This is a guest post from my bf about Eminem and hip-hop culture during the late 90s. It’s not very long, just a snapshot, but enjoy.
There is a wealth of discourse to be had around homophobia, misogyny and glorification of violence in a certain set of hip-hop. It’s the hip hop I grew up with, the artists from the Death Row Records label soundtracked half of my weed-tinted teenage years. It’s not the only nor the first form of the art obviously. There’s the overtly political Public Enemy, the gentle Tribe Called Quest and many other less notorious forms of the verbal beat poetry.
The shocking and much storied feud of Tupac with former friend Biggie Smalls that ended with them both dead. It was a febrile era for an art form that had its roots in far gentler expressions. I can’t hope to explain the roots of it all, I have neither the intellectual skill nor breadth of music knowledge to do so. So I’ll briefly recount something that even at the time struck me as a false note.
There came a point during the ascension of Marshall Mathers’ star (as chainsaw wielding latest menace to white collar kids moral fibre: Eminem) where he came under increasing critiscism for his homophobic content.While of course conservative americans had long railed against him for his free use of profanity, exhortations towards drugs violence and disrespect iof the flag- the criticisms from those quarters were his due. You expect no less when you set out to be the most dangerous thing since the Panthers free breakfasts for kids program.
If they aren’t burning your records you aren’t trying hard enough.
The homophobia concerns came from more liberal quarters though. Never mind of course that black hip hop artists have been saying the same things and worse for years, you can’t expect anything else from negroes right Clinton? Right Naomi Klein? Bag carriers, pimps and rapists hmm? But this was different. This was a young white artist tainting little jonny’s ears with attitudes that were so “not-our-kind”. Forget of course that his trailer park background meant Marshall was a thousand light years in socio-economic terms from his horrified liberal critics (this is not to condone the lyrical content- rather to expand on the hypocrisy here).
there was a clear progression from the overtly political stuff NWA came out with and the guns/money/bitches stuff that took over FROM THE SAME ARTISTS during that period when crack flooded the areas and police went mental (bulldozing peoples fucking houses). Iran/contra/drugs happened at the same time, these things are linked
Eminem was thoroughly depolitiscised but had the anti-establishment ‘fuck you’ attitude that was carried into gangster rap from its roots in beat poetry
Help was however soon on hand. Mathers performed ‘Stan’ at the 2001 grammy’s with none other than Elton John, an aceptable face of gay for liberal america. In that he’s white, extremely wealthy and british.This event still tops polls as one of the most suprising collabs of the last decade.Thus blessed by the godfather of gay, an absolved Eminem was free to go forth and shock some more. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Eventually his star waned as they do and by the time he was singing ‘White America’ it was less the boast of a relevant artist but the war stories of a once was. He’s quietly joined Marylin Manson and others in the retirement home for americas last great moral outrage.
This is an offhand skim, a snapshot of something that struck me at the time. For greater essays into the musicology and provenance of lyrical content, please check out ‘www.google’com‘
Keep yer hand on yer gun