exist anymore. I haven’t heard anything on the new album other than two singles, but I have heard there are some songs that show growth on the album. Why don’t we hear those as the singles?

MM: That’s a good question. I think a lot more people would be interested if Eminem put those songs out as singles instead of going back to the silliness. I think you’re right and Eminem is still trying to chase that TRL audience not realizing that that same audience is now in their mid or late twenties. We Made You is so immature and silly that it put me off of buying the album entirely.

GG: In a market where gold is the new platinum, do we think he sells about 500,000 in his first week? Also, is it the biggest selling album of the year?

MM: Well, unless someone challenges him, Eminem’s still one of the biggest artists in the country. I say that if this album doesn’t sell 500K in it’s first week, it will be a failure. Whether it’s the biggest selling album of the year depends on who else comes out in 2009, though I doubt anyone is really capable of selling more than him, except maybe Dr. Dre or Justin Timberlake.

GG: Who are the biggest artists in the country? Dr. Dre has been gone much longer than Eminem. You’d have to say Kanye West is up there. Justin Timberlake is definitely huge, but he seems more interested in doing things for other people musically right now as well as his TV and film projects. Do we still have stars capable of putting up really big numbers? Or is the market not going to let anyone (relatively) be huge anymore?

MM: I’d say right now the biggest rap artists are Kanye and Lil’ Wayne, although I think Kanye has the edge as far as appealing to a more “pop” audience. I think there are still some stars who can put up multi-platinum numbers, like Beyonce and Carrie Underwood…maybe Alicia Keys and John Mayer. But not like there used to be. Because the market’s become so single-based, it’s gonna be hard for anyone to sell 2 or 3 million albums at a clip anymore. I mean, if you look at it, here we are in the middle of May and Taylor Swift’s album is the only album to sell more than a million copies so far this year.

GG: We’ve talked about this a bit on SonicClash, but what did you think about Nick Cannon’s comments about Eminem talking negatively towards black women?

Mariah Carey at the Tribeca Film Festival

Mariah Carey at the Tribeca Film Festival

MM: I think there’s a dangerous precedent, based on the tape he made that The Source got a hold of. Do I think that with Mariah he set out to rag on a black woman? Probably not, but as someone who does black music, I think he should be more sensitive to issues like that which could conceivably make some kind of racial stir. More than anything, I just think it’s kind of disrespectful and insensitive (not to mention misogynist) on his behalf, and while it might have been kinda cute 10 years ago, as a man in his mid-thirties with a teenage daughter, it’s not quite as funny.

GG: As I told you, I’m all for Cannon sticking up for his lady. The fact that Em still brings it up shows that either he’s not over it, or he’s just recycling material like you said. Or maybe it was because she hung him out to dry on Clown, which I think is a great diss song by the way. My issue with Cannon’s statement was that it was very reactive and maybe one with tunnel vision. I listen to Em’s music and then I listen to other rap songs, and I hear more dissing of black women in songs by black rappers than I hear in Em’s music. In fact, before the song about Mariah, which I didn’t even attribute to anything racial, all the women he’s dissed have been white. I also think that if we can call Eminem on something, it should be about attacking women in general than something racial.

MM: Like I said, I think Cannon jumped on the fact that Eminem had previously recorded a song (in the infancy of his career) specifically calling out black women and tied it into the Mariah statement. That could have been reactive and it could also have been opportunistic on Nick’s part. He certainly had a right to be mad about it. Whether it’s right or wrong for him (Nick) to bring a racial element into Eminem’s statements is really a grey area. Certainly he’s not gonna be stupid enough to call out black women in a rap again.

GG: This year, Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent are dropping albums. From a sales perspective, Aftermath/Shady Records have been one of the hottest rap labels over the years. But, 50’s last record underperformed. If these albums fail to hit sales expectations, what does it mean for Interscope and the rest of the industry?

MM: Interscope has a big enough roster that they’ll recover. I also think that there’s so much pent up anticipation for Dre’s record that it’ll be a success no matter what. But to answer your question, I think it definitely puts the industry in a bad position if all three of these albums fail. We already know that 50’s audience isn’t anywhere near what it once was, but if Em and Dre slip up, it’ll be a sure sign that everyone’s audience has eroded, and I’m not sure who they’re gonna look to next to “save” the industry.

GG: I want to change the tone a bit and talk about Eminem as a rapper. We both completely understand his genius as a rapper though we may disagree with his choices of topics or the seriousness of his rhymes. If you were to rank him with all of the other emcees that you’ve ever heard, would he be in your top 10? Top 20?

MM: I’d say top 20. His flow is amazing, but his subject matter often leaves much to be desired. He’s great when he wants to be, but it doesn’t seem like he always wants to be great, if that makes any sense.

GG: As far as impact, he’s opened up the hip hop music genre to many people may never have been into hip hop. How would you rate his impact on music compared to other artists of his era?

MM: That’s one thing you can’t deny is his cultural impact. The only people I would say are even close are Run-DMC and The Beastie Boys. You’re right, he opened up tons of new doors for hip-hop.

GG: Alright, before I let you go like Blackstreet, here’s the 50 (cent) million dollar question. Are you buying Relapse?

MM: I haven’t heard anything yet that’s moved me enough to consider buying it, so right now I have to say no. Doesn’t mean I’m not curious, though.

Photo of Mariah Carey by David Shankbone and shared via Wikipedia