Shady's back. Eminem spent 1999 to 2004 on a wildly successful crusade to shock suburban parents and separate American teenagers from their allowances before disappearing for five years. Now, he's returned with a new album, Relapse, and he and Interscope Records are taking to the Jimmy Kimmel Show, YouTube, and even the pages of The Punisher comics in an effort to make the record the music event of the year. But it won't be that easy. Rap's changed since Eminem took his last bow, and no matter what impact his talent—and his backstory as a white, working-class dude from Detroit—had on the genre in the past, he's no longer on the cutting edge of hip-hop.
He's not alone in trying to figure out where that edge is. A genre that once thrived by flipping off authority—be it by defying your parents or shooting at cops—now has a place on the president's iPod. Rappers are using computer programs to tweak their voices on breakup albums, rhyming guest verses on pop hits for tweens, and making the charts with nonsense songs. But hip-hop's omnipresence is a result of its evolution away from its roots in neighborhood parties, politicized anger, and urban culture.
Does that evolution and acceptance come at a cost to rap's political power? Will its absorption into mainstream popular music blunt its impact as a unique—and uniquely disruptive—sound? Is Eminem any fun to listen to anymore? In an email roundtable, Atlantic correspondent and Vassar College assistant professor Hua Hsu, frequent Atlantic.com culture contributor Alyssa Rosenberg, and Government Executive staff correspondent Gautham Nagesh discuss rap's future in the age of Obama.