A Cynical Look at Eminem's Big, Broken Brick Sale

Photo: Eminem's official shop

Sometimes, when an artist is past the best work of their career, an air of financial desperation can start wafting from their general direction. If they’re smart and hanging onto sufficient star power, they can just move to Vegas for a residency and keep the cash rolling in. (Well done, Britney!) If they were ever part of a well-respected band, they can get back together for a reunion tour and the world will applaud them for it. (Thank you, Danzig, for the upcoming Misfits reunion you are bestowing on us!) But for those artists in the middle who never quit, never came from a group and were never family-friendly enough to sell out to a casino, thinking about the future can be an awkward predicament.

Sometimes, panic just sets in one day - even in the midst of a still-solid career - and what follows is the kind of desperate cashing in that Eminem indulged in this week.

That's right! On Monday, Slim Shady (he’s the real Shady, all you other Slim Shadies are just imitating) put 700 bricks in his web store, for $313 a piece. The bricks are purportedly from the rapper’s now-demolished childhood home, as featured on the cover of 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP. Each individual piece of ridiculous rubble comes with its own cheap plexiglass case (“Customers will assemble the bricks into the plexiglass display case upon arrival”), along with a piece of paper Certificate of Authenticity, and a cassette copy of The Marshall Mathers LP. (Side note: Cassettes are only cool right now because everyone’s forgotten how quickly they get worn out and how long it takes to wind one back into place using only a pencil and sheer power of will.) Oh, and if throwing $313 at discarded pieces of clay “in varying conditions” isn’t quite enough, you can also throw an extra $37 into the pot and get a T-shirt too!

Or, at least, you could. All 700 bricks have now sold out.

We’ll repeat that: Eminem just sold individual bricks for a grand total of $219,100. Which is considerably more than the intact home on Dresden Street was worth before it burned down three years ago. Zillow reports that similar homes in the area sell for between $30,000 and $40,000. What’s more, reports suggest that state officials attempted to contact Eminem to sell him the property before it was demolished, but received no response from the rapper. (Which also makes me wonder how he got his hands on what was left of the property in the first place.)

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At this juncture, I'm sure that some fervent Marshall Mathers enthusiasts are getting mad that this article hasn’t yet mentioned the one element of the brick sale that makes it look slightly less like an insane rip-off. So, okay, here it comes. According to Eminem’s website: "In our continued mission to rebuild the city of Detroit, a portion of proceeds from this sale will be donated to The Marshall Mathers Foundation.” The key word in this sentence that you’re supposed to pay attention to is "donated," but arguably, the most important one is “portion.”

When it comes to vague terms that can be applied to monetary funds, “portion” is about as opaque as it gets. And when it’s applied to a charitable donation, it usually means the portion in question is miniscule. When stars are raising considerable amounts of cash for charity, they (or at least their publicists) usually want us to know the depths of their generosity. If the revealed amount is merely the word "portion," you can almost guarantee it ain't going to be much.

Now if ALL of the proceeds from the brick sale went to The Marshall Mathers Foundation – which apparently “helps disadvantaged youth in...Michigan” by making “donations to food banks and youth groups and participat[ing] in fundraisers” – I’d symbolically pat Mr. Mathers on the back for giving so much to the community he has so consistently aligned himself with throughout his career. Hell, I’d still cheer him on if it was a 25% donation. Maybe even a 15% donation. Under the circumstances though, it's difficult to see this as anything other than a means to make a crass moneymaking scheme into something that looks vaguely well-meaning.

It certainly doesn't help matters that this undisclosed amount is going straight to Eminem’s own charity, rather than directly to an outside one. It’s difficult not to be at least a little cynical about musicians' charitable organizations after watching the Kanye West Foundation mysteriously close, amidst a plethora of questions about how $570,000 was spent on “administrative fees” in 2010. Just last month, a Senate panel formed to investigate allegations of corruption at Bono’s Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - and it's by no means the first time that Bono's charitable work has come under scrutiny.

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It's true that music memorabilia is a booming industry. And it's possible that the people who just purchased these bricks might make some money on them some day. Maybe Eminem's charitable portion might not end up being as tiny as I suspect. But, for now, let's see this for what it probably is: the attempt by a star at the back end of his career to cash in on something he had no interest in keeping in the first place. Dressing up the purchase of half-destroyed bricks as if it's a fantastic opportunity has more than a whiff of The Emperor's New Clothes about it. Calling it charity just adds insult to injury.

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