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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 10:13 GMT
Eminem and the establishment
Eminem's debut film has been one of the biggest recent hits in the US
Rapper Eminem, once the bane of parents and the gay community, is now one of the world's most popular music artists with Brit and Grammy nominations and an acclaimed acting debut in 8 Mile. Why?

There was a time when every mention of Eminem was prefaced with the description "controversial rapper" as he stumbled from court appearance to bitter feud to lawsuit to public protest.

But now, he finds himself in an unfamiliar position - an acclaimed actor, the most popular of all mainstream music artists and no longer shocking to the wider world.

Eminem has been in court on several charges
Gone, for now, is Eminem's cartoonish rapping alter ego - which has been the cause of public furore over the last four years.

The incisive, insightful lyricism is still there, as is the irreverent sense of humour, the swearing and occasional violent imagery.

But as the court cases have died down and record sales gone up, the rapper himself has obviously matured.

"I maybe made some mistakes/But I'm only human but I'm man enough to face them today," he raps on recent hit single Cleaning Out My Closet.

One reason for his newfound contemplation is his devotion to his seven-year-old daughter Hailie, who is a recurring theme on Eminem's latest album, the Eminem Show.

The album even includes one track called Hailie's song, in which he professes his love for her - although Eminem shows he has not totally changed his spots when the song turns into a rant about her mother, Kim, at the end.

Director Curtis Hanson
8 Mile director Curtis Hanson spent weeks rehearsing with the rapper
Another reason why the controversy has died down is that he has toned down the anti-women and anti-gay content of his earlier albums.

And inevitably, after four years, his brand of raising hell has stopped surprising us as we turn our attentions to other, more extreme artists who are the latest threats to our children's souls.

Eminem's screen debut has undoubtedly won him respect among those who previously saw him as an untalented troublemaker.

His performance in the film, 8 Mile, has attracted glowing reviews, and given the public a glimpse of his struggle to succees.

He plays a young rapper, Jimmy, and the Eminem on screen is one that still raps and rhymes furiously.

But he does so with a sense of his own fallibility, and a desperation to get out of bleak, broken, post-industrial Detroit.

The film did phenomenal business when it opened in the US and Canada in November - it made $54.4m (34.7m) in its first weekend.

Eminem on stage
Eminem is best known for his mainstream-baiting rap antics
Entertainment Weekly magazine was one publication to rave over his screen presence, praising the "scurrilous, soft-eyed yearning of a hip-hop James Dean".

"Compact, volatile and burningly intense, he's got charisma to spare," was Newsweek's opinion.

The success of 8 Mile will undoubtedly open more doors for him to return to the big screen - if he wants to.

Elvis made a career playing himself - in various guises - right through the period when his music career had fallen by the wayside.

For every Will Smith (mesmerising in Six Degrees Of Separation, robust and exciting in Ali) there is a Michael Jackson (not even believable as a weirdo in Men In Black II).

Or Britney Spears (Crossroads taking her acting career not much further than her days as a Disney "mousekateer").

And David Bowie added to his musical canon with fantastic performances in both The Man Who Fell To Earth and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, though he then tainted both music and movies with Tin Machine and Labyrinth.

Eminem with Elton John in 2001
Grammy mates: Eminem with Elton John in 2001
The world of rock and pop has always seemed more dangerous and spontaneous than that of movies - and especially today in the days of tightly controlled shoots and even more subdued stars.

Although he may no longer be controversial, Eminem is still angry, and while he is angry, he will reach out to angry young music fans looking for a voice.

But the danger is that as he becomes more successful and respectable, he will become more comfortable and out-of-touch with the people buying his records, as has happened to many stars in the past.

Even when not making music himself, one way Eminem will keep his influence strong is through his own record label, Shady Records, which has signed the equally outspoken new talents Obie Trice and 50 Cent.

But if he keeps going for the popular jugular and reinventing himself as he has done so far, he will be around - on stage and screen - for a long time.

It just may be the case that he becomes so accepted that we will forget just why he caused so much controversy in the first place.

See also:

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