A lot of words have already been written about Eminem’s BET cypher last week, in which he attacked the president. There’s been a good deal of praise, some measured and some fawning. Colin Kaepernick tweeted his appreciation of Eminem’s declaration of allegiance with Kaepernick, for the protests that have (arguably) prevented him from signing onto a new football team. There’s a Politico Magazine feature responding to the cypher with an analysis of Macomb County, the area that both Eminem and rapper-turned-Senate candidate Kid Rock hail from. There’s also been criticism, notably a Noisey article by Lawrence Burney that argues that Eminem has received unearned praise simply because people are impressed by a white rapper declaring solidarity with a black athlete. Vince Staples first teased and then backpedalled, calling the cypher “trash,” and then tweeting that “the mnm statement was all in good fun” and, referring to Eminem’s role in the film 8 Mile, “yall not about to turn me against B Rabbit.”
What has caused the most stir is the end of Eminem’s verse, where he directly addresses some of his fans who support Trump. He raps, “And any fan of mine that’s a supporter of his / I’m drawing in the sand a line, you’re either for or against / And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split / On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you: / Fuck you!”
The reason that this statement is remarkable is that Eminem is one of the few — and maybe the only — of major rappers whose fan base contains a majority of people who might plausibly have voted for Trump. Eminem is an anomaly in the rap world. A study on The New York Times’s “The Upshot,” comparing the relative popularity of a group of 50 artists in the U.S., shows that the areas where Eminem is most popular are the Midwest, the Northwest and the Northeast. Eminem’s fans are much more likely to live in rural areas, far from cities (with the exception of his hometown of Detroit), while African-American rappers are much more likely to have fans based in coastal cities and the South. This tells us something completely unsurprising: Eminem’s popularity thrives in areas that are overwhelmingly white. And not only that; he is most popular in areas where people are most likely to hold conservative views and vote for Republican candidates, in comparison to the African-American rappers, whose fans are in more diverse areas with more left-leaning political views.
Eminem is running a real risk in challenging his fans to choose between supporting him and the president, since he is most popular in the areas that heavily supported Trump in the election. How much you admire Eminem for this decision may depend on what you make of Eminem, of all people, choosing to take the moral high ground against a puerile and anger-stoking performance artist. Eminem’s heyday was in many ways a direct precursor to today’s alt-right movement, and it is no shock that the same areas swayed by Trump’s barrages of insults are where Eminem finds his largest numbers of fans. Looking back at Eminem’s early albums, many of the hallmarks of the alt-right movement that, in part, drove Trump to victory are there. Besides a general nihilism towards the societally sacred, he was covering ground that the alt-right now lives in: the vitriolic mockery of feminism, the use of rape as a punchline and as a threat and, above all, the unshakeable belief that anybody’s suffering is appropriate grist for his comedy mill. He used his own whiteness as a punchline in a way that alt-right trolls never would, but one could argue this was more out of a savvy knowledge of his boundaries, as one of the first major white rappers in a largely African-American genre, than it was out of a real sense of having those boundaries.
He’s changed little in the years since. It’s hard to see a rapper who only two years ago was letting us know that “even the bitches I rape cum” and who, in his anti-Trump song “Campaign Speech” last year, leaves time to rap “Use intercourse to settle scores / With women who have vendettas towards men” as a person with any moral credibility whatsoever to criticize — especially to criticize a president who in so many ways panders outrageously to the same outraged audience that Eminem has courted for years.
Jack Jones is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column Despite All the Amputations runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.