By Lisa Respers France(CNN) -- Eminem was a bit of a novelty when he burst on the music scene with his major-label debut album, "The Slim Shady LP," in 1999.
One of the highest-profile white rappers not only to have major crossover success but also street cred, the artist born Marshall Mathers no longer has to deal as much with the issue of race in a music genre dominated by African-American men. Instead, he is grappling with issues regarding another minority group.
"I poke fun at other people, myself," Eminem recently told Rolling Stone magazine about using a slur against gay people in his rhymes. "But the real me sitting here right now talking to you has no issues with gay, straight, transgender, at all."
The rapper has always courted controversy, and it's not the first he's attracted attention for gay epithets in his music. Eminem now is feeling the heat for the not at all gay friendly lyrics in "Rap God" from his eighth solo album, "The Marshall Mathers LP 2," which came out Tuesday.
A sequel to his hit 2000 album, "The Marshall Mathers LP," the latest project is garnering some critical acclaim. Consequence of Sound writer Mike Madden notes in a Time piece that "Eminem doesn't have that center-of-the-universe pull these days, nor could he or anyone else have expected 'MMLP2' to yield the results of its alpha."
"But, this one's nostalgic in all the right ways, a worthy look back at the LP that made him the world's most popular cult figure," he writes. "And, since we still haven't found an inheritor to his madness, this version of Marshall Mathers is more than welcome."
In reviewing the album, USA Today's Edna Gundersen gave it 3½ stars out of 4, saying, "On 'The Marshall Mathers LP 2,' he recaptures the original release's wild, clever, emotional brilliance in a flurry of caustic, brazenly honest, rapid-fire rhymes and aggressive beats. So what's the problem? Once the bravest visionary in rap's underworld, Eminem spends much of 'MMLP2' gazing into the past, reworking early tricks and wading in nostalgia rather than forging a fresh path."
Eminem returns to hip-hop at an interesting time.
Two of its biggest stars, Kanye West and Jay Z, are known as much for their high-profile relationships (to Kim Kardashian and Beyonce, respectively) and roles as fathers as they are for their music. And the new rising stars include the likes of Kendrick Lamar, who is making a name for himself basically by dissing everyone. It's an era where music artists strive to be shocking (Miley Cyrus, anyone?) while still in fear of running afoul of the political correctness police.
Sober after an addiction to prescription drugs he told CNN almost killed him and the father of a teen daughter, Eminem, now 41, has also grown. The new album is a follow-up to a different time in his life, but it remains as personal as his past projects.
"I always say this about my music, and music in general: Music is like a time capsule," he told Complex magazine. "Each album reflects what I'm going through or what's going on in my life at that moment."
He told the magazine he is unsure of where he fits into today's musical landscape.
"I struggle with that sometimes," Eminem said. "I guess it's more about where people see me, and where people feel like I fit in. Hopefully when all is said and done, people see me as just an MC."
These days there are a plethora of white rappers that can thank Eminem for further opening the door to the genre. Artists such as Mac Miller, Yelawolf and Macklemore are now hip-hop mainstays. When Brand Nubian rapper Lord Jamar recently criticized the latter during an interview ("Okay, white rappers, you're coming to this almost as a guest. Okay, matter of fact you are guests in the house of Hip Hop. Just because you have a hit record doesn't give you the right as I feel to voice your opinion."), others condemned the comments.
"I mean as far as white people rapping, who gives a f**k," said actor/comedian Lil Duval to Vlad TV. "Is it f***in' up yo money? No."
Rapper Mackelmore offers an interesting counterpoint to Eminem's new single given that the former's anthem to gay equality, "Same Love," has become a hit. When Rolling Stone writer Brian Hiatt recently questioned Eminem as to "why, in 2013, use 'f**got' on that song ('Rap God')" and "why use 'gay-looking' as an insult" given that he has gone out of his way to say he has no problem with the gay community, the rapper attributed it to his hip-hop persona.
"I don't know how to say this without saying it how I've said it a million times," he said. "But that word, those kind of words, when I came up battle-rappin' or whatever, I never really equated those words . ..."
To being a homosexual, Hiatt asked?
"Yeah," he said. "It was more like calling someone a b**ch or a punk or a**hole. So that word was just thrown around so freely back then. It goes back to that battle, back and forth in my head, of wanting to feel free to say what I want to say, and then (worrying about) what may or may not affect people."
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