Eminem has built a career rapping about where he came from – the hardscrabble world of Detroit. His lyrics paint a vivid picture of trying to make it in a world where everything seems to work against you. The cover of his upcoming album, Marshall Mathers LP 2, features an image of his boarded-up childhood home. His songs also contain messages about how others can find success and build up their wealth from nothing, as he did.
In her new book, “Eminem: The Real Slim Shady,” Marcia Alesan Dawkins, a communication professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg, explores the meaning of Eminem’s work and popularity, along with those financial lessons. In “It’s Ok,” for example, he starts with “It's a broke day but everything is okay,” before exploring the future success he plans, including his intent to leave “at least a half a million for my baby girl.”
The song, Dawkins says, “gives us a very clear picture of the family and gender values he holds and how money plays a rule. … We learn that Eminem sees money, or making it, as something adult men do to provide good lives for themselves and the people they love.” The song also suggests, she adds, that money is “not the most important source of happiness and security for Eminem, but rather, that relationships are. She points out that his songs about success, including “Almost Famous,” and songs about his daughter, such as “Mockingbird” and “When I’m Gone” also emphasize those same themes.
Eminem’s rags-to-riches story also reflects the financial devastation of his city, Detroit, in many ways. “Failure is the path to success for Eminem and his beloved hometown,” Dawkins says. His own success is also inextricably wrapped up in Detroit’s history, including its economic and racial tensions. “Eminem became successful by telling the story of his teenage years in Detroit, its financial woes, its racial tensions and the effects all those factors had on his own identity,” she adds. More recently, he starred in Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” Super Bowl ad and has made charitable contributions to the city through the Marshall Mathers Foundation.
Here are five more money messages that Dawkins has gleaned from Eminem’s music:
“When we are gone, we can’t take money with us.”
In multiple songs, Eminem reminds listeners that money can’t buy happiness, or a sense of purpose, although he does acknowledge it can make life easier, Dawkins says. “One of his primary money themes is that when we can control how we earn and invest money, we feel like we have more control over what we can do and where we can live, and we can stretch our boundaries through travel, education and exposure,” she adds.
“Treat the money you’re making as if it's the last time you’re going to make it.”
Many of Eminem’s fellow celebrities receive large amounts of cash and then quickly burn through it until they have nothing left. That often ends in foreclosures, bankruptcy and heartache. “Many of us would be wise to prepare as Eminem did by getting a mentor to provide the right advice and connections,” Dawkins says.
“Money can make people act funny.”
In his music, Eminem refers to friends who act differently once money enters the picture. In “If I Had,” Eminem observes that “money is what makes a man act funny… money’ll make them same friends come back around swearing that they was always down.” Eminem also acknowledges the negative effect that extreme wealth had on his own life: “Financial success gave him the freedom to go ‘berserk’ by becoming addicted to prescription pills. Part of overcoming this addiction appears to also be learning how to change spending patterns,” Dawkins says.
“Don't do what your mama did.”
Eminem is not always kind to his mother in his songs. He says his mother hasn’t made good choices, financial and otherwise. He raps about feeling neglected, unloved and uncared for by her. “His message for those who can relate is that they should earn and save by any means necessary rather than spend and follow the bad examples others set,” Dawkins says, adding that another message is the importance of families to communicate honestly about their financial successes and failures. That way, she says, “They can begin to heal wounds and work together to stop bad habits and build wealth.”
“Giving is part of the story.”
Eminem donates money to food banks and contributes to the Eight Mile Boulevard Association, which is aimed at revitalizing public transportation in the area. He also gives to Excellence for Detroit, which helps underprivileged students succeed in college. Dawkins observes, “Eminem makes it a point to give back.”