It’s here – The Marshall Mathers LP2. Have you been waiting, like, so hard? Eminem’s one of those lighting rod hip-hop emcees, don’t you think? There are certainly folks who’ve been down with him for ages (the newly 41-year-old’s sophomore, The Slim Shady LP, is almost 14 years old), and there’s some objective merit to his angry vitriol because he’s got 13 Grammys to his name. That’s facetiousness.
His eighth studio album certainly got produced to the nines, with Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin credited as co-executive producers. But boy, does he ever know how to stir up the same ole’ controversies he’s been toying with since he made a video for “The Real Slim Shady,” a real time capsule of a piece of shit where he badmouths all kinds of pop stars and breaks up a gay marriage. Right from the go, in the opening track, “Bad Guy” (a 7+ minute track), he drops f-bombs (f*ggot) and gropes at domestic violence, shaming out artists (my God, you know you’re fucking with the wrong angel of hip-hop when you incite Frank Ocean, right?), and spitting tons of Caucasian-flavored aggression. That is to say, we’re not separating conflict in hip-hop as either white or black, but you rarely hear emcees of color (other than Drake) rapping about relationship-born rants or the trailer park. In fact, we talked about this with Rich Quick earlier this year – Em’s been writing, technically, “conscious” rhymes for years, and he was, honest-to-goodness, a rapper who blazed trails for white rappers almost 15 years ago.
However, that’s all with a big ole’ BUT. Because part of his notoriety has been his toying with the gay community, the f-word, women, misogyny and drug-fueled anger the whole time he’s been in the game. Numerous organizations, individuals and critics have questioned his intentions, merit and success in the face of employing truckloads of obscenities and pejoratives. And this new one is no different, especially when it comes to single #2, “Rap God.” It’s a six-minute track that tosses out f-bombs (even, in one line, embracing his heavy use of the word) like it’s 2002 and he just starred in 8 Mile.
There’s pretty much one whole verse that toys with a “boy,” and, well, Eminem seems to still be of the school that gay equals weak, and that calling a man a f*ggot is an acceptable way of attacking a peers’ masculinity, a tool of insult to other emcees whom he seeks to undermine. It just seems like a tired method. Of course, what makes it harder to argue is that the dude can spit. In that same song, he rolls off like hundreds of words in 10 seconds. And we know, more or less, that Eminem doesn’t truly hate homos or wholesale object to equal rights or marriage equality. An avowed non-hetero, Sia, appears on the record and has worked with Em a handful of times before, and tends to defend him when pushed as a non-bigot.
It’s just that, okay, we get it—so much of hip-hop is often, for better or worse, about posturing and how you’re perceived: Are you hard or are you soft? And it seems like the tiresome technique of challenging a villainous emcee with a insult about how much pussy they get is a tale as old as breakdancing and cypher battles. But maybe Kendrick and the new guard of hip-hop know better; they know to come at things like sales, clout, authenticity, success and productivity. Is Em just grabbing at controversy like Miley’s VMA moment or Kanye’s aggrandizing of his (basic) fiancee? Hard to tell. But it’s great dinner conversation.
Lastly, here are a couple observations from some out hip-hop artists on the topic:
LastO, whose new album, Where’s Vivian?, is fresh on iTunes, has this to say:
“Song is lyrically and flow wise superb. He’s a lil’ too old to be using gay and fag and shit as an insult; playground shit. That may have been the effect he was going for. He’ll run the ‘fag’ word and the ‘gay’ word ragged but he won’t never say nigger. So, as irreverent and offensive as his brand is supposed to be… he still knows his line. It’s ironic because I’m sure when he was coming of age more black folks walked over him/shitted on him/dogged him out than anyone gay ever did.”
Solomon, whose first single, “Swim No More“, has recently earned some praise in presses gay and straight, offered this:
“When he invited me on his radio station a few years ago, I thought he put all of this aside. Granted, it’s not directed towards the gay community, but subconsciously, it is. He’s using the word faggot to degrade another man. As if the worst thing a man can be is gay. What type of message does that embed into the minds of young kids, both gay and straight? It’s sad. Not so much for the gay community, as it is for a man in his forties who thinks its humorous to use the word faggot.”