[W]hite rappers are commonplace, if not ubiquitous or especially influential. And a recent crop of albums and mixtapes by white rappers shows a new strategy. Where in the past, the way to avoid ruffling feathers was to lay no claim to hip-hop’s center, now it’s by looking backward, studying up and making unimpeachable choices. Who can argue with the path already taken?Caramanica's chief examples to bolster this argument are a) NYC mixtape rapper Action Bronson, b) SNL joke-rappers the Lonely Island, and c) the Beastie Boys.
I see a small problem with calling the Beastie Boys neotraditionalists, which is that they are actual old-school rappers. Also I don't get what Lonely Island is doing in the piece at all. They are super-funny, but the way they are funny is by being basically pitch-perfect mimics of contemporary rap tropes. That seems nothing like what Caramanica is talking about at all. It sort of seems like the opposite.
And in fact, I can name two dozen indie rappers who are a) black and b) defined by their neotraditionalism. Action Bronson is not strange in this respect! The zealously formalist underground rapper is pretty much its own subgenre at this point, and it ain't racially coded.
Here is the bit of Caramanica's piece that seems exactly right:
Eminem was probably the last true foreigner, arriving at a moment when mainstream acceptance of hip-hop was on the rise, following a decade of Dr. Dre and Puff Daddy, Biggie Smalls and 2Pac. He was articulating the outsider experience just as a whole new wave of fans — white fans — were experiencing it themselves for the first time.That's an interesting point! Maybe the better conclusion to draw from it, though, is that these days white rappers are just less weird all around. They exist in the underground, in the mainstream and in the genre-of-one that is the Lonely Island. And some are good (Yelawolf) and some are terrible (Asher Roth) and pretty much that is it.
But Eminem’s success meant that they didn’t have to be outsiders anymore — they could listen in, and also participate at the highest levels. And it wouldn’t be disingenuous: hip-hop has been around long enough that most young people don’t know a life without it. Their connection to the music, even if it’s just via consumption, is sincere and unavoidable.
Eminem’s success obviated the need for new Eminems.