The second semester of seventh grade was when Eminem impacted my life. Growing up, I was often the subject of abuse. I was a nerd, unathletic, a bit feminine, had dark skin and African features at a time when that wasn’t popular, and “talked too proper” according to my classmates. I was bullied constantly, leaving me loomy, despondent, rejected, disillusioned, and broken.
When Eminem’s “My Name Is” video debuted on MTV, it struck me harder than the schoolyard punches I was used to. It was fun, twisted, sarcastic, offensive, and addicting. I convinced my parents to buy his debut CD, The Slim Shady LP (since his name sounded like the popular M&Ms candy, they thought he was an innocent pop star). I was introduced to Eminem’s alter-ego: Slim Shady. Vulgar, crude, obscene, cruel, and incendiary: he desecrated the monuments of morality and respect upon which I’d been taught to build my life.
Some will ask how so many of us could have liked Eminem, when his early music was the sonic embodiment of toxic masculinity, homophobia, sexism, and violence. The answer requires us to perch precariously on a moral razor’s edge.
We must first differentiate between the rap personas of Marshall Mathers III. There’s Eminem, the straight-forward lyrical-genius who became Detroit’s premier battle-rapper and whose demo tapes earned the respect of Jay-Z, Nas, Dr. Dre, & Busta Rhymes. Then there’s Slim Shady.
Slim Shady was the bullied nerd inside Marshall Mathers who finally snapped. With a frighteningly intense immature rage and 72 minutes of compact disc space, Slim Shady lashed out at all things holy in the most profane ways. He tried to hurt everybody the way he had been hurt by being as obscene and horrific as possible. Slim Shady was 90’s teenage angst, personified with one of the greatest lyrical gifts in Hip-Hop and uncensored freedom.
We also knew that Slim Shady, like Eminem, was a persona of Marshall Mathers. Stylized and exaggerated like violence in a Quentin Tarantino film, Slim Shady was a thing to entertain, to inform, and to be a vehicle for emotion, but not to be believed. We suspended offense as Slim Shady attacked everything: religion, government, pop stars, women, men, the LGBTQ community, his wife, and family members. There’s no excuse for Slim Shady, but we understood how that monster had formed. His assault on all things holy was the vehicle by which a generation of disillusioned people released our pent-up rage without hurting ourselves or anyone else. Again, it’s an explanation, not an excuse. We grow up.
Despite the backlash, protests, and media coverage, Eminem became a bonafide superstar. Now, in a state of semi-retirement, he's ranked as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Because of his lyrical skill and the fact that he appealed to people of all races, including Black Hip-Hop fans, he has always been given an “invite to the cookout”!
On Tuesday, BET aired their Hip Hop Awards, where Eminem was featured in a rap cypher. He did an actual freestyle (not a pre-written rap) aimed very clearly at our current political leader. It was a scalding, expletive-laden, and blistering challenge against the white supremacist ideology, racist philosophies, political blunders, and unhinged antics of the current leader. It received mostly universal acclaim. Even rap's elite chimed in:
.@Eminem killed this shit!!! Fuck that! This is for Collin ball up a fist!!! ✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/RF4jQ4LN2z— Sean Diddy Combs (@diddy) October 11, 2017
Racism is the only thing he's Fantastic 4(fantastic for), cause that's how he gets his rock off, he's orange. Sheesh @Eminem!! 🔥🔥✊🏾🔥🔥#United pic.twitter.com/wcL28BCWpy— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 11, 2017
Whoa. Rap God. @Eminem thank you. Potentttt— J. Cole (@JColeNC) October 11, 2017
Uncle @snoopdogg salutes @eminem 💯 #hiphopawards pic.twitter.com/ib0g1ZAzRb— Power 105.1 (@Power1051) October 11, 2017T-Pain
Protect Eminem at all cost— T-Pain (@TPAIN) October 11, 2017
Even Colin Kaepernick, the football quarterback who is being blackballed by the NFL for his silent protest against inequality & systemic violence, tweeted his support of the freestyle that honored his name.
I appreciate you @Eminem ✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/nwavBwsOkQ— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) October 11, 2017
However, some in the more shea-butter-covered recesses of social-consciousness were not impressed, and created "Woke Reasons to Be Upset at Eminem For Standing Against White Supremacy". Those reasons include: 1) He should’ve done thing long ago, too late now, 2) He shouldn’t be a voice on Black issues, 3) It’s white privilege, 4) We don’t need white allies in Black liberation, 5) His freestyle was mediocre, 6) Eminem is problematic, and 7) This is a case of the white savior.
Here’s why all those reasons are illogical.
Above all, he did what we ask our white allies to do when they want to help the struggle to end white supremacy and systemic inequality: we tell them to speak out against and stop their racist counterparts. Eminem, a non-racist white male, used his global platform, to directly challenge and shame a notorious racist who now, because of wealth, ignorance, and racism, sits in the top political seat in the free world. That is exactly what we ask our allies to do.
Moreover, Eminem is not making himself a voice on Black issues, nor is he being made a voice on Black issues. He used his platform to call out a racist and was celebrated for assisting our movement. That does not make him, nor award him with being declared, a voice on Black issues.
Others say we don’t need white allies. Be careful there. That mindset reeks of the very same ideology that gave rise to the supremacist philosophies that currently plague us. Any human being who values love, equality, freedom, and unity over racism, supremacy, and hate is my ally. To ignore the power of white allies is to ignore the many white allies that helped make the Civil Right Movement a success. Consider the Freedom Summer of 1964, when several whites volunteered to help. Consider the marches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., where he often appeared hand-in-hand with white brethren who joined him in the struggle, who were an active voice against their racist counterparts, and who used their white privilege to open opportunities and avenues that helped him further his cause.
Some say Eminem’s freestyle was mediocre and unimpressive. They have forgotten that “freestyle”, in Hip-Hop, literally means something you make up on the spot. In recent years, it's become popular for rappers to deliver pre-written verses that they worked on for months and that can fit over any beat, and call it a freestyle because they lack the skill to actually freestyle. Eminem created the verse as he went along; a true freestyle. When you take that into account, add the content, the multi-syllabic rhyme pattern, and the flow, it’s easy to see why Hip-Hop purists and rap’s elite give this high marks, despite the gaps or moments where he's finding the flow.
Some say that Eminem has never spoken for Black rights and against racism, so it's too late now. That's also illogical. It’s never too late for someone to help our cause. In the struggle for Black liberation, equality, and the end of white supremacy, we need all the help we can we get. If a white ally uses a global platform to call out and shame white supremacy’s biggest progenitor, then that person gets props for doing it, no matter how long it took them to do it.
Those who consider this a case of the White Savior are also incorrect. No one has declared Eminem a savior. Hip-Hop has always been a platform for political and social change. It didn’t take Eminem to do that. Public Enemy, Run DMC, Rakim, NWA, Queen Latifah, Sister Souljah, Nas, Tupac Shakur, Lauryn Hill, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper are just some of the rappers who have guaranteed that Hip-Hop remains a voice of political change.
Still, others say it’s white privilege that Eminem is getting praised. As a rich, white man, he'll always benefit from some level of white privilege. However, here, he used that privilege to promote the message of equality and a stance against white supremacy. That is an example of what we want our privileged white allies to do.
Is Eminem problematic: absolutely. However, so are most rappers and so is Hip-Hop itself, with its notorious issues regarding violence, sexism, homophobia, and negativity. For every beautiful thing about Hip-Hop, there are some issues that still need to be addressed. That’s a larger conversation that’s not limited to Eminem.
Is Eminem a hero? No. Far from it. He’s said and done some horrible things in the past, especially during his Slim Shady incarnation, which has manifested in his real life too often. Do you have to like Eminem after this? No. Is he going to change the world? No.
Was his freestyle nice though? Yes. Can we give him credit for using his platform to help further our struggle? Yes.
I question those who are inventing all these “woke” reasons to be angry: do you really want Black liberation or do you just want to watch the world burn. I ask because here, in this moment, we have a non-racist, white ally calling out his racist peers which is exactly what we want. Why are we inventing reasons to be angry?
Eminem has always had an invitation to the cookout, especially after he invented the now ubiquitous internet term “stan” (an obsessed fan), gave us 8 Mile, and got the stamp of approval from lyrical elites like Nas, Jay, Busta, and Kanye. After that freestyle, I’m fully ready to extend the range of his cookout invitation. Eminem can now season the meat, choose the songs, lead the line-dancing callouts, and play spades and Uno with us. He can even drive himself up to the cookout and doesn’t need to be escorted in and out by one of our popular cousins.
I’ll give him credit for vocally and powerfully using his platform to help spread our message and forward our cause.