White Privilege in Rap Music 

By Anjali Nayak 

While rap has predominantly been an African American form of entertainment, there has been an obvious rise of non-black rappers as hip hop continues to spread globally. White culture has had a history of taking African American music for their own. For example, while blues, rock, and jazz are all fundamentally black forms of music, critics and audiences are more favorable of white acts. Even now, in the wave of “wokeness,” the mainstream favoring white acts continues. 

There is no better example of the public’s bias towards white rappers than Eminem’s album, Music to be Murdered By. While considered distasteful to the likes of critics and journalists, the project was quickly voted the best rap album of all time on Metacritic, a platform where users can rate music. Of course there are instances when an album is better received by audiences than by critics, but this was generally not the case. For one, this album practically made no efforts to crack the top 200 or receive any second of radio time. Even more ironic, Eminem understands the effect his skin color has on his sales and commercial success. From his song, White America, he says, “Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself. If they were brown, Shady’d lose, Shady sits on the shelf. But Shady’s cute, Shady knew Shady’s dimples would help.” Later in the song, Eminem also points out that if it were not for a white point of view like him, rap wouldn’t have been able to be brought to the mainstream. 

Fellow white rapper Mac Miller can agree. In an interview with Fader, where he and Vince Staples discuss the topic he says, “And it’s funny because, when [my 2011 album] Blue Slide Park happened, there was a surge of all these kids, and we were able to sell 10,000 units on iTunes just out of nowhere. I remember touring and doing shows, and I was the first rap show ever in all these colleges. Six thousand kids, and I’m the first hip-hop show because I’m white-college-friendly. That was always a demon for me. It was hard to sit here and know that, because I was a white dude, I was able to sell easier and be more marketable.” 

This isn’t to say that white people can’t make good hip hop. A number of rappers such as El-P, Eminem, Mac Miller, Action Bronson, and many more have been commercially as well as critically successful. However, just like all things, there are also exceedingly terrible forms of white rap, where the art form is seen as a financial opportunity to make money. The best non-black rappers are those that have a deep and utter respect for the hip hop culture, but are also able to understand their white privilege and place in rap.