There’s a lot of buzz around Eminem‘s recent 60 Minutes appearance with Anderson Cooper. On the surface it was a good look as there’s no denying Em’s popularity. He’s now seen as an OG of sorts who has finally returned to the scene after being away for a couple of years recovering from a series of life altering mishaps.
We all know about the tragic night club shooting of his best friend Proof (Detroit’s un-official mayor ) a few years back. We also know that Eminem almost overdosed and had been hooked on drugs. According to him he’s been 2 years sober. Like it or not when polled Eminem’s name frequents cracks the top 5 in one Hip Hop’s greatest rapper ever. His delivery, controversial subject matter and clever word play has earned him his respect. However, what caught people’s attention during the 60 Minutes interview was his remarks around homophobic and misogynistic lyrics. When asked about them and the controversy that emerged here’s what Em is quoted as saying;
“I felt like I was being attacked. I was being singled out. I felt like, ‘Is it because of the color of my skin? Is it because of that you’re paying more attention?’ There are certain rappers that do and say the same things that I’m saying and I don’t hear no one say anything about that.”.
You can peep the full interview here..
Em’s remarks raised more than a few eyebrows and left us with a few things to think about. The name of the game as he well knows is when you’re trying to make noise to blow up a spot, unless you have a compelling story to tell or exemplary skill sets, the best way to bring attention to yourself or an issue is to kick up dust and cause controversy.
This is what Eminem did. He bursted on the scene 10 years ago causing controversy. It wasn’t just his shocking lyrics but also some of his on and off stage antics. For example, I recall on one of his early visits to the Bay he got into a heated exchange with a radio host on KALX (UC Berkeley’s radio station) who thought he was a bit rude and over the top. The host Sister Tamu wound up breaking his record on the air. Word of that incident spread quick.
A few months later (may 1999) while doing a concert at the Fillmore a fight broke out. Em attempted to quell things only to jump off the stage with crew in tow to pummel a heckler who he felt wasn’t showing the proper respect. What appeared to be an isolated incident was later revealed to be something that somewhat staged as similar incidents of Em jumping off the stage to confront hecklers occurred at other concerts including Las Vegas a few days later. Again controversy sells and Eminem early on was a spark plug for it…
It should come as no surprise that folks wishing to get a message across would not attach themselves to his missteps to get a message out. This has been a tried and true method used by organizations like PETA when it comes to animal abuse and obviously other organizations like GLAAD who went after Eminem to bring attention to homophobia. But with that being said, while Eminem has come under fire, he has never been economically blocked at least not in the ways we seen other artists who dared cross certain lines.
For example, take reggae artist Buju Banton.. Here’s a guy that recorded an over the top homophobic song back in 1988 when he was 15. The song ’Boom Bye Bye‘ was about the murdering gay man and became a huge hit and an anthem of sorts. 20 years after this song was recorded folks never let up him. They protested, got his tours canceled. Folks have and continue to go all out on Buju. Eminem.. yeah he got heat from GLAAD and other organizations, but his concerts were never cancelled even here in San Francisco where activist have shut down Buju everytime his name is even mentioned.
This has gone on even after Buju has gone on to do positive music and explained his immaturity and ignorance at 15. He is now considered a strong voice for Jamaica. The protests have gone on even after he was the first to set up program Willy to help prevent the spread HIV and AIDs in Jamaica. Prior to that using a condom was seen in a bad light the same way homosexuality was. Buju took those steps and has still been dogged.
Em still performed his over the top songs even after public apologies and a show of reconciliation with singer Elton John who is outspoken on Gay Rights. Em was still embraced even though he does many of those ‘offensive’ songs. In addition when Eminem is mentioned it’s rarely with the tag Anti-gay rapper vs Buju who is frequently cited in the press as Anti-gay singer.
Now one may look at Buju and say his song was an anthem that sparked violence and hence deserved to be protested. Thats understandable on a number of levels so lets look at a few other less egregious examples.. I recall back in the early 90s ago LA rapper Def Jeff coming to San Francisco to perform at Club Townsend. He attempted to try to get the crowd hyped by first yelling ‘All the Ugly People Be Quiet’. When he got a luke warm response he then yelled ‘All the People who got Aids be Quiet‘. To put it simply, after he yelled those remarks it was a wrap.
Even though Def Jeff got a resounding response from the audience that night he soon found himself blacklisted by SF club owners. Many who heard about his remarks refused to book him. Years later, he admitted at that time, he was young and just ignorant to both the horrors of HIV and AIDs. He was also oblivious to the type of anger and scapegoating directed at the Gay community. At that time AIDs was more associated with white Gay males as opposed to folks in the inner city and Jeff was simply insensitive. He apologized, but to know avail. He hasnt been in the Bay to perform since.
A few months prior to Def Jeff’s remarks, Turbo B the lead rapper for the group the Snap which had the mega hit song ‘The Power’, made some unsavory remarks about Gays and AIDs and caused a huge uproar. Turbo later apologized for his ignorance, but it was all but a wrap for him and his career pretty much went down the tubes from there. It didnt help that the Snap had a large following in the Gay community. Folks werent gonna allow those anti-gay remarks to go.
Also around that time a more visible and publicized incident occurred with Cypress Hill who were performing at the Bill Graham Civic Center during the Soul Assassins Tour. The show featured House of Pain, Cypress Hill and a number of other acts. Someone in the opening act acting as hype man yelled out to the crowd ”All the fags in the House Be Quiet’. There was a loud response from all the straight males who of course responded to the call.
The next day, angry members of the Gay community reacted and targeted radio giant KMEL which gave away tickets for the show. Letters and phone calls came in and the end result was Cypress Hill was banned from airplay on the station. The group quickly issued a letter of apology, even though they weren’t onstage at the time. The logic from the Gay protestors was that they were responsible for the insensitivity of the acts they brought along with them, hence they needed to be banned. The Cypress Hill radio boycott lasted for almost a year. It wasnt lifted until they actually wound up doing a syndicated Soul Assassins radio show on our station.
Now again lets not get things twisted, anyone advocating for the beating, killing or even the discrimination of gays or any ethnic group is bad news. And folks on the receiving end of those insults and threats have every right and should express their anger and outrage. If that outrage includes protests and shutting folks down, so be it. All of us have a responsibility in being aware of boundaries that exists within certain communities.But bringing this back to Eminem, he was given huge passes and in many ways embraced. Em’s angry lyrics have more often than not been praised by publications like the UK Guardian and Spin Magazine for expressing and reflecting the angst and anger felt by many within the white working class.
So is Eminem a target for his homophobic and misogynist lyrics because he’s white? Hardly. It’s more likely that he’s a target because he’s enormously popular. I think many of these organizations learned that they can only go so far in bringing attention to these issues going after lesser known artists. Hence as long as Eminem is in the spotlight he allows a light to be shined on these issues. Hence anything he says will be scrutinized for an opportunity to weigh in. The attacks on Eminem are not the same as the shut downs and demonization of entire groups of Black and Brown folks for anti-social ills.
When Def Jeff and Turbo B got clocked all of rap was called into question. When Buju Banton was called all of Jamaica and its culture was called into question. When Em was called out it began and stopped with him. We didn’t make the connection with Eminem being a white man born in the US who may be part of and ultimately influenced by a culture that includes everyone from conservative politicians to overzealous Evangelists who routinely bash the gay community. Bottomline in spite of his hard upbringing there are major institutions in this country that have afforded Eminem a few priviledges he himself might not recognize and certainly didn’t acknowledge during his interview
something to consider