Crossing Over: Elvis Presley and Eminem

CLARENCE PAGE: Reporter: If Eminem is not the new Elvis, he appears to be, at least, the latest Elvis.

EMINEM: Though I'm not the first king of controversy, I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley. To do black music so selfishly, And use it to get myself wealthy.

CLARENCE PAGE: Yes, Eminem– AKA Marshall Mathers, AKA Slim Shady– pop culture's bad boy flavor of the moment. He takes the old complaint about white performers stealing black music, and puts it right back in our faces. "Yes, I know what I am," he says. "I've got a right to rap the blues. Nobody knows the troubles Slim Shady has seen, and I'm going to tell them. I am the latest white guy to get rich off a black sound, and you're making me a success– or your kids are. So, deal with it."

SINGING: Shady's back tell a friend…

CLARENCE PAGE: With that, Eminem gives us what Memphis record producer Sam Phillips once said he was looking for when he discovered Elvis: "A white man who had the negro sound and the negro feel." He found it with Elvis…

ELVIS SINGING: Heartbreak hotel…

CLARENCE PAGE: And with Jerry Lee Lewis…

SINGING: Come on over whole lotta shakin' goin' on…

CLARENCE PAGE: Who hid behind the bar or outside the windows of black juke joints to hear the young B.B. King and other masters of rhythm and blues. "The white negro." That was Norman Mailer's label in the 1950s for urban hipsters who embraced some romantic version of black outlaw culture as the epitome of what's cool. Now white rappers are accused of stealing black culture, especially when they're good at it. So was Elvis.

SINGING: You've got to kiss an angel good morning…

CLARENCE PAGE: But did anyone ever accuse a black country star like Charlie Pride of stealing white culture? ( Singing opera ) did anyone diss Leontyne Price for stealing European culture? The world has changed. Crossover is all the rage. Racial and cultural boundaries are meant to be crossed, especially these days. Today's biggest star in daytime TV is black. America's first black president, according to black writer Toni Morrison, was white. The biggest star in golf is black, and Asian, with some Indian and white mixed in. He's not denying any of it. One of the NBA's biggest rising stars at 7'5″ is, yes, Chinese– Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets. Who says Asian guys can't jump?

SINGING: I want to love you the best that the best that I can…

CLARENCE PAGE: One of the biggest stars among white college guys is Darius Rucker of Hootie and the blowfish. One New York Times critic called him "the Colin Powell of rock." Speaking of crossovers, Powell seems to be everyone's favorite crossover act, with the possible exception of Harry Belafonte. Culture is made to be stolen, but not stagnant. Jackie Robinson took white baseball and reinvented the game.

ELVIS: Uh-uh honey lay off of my shoes don't you step on my blue suede shoes…

CLARENCE PAGE: Elvis took black music and reinvented rock and roll. ("Purple haze" intro playing ) Jimi Hendrix took white rock and made it sound black again. Racial desegregation accelerated cultural integration. Among other results, we have Eminem, a white rapper. His medium is part of his message. The success of his first movie, "8 Mile," confirms the obvious.

EMINEM: I'm sorry mamma I never meant to hurt you…

CLARENCE PAGE: The movie is named for the road in Detroit where he grew up, a road that separates the worlds of black and white, urban and suburban, comfort and struggle. The movie is a hit, the critics love it. As Eminem is embraced by the mainstream you have to wonder: As rap enters its third decade is he giving a new energy to it, or is his acceptance by the mainstream a sign that rap has lost its shock value? That rap is just about played out? That rap is over.

ELVIS: You looking for trouble just look right in my face…

CLARENCE PAGE: When art loses its edge, it becomes generic. Yong Elvis becomes Las Vegas Elvis, a sequined parody of himself, the prototype for an endless Halloween parade of Elvis imitators.

SINGING: And did it my way…

EMINEM: I'm Slim Shady yes I'm the real shady all you other Slim Shadys are just imitating so won't the real slim shady please stand up please stand up please stand up…

CLARENCE PAGE: Eminem didn't wait. When he declared the real slim shady, there really weren't any other Slim Shady's yet. I wonder how long this Slim Shady will last, when the shock value is gone and there are no more borders left for him to cross.

EMINEM: So won't the real slim shady please stand up…

CLARENCE PAGE: I'm Clarence Page.