Opinion: Past transgressions continue to haunt Eminem


Nicholas Hunter

Nicholas Hunter

Last night, during the BET Hip Hop Awards, a spot aired featuring rapper Eminem delivering a freestyle rap directed at President Donald Trump.

Eminem’s message was clear: a fan of Trump he is not.

“Any fan of mine who’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 it for you with this,” Eminem said before shouting an expletive and giving the middle finger to the camera.

The piece was very much a product of Eminem’s style — a somber, angry and often unsettling delivery mixed with expletive-laced verses and graphic imagery of what he would like to do to the current object of his ire.

And it’s because of this pattern from Eminem that I can’t jump on his hype train.

In his music, Eminem has shown a penchant for outrage. While it was focused on a subject almost universally disliked by American liberals at this time, he has spent most of his career spewing hate at the very groups of people who have been cheering him on since his verbal assault on Trump dropped.

In one of his first hit songs, “Guilty Conscience,” Eminem jokes about drugging a 15-year-old girl at a party. In nearly every notable song he’s recorded since, vile jokes targeted primarily at LGBTQ people and violence toward women (including his at-the-time wife in “Kim,” as well as a number of prominent women in pop culture) litter his music.

Obviously, Eminem is not unique as a rapper willing to use vulgar and offensive language for shock value and humor. It’s an issue that has haunted the genre nearly since its inception and hasn’t gone away.

Yes, we’ve seen progress in the past few years, but for every Frank Ocean coming out, there’s a J. Cole song using homophobic slurs that spends the next few lines to justify it. It’s a systemic problem, and the solution lies in a long-term effort to reject lyrics about violence toward women and LGBTQ people and the people who sing them.

I’m not here to enforce political correctness. Who am I, a straight white man, to decide what’s offensive anyway?

I’ll leave that to those who feel targeted by his music.

But I’m not buying the idea we should put Eminem on a pedestal just because he’s speaking up against someone liberals disagree with — not after all the hate and violence he’s spewed throughout his career.

We can and should embrace people being socially conscious and turning a corner against hate and bigotry, but we can’t do that without also holding people accountable for their past transgressions.

Maybe this is that moment for Eminem. Maybe he’ll spend the next few days taking back his old music that was created to offend and upset anyone and everyone. That, though, seems unlikely.

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].