December 15, 2017

The Real Slim Shady: Black Rights Activist?

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It has been 4 long years since The Marshall Mathers LP 2 dropped. Slim Shady fans across the world have tolerated the intermittent release of side projects like “Guts Over Fear” and short features like that on Big Sean’s “No Favors,” with the expectation that Eminem is cooking up a hot pot of scrambled syllables, another hit album. Now, with the upcoming release of 2000s best-selling artist’s newest album, Revival, we are beginning to see a new side of Eminem.

It all started on October 19th, 2016. Eminem released an unexpected tongue-twisting track: “Campaign Speech.” In the track, he delivers an 8 minute, a cappella, rhyming rant. Meandering from topics ranging from “Clark Kent’s undergarments” to “Ben Stiller in a suspense thriller,” Eminem works to show off his radical thoughts through an unparalleled verbal dexterity.

But within the crazy random rhymes, listeners find a new dimension of Eminem. Around the 4 minute mark, he says “You say Trump don’t kiss ass like a puppet/and that’s what you wanted? A fuckin’ loose cannon who’s blunt with his hand on the button.” For years, Eminem has been criticized for his politically incorrect and ignorant demeanor. He has dissed over 50 celebrities, used highly misogynistic language and challenged every standard of what is “appropriate” to say. But under all that powerful and entertaining political incorrectness, seems to lie a desire to challenge racism and inequality in the country. Perhaps the current polarized political climate has provoked that desire, channeling his radical lyrical skills to encourage a drive in people to fight back.

Fast forward 1 year later. Still no album, but the BET awards hits us with a shocking video of Eminem freestyling. Unlike Eminem’s previous freestyles, which emphasize verbal dexterity over content, this one is quite contentious. The entire freestyle is a diss of Donald Trump.  In it, Eminem laments, “What we’ve got in office now is a kamikaze that’ll probably cause a nuclear holocaust … Racism’s the only thing he’s fantastic for.” He continues to criticize Trump for his denouncement of NFL players like Colin Kaepernick for his choice to sit during the national anthem to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. He says, “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” and “Now if you’re a black athlete you’re a spoiled little brat for trying to use your platform to try and give those a voice who don’t have one.” Eminem is himself using his platform to give a unique critique of president Trump that, due to a tremendous care for political correctness, no politician or reporter would ever dare to deliver. Furthermore, he gives his fans an ultimatum, saying, “Any fan of mine that’s a supporter of his, I’m drawing in the sand a line, you’re either for or against.” Equating Trump to inequality, Eminem makes it clear: either fight for equality, or stop following him.

But the most detailed criticism of American racism and inequality came from Eminem with the release of his newest single from Revival, “Untouchable.” The song is over 6 minutes long. It commences with a rusty rock-and-roll guitar riff, but close to the 3 minute mark, switches drastically to a beat reminiscent of those Dr. Dre use to make for him. This mood shift can be better understood through the context of the song.

Eminem begins with the lines “Black boy, black boy, we don’t like the sight of you.” His voice rides on the guitar riff more like that of a heavy metal screamer than a rapper. He continues to say, “Another drug charge homie it’s back inside [prison] for you.” Later in this section, Eminem says “Black boy, black boy, we don’t get your culture man, we don’t care what our government’s done to fuck you over man.” It becomes clear, however, that this perspective is not Eminem’s perspective.

At the close of this section of the song, he says “African Americans have been treated like shit and I admit there have been times when it’s embarrassing to be a white boy”. From this, we understand that Eminem is using an ignorant white persona to bring light to the nature of white privilege. But when the instrumental shifts, so does Eminem’s perspective. Instead, he takes up a poor, but politically aware, black man’s persona. This perspective seems to also be his own. He prefaces this section by explaining “it seems like the average lifespan of a white man is roughly twice than a black life span”. Further assuming the black perspective, Eminem says “We’re applying but McDonalds seems to be the only franchise that’ll hire” and “Why is it they treat us like dryer lint?” In these lyrics, Eminem uses his knack for reporting overlooked truths to bring us the harsh reality of African Americans trapped and oppressed by poverty. Finally, drawing a parallel to slavery, Eminem laments, “This whole nation feels like a plantation field.”

Being a white man, Eminem’s criticism of white privilege and explanation of the horrors of African American struggle are especially unique. Perhaps no one is better positioned to fight for equality than someone who is willing to bend every rule of appropriateness of speech. The release of Revival will hopefully give us a better view of this dimension of Eminem. Perhaps this is the Real Slim Shady.


Adam Kanwal is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected].