I don’t give a fuck, God sent me to piss the world off.” So said Marshall Bruce Mathers III – or Eminem, as most of us know him – in his breakout single, 1999’s ‘My Name Is’ from the The Slim Shady LP. To those coming of age in the new millennium, Eminem built a substantial empire making silly, crass rap for angry young kids. A musical troll of the highest order, his ‘return’ in 2017 received little fanfare; his ‘anti-Trump’ freestyle ‘The Storm’ was briefly shared around online, with opinions mostly erring on confusion and contempt, but it seems people have little time for one of the early 2000’s biggest names.

So has the world moved on, or was Eminem’s career something we, to be perfectly frank, let get out of hand in the first place. Eminem built his career on apparently saying the unsayable. He’d be the first to admit that his ribald riffs were meant to offend across the board, stirring up discussion on politics, social standing, and race.

Throw a dart at the Eminem discography and you’ll find a plethora of sexual violence, misogyny, homophobia, ableism and outright crappy behaviour: another 1999 track, a Dr. Dre collab called ‘Guilty Conscience’, has Eminem rallying a young man to rape an underage girl at a party, amongst other gross deeds. One of his best-known hateful screeds was 2000’s ‘Kim’ a song in which he confronts his apparently cheating wife and murders her, the chorus highlighting Eminem’s classic abuser “lovesick” stance:

So long, bitch you did me so wrong/ I don’t want to go on living in this world without you.

Throughout his career, Eminem has unapologetically accepted his juvenile behaviour, as evidenced by 2000’s ‘The Way I Am’:

I’m tired of all you / I don’t mean to be mean but it’s all I can be, it’s just me … The song ‘Guilty Conscience’ has gotten such rotten responses.

Watch the clip for ‘The Way I Am’ by Eminem

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Since he smashed into popular consciousness, Eminem has tailor-made his music to upset, offend and ridicule. You’d think he’d have a field day in our current time, where one can go viral for their racism and end up with a cushy spot on some conservative talking-points show. But somewhere along the line, Eminem lost control of even his own persona, and as a result any coherent message he was trying to get out.

Was Eminem’s career something we, to be perfectly frank, let get out of hand in the first place?

For all the hideous and outlandish things Eminem has spouted, he has attempted to weight the scales with more ‘emotionally bearing’ numbers like ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet’, ‘Stan’, and even these verses from ‘The Way I Am’ about how hard it is to be famous:

I’m so sick and tired of being admired
That I wish that I would just die or get fired
And drop from my label and stop with the fables
I’m not gonna be able to top on ‘My Name Is’
And pigeon holdin’ to some poppy sensations
They cop me rotation at rock ‘n’ roll stations
And I just do not got the patience
To deal with these cocky Caucasians
Who think I’m some wigga who just tries to be black…
I can’t take it, I’m racing, I’m pacing, I stand and I sit
And I’m thankful for every fan that I get, but I can’t take a shit
In the bathroom without someone standing by it
No, I won’t sign your autograph, you can call me an asshole, I’m glad

Eminem has long attempted to show off his complexity; sure, he might rap nasty, but he’s got feelings too, you know. And he is a kind of mosaic, really, at least music-wise: on his 2002 album The Eminem Show, he throws around homophobic slurs (calling Moby a “fag” on ‘Without Me’) and, frankly, the entirety of ‘Superman’ is one big misogynistic tirade, purportedly inspired by a relationship he had with Mariah Carey, one that Carey denied and later slammed him for on her track ‘Obsessed’ (“And I was like, why are you so obsessed with me?”). No doubt ‘Superman’ gave credence to many jilted, lonely men’s hatred of women from inside their bunkers.

Watch the clip for ‘Obsessed’ by Mariah Carey

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The other side of Eminem shows itself on The Eminem Show, too. As mentioned, ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet’ won a lot of people for its Emotional Seriousness™, though it’s hard to take Em seriously when he spouts lines like this:

Have you ever been hated or discriminated against? / I have, I’ve been protested and demonstrated against

On the very same album in which he spits out bars like this:

Don’t get me wrong, I love these hoes
It’s no secret, everybody knows
Yeah, we fucked, bitch so what?
That’s about as far as your buddy goes
We’ll be friends, I’ll call you again
I’ll chase you around every bar you attend …
Not a jealous man, but females lie.
But I guess that’s just what sluts do
How could it ever be just us two?
Never loved you enough to trust you
We just met and I just fucked you

Eminem jumps wildly between earnest tales of trauma and abuse, namely at the hands of his mother, to puerile and often hateful immaturity propped up by his loathing of women and his desire to troll the listening public. Ultimately, whether he says such heinous things to ‘start a conversation’ or simply to get a rise from the listening public at large is not clear.

Since he smashed into popular consciousness, Eminem has tailor-made his music to upset, offend and ridicule.

Of course, the debate around whether or not white folk can or should rap the way performers like Eminem or Iggy Azalea do is fraught; on the angry ‘White America’ (2002), he acknowledges the powerful impact he had on young people at the height of his success: “So many lives I touched, so much anger aimed / In no particular direction, just sprays and sprays.”

Watch the clip for ‘White America’ by Eminem

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Eminem also mentions repeatedly throughout the song what happens to a predominantly black art form when a white man becomes the face of it. He himself understands that he became the face of ‘acceptable’ rap that white parents allowed their kids to listen to rather than the angry black men made famous before him. Indeed, Eminem was a silly white guy with peroxided hair who waved his butt around, and his look is deliberately white as white can be: he’s got those bright blue eyes, and his dark brown hair bleached to a sunny yellow.

Eminem’s problem has never been his talent; even someone with no interest in hip hop can acknowledge that the man can rap well. His issue has been with identity – 2009’s ‘We Made You’, his first solo single in a few years, was a hodgepodge of the nasal trolling and celebrity-baiting that made him famous in his early years.

His more ‘comedic’ songs seem to have, across his years, charted better than his ‘serious’ attempts, with the obvious exception of 2002’s ‘Lose Yourself’. Eventually, it became clear he would find better chart success as a featured artist, with the intervening years seeing him collaborate with artists like Rihanna, Sia, Beyonce, and Ed Sheeran. To put it bluntly, this may have been a way of keeping himself relevant: 2017’s ‘River’, his song with Sheeran, went to number 11 on the US charts, whereas his 2018 solo track, ‘Framed’, failed to chart.

Watch ‘The Storm’ by Eminem

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‘The Storm’ showed Eminem taking a hard stance against Donald Trump, something that progressive audiences want in their artists nowadays. Trump’s politics, and his new fascistic government, are so radically tearing America apart that many people do not want to support artists that also support Trump’s terrifying regime.

This is a fair enough ask, and a conversation (the apparent need to ‘separate the art from the artist’) that is well-overdue. But although Eminem debuted the rap during the 2017 BET (Black Entertainment Television) Awards in what some people called a ‘no-holds barred’ spiel, many others considered it a case of far too little, far too late. A few takes from ‘The Storm’:

Racism’s the only thing he’s fantastic for
‘Cause that’s how he gets his fucking rocks off and he’s orange
Yeah, sick tan.

It’s like we take a step forwards, then backwards
But this is his form of distraction
Plus, he gets an enormous reaction
When he attacks the NFL so we focus on that
Instead of talking Puerto Rico or gun reform for Nevada
All these horrible tragedies and he’s bored and would rather
Cause a Twitter storm with the Packers.

And, sounding off, he ends with this:

The rest of America stand up
We love our military, and we love our country
But we fucking hate Trump.

By the time Eminem dropped the track, it had been two years since Trump first announced his candidacy for President (by the by, do you remember where you were on that day?) Eminem’s apparently ‘fierce takedown’ was released well after Trump had been spouting hateful nonsense against African-Americans, women, Mexicans, and the disabled. And many people started to wonder why Eminem hadn’t already been utilising his platform and fanbase to defend the black community against Trump’s slander.

So there’s the million dollar question: why now, Marshall? Did it have anything to do, perhaps, with ‘Walk On Water, the new single he released with Beyonce only a few weeks later, his first in two years? Or that, a month previous, a company called Royalty Flow issued a public offering, promising to float Mathers’ song royalties on the stock market? Or the fact that the year before he was selling off his vast collection of ‘vintage’ Marshall Mathers memorabilia, including signed (!) bricks from his childhood home (for $350USD a piece) and old dog tags?

On radio station Sirius XM, in regards to the rap, Eminem said, on Trump: “I feel like he’s not paying attention to me. I was kinda waiting for him to say something, and for some reason, he didn’t say anything”.

Evidently, Eminem is back in troll mode; he’s like every other MAGA-hat-wearing, Rick And Morty avatar’d dramatic milquetoast on Twitter who refuses to allow you to walk away from a “debate”. He doesn’t want to start a conversation or use his – albeit dwindling – platform to improve the social climate that Trump, the alt-right, etc. are creating, especially for black Americans; he wants to be lauded and worshipped the way Kendrick Lamar or Donald Glover are, without having to put in the effort of making a feasible political point.

And that’s fine, don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to be a political artist; you don’t have to make a comment about Trump, and you don’t have to come out against him to be a successful and much-loved performer. But times are dicey; if you’re going to come out for or against the new regime, you kind of have to go all-in, and people can smell disingenuousness.

Eminem will never know the kind of fame he did in, say, 2000. And this is a deal of his own making; he decided to be the artist he became, one that rode in on bluster and exaggeration and hateful noise (not unlike Trump, really) without the stones to back it up. It was bound to be a short-lit flame.

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