Eminem Was A Political Rapper Years Before The BET Cypher. Here’s The Proof (Video)
Tuesday night (October 10), Eminem spit what already appears to be the most talked about freestyle verse of all-time. At Detroit’s First Street Parking with Shady Records artists and friends looking on (some would later get their turn to rap), Marshall Mathers went off the rails on an a capella tirade against the current Commander-In-Chief. Viewers far beyond the BET Hip Hop Awards and Em fan circles heard about what the Aftermath Entertainment superstar had to say. More than 20 million views recorded in the first 24 hours. Throughout the last week, Em’s most vitriolic, most talked about diss (in a career that’s ruffled a few feathers) was analyzed, criticized, and unpacked by fans, critics, red hatters, and everybody else in between.
In this week’s TBD, Justin “The Company Man” Hunte takes a deep dive into what Eminem set out to accomplish with those bars, and if it succeeded. Moreover, as some say that symbolically rattling Donald Trump’s cage is convenient for Eminem, especially with an album on the horizon, TBD reminds some that from the very start, Eminem was a politically-minded MC—who’s deliberately made his commentary in provocative ways.
“Slim Shady introduced himself to us dressed like Bill Clinton, ripping out Hillary Clinton’s tonsils like he describes on ‘Role Model.’ He ‘moshed’ on George W. Bush’s decision to go to war on Encore. He released the track and video a week before the 2004 Presidential election between Bush and John Kerry. To promote the Encore album, there was a massive campaign that featured a Shady National Convention in New York City. Even Trump endorsed it,” Hunte recalls. While Trump was symbolically on Eminem’s side a dozen-plus-years ago (at least for a media moment), that’s obviously changed with “Campaign Speech,” released almost one year ago to the date—ahead of the Presidential election. Eminem’s apparently grown more politically outspoken with time, fame, and power.
On that same deluxe edition of Encore, “We As Americans” prompted Secret Service investigation. “Square Dance” was 2002 anti-war Hip-Hop. “White America” was a lyrical assertion of First Amendment rights, aligning Eminem with pioneers such as 2 Live Crew’s Uncle Luke (who was honored during the same Tuesday night awards show broadcast), Ice-T, Tupac, and Em’s mentor, Dr. Dre with N.W.A.
Other artists have made national news for what they performed and depicted in their art. However, Eminem has amplification and reach to an audience that even Dre or Pac have not. “Eminem is the picture of America. Off sheer volume, more people in America probably relate to Eminem than any other celebrity power. If someone told me that there are more Eminem fans than Hip-Hop fans, I might not agree, but I’d understand because that’s the hold Eminem has on ‘White America,'” Hunte says, before alluding to the single’s chorus.
Data proves this. The New York Times created a population heat map showing where artists fans are located, singling out Eminem among others. He taps into places and bases that political strategists find hard to reach and important to elections. “Em is drawing a line in the sand is Em forcing his audience—if only for a moment—to think about their icon and everything they love and relate to about him in a context in opposition to Donald Trump, the guy from the Shady National Convention, and everything he stands for,” says Hunte. Even in a battle-ground state like Michigan, there are debates that have bled into music and pop culture. Eminem’s onetime friend (and sometimes rapper) Kid Rock has supported Trump publicly. That line Eminem is drawing is deliberate and real.
“No, Eminem isn’t the first artist to toss rocks at Trump. But this is less about innovation and more about magnification. Slim Shady’s one of few artists whose message reaches across everyone’s alternative facts, and he did so while kicking policy and calling out ‘President clap-back’ directly. He told the guy self-conscious about his tiny hands that he didn’t have the nuts like an empty asylum,” says The Company Man, referring back to the cypher verse.
From calling out the apparent hypocrisy in rhyme to refusing to accept intolerance, Eminem made his biggest political statement in a career of many.
#bonusbeat: Here is Eminem’s freestyle.