Eminem stopped by radio show Sway In the Morning for an interview this past week, on his road to promoting his work and curation of the “Southpaw” soundtrack, and to lay down some freestyle.
“I see the b*tch in you Caitlyn / I keep the pistol tucked like Bruce Jenner”s d*ck / No disrespect, though / Not at all / No pun intended / That took a lot of balls,” he rapped on-beat.
Eminem is no stranger to shock, as it's part of his original brand. As he's added celebrities to his sites, has earned a particular bit of publicity mileage from lyrics depicting violence against women, the use of LGBT slurs, and calling women “men” and vice versa (“Tell Lady Gaga she can quit her job at the post office / she”s still a male lady”) in his music.
Taking a dig at one of the best-known trans women in American pop culture, Caitlyn Jenner (who, coincidentally, is premiering her reality TV show this weekend), is very much in his press-time wheelhouse. He's spent effort, on and off, in trying to repair his relations with the LGBTQ community on a visible scale, like the memorable performance with Elton John at the Grammys in 2001.
What has been an increasingly recent trend in Slim Shady's oeuvre of hip-hop bluster: a walk-back on impact.
“The rhyme by the way, it”s all in fun, man,” Eminem told Sway after he finished his verse and was literally asked “What the f*ck?” by his host. “I just say sh*t to say it. It”s very rarely, very rarely personal. Put it this way, if it was ever personal, somebody would know. It”s all in fun.”
This preemptive explanation comes after many years — especially in this recent, era of heightened sensitivities — of Eminem walking back some of his vilest lyrical digs.
Further on in this fresh freestyle, he even makes light of an insult he had lobbed a year ago, with a “thanks.”
“Oh, and Azealia Banks / Just wanna tell ya thanks / Now I got trailer skanks sending me ballpark franks in the mail as pranks / And Hot Pockets / Thanks a lot.”
The context of this verse is from when Banks took to Twitter, to tear at Eminem's 2014 track “Shady CXVpher,” which contained this much darker lyric: “I may fight for gay rights, especially if they dyke is more of a knockout than Janay Rice / Play nice? B*tch I”ll punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice in broad daylight in the plain sight of the elevator surveillance.” Banks responded on Twitter with a note to del Rey.
@LanaDelRey tell him to go back to his trailer park and eat his microwave hotpocket dinner and suck on his sisters tiddies.
– AZEALIA BANKS (@AZEALIABANKS) November 11, 2014
Similarly, Em was in hot (dog) water when his single “Rap God” dropped in 2013, with this lyric about talking down his competition: “Little gay-looking boy / So gay I can barely say it with a straight face-looking boy”… “You f*cks think it”s all a game “til I walk a flock of flames.”
When confronted about his words in a November 2013 issue of Rolling Stone, Eminem did little to apologize — especially after years of accusations of anti-gay slurs — but did try to do some explaining, “wrong or right.”
“I don”t know how to say this without saying it how I”ve said it a million times… when I came up battle-rappin” or whatever… it was more like calling someone a b*tch or a punk or ***hole. So that word was just thrown around so freely back then. It goes back to that battle, back and forth in my head, of wanting to feel free to say what I want to say, and then [worrying about] what may or may not affect people. And, not saying it”s wrong or it”s right, but at this point in my career-man, I say so much sh*t that”s tongue-in-cheek. I poke fun at other people, myself. But the real me sitting here right now talking to you has no issues with gay, straight, transgender, at all.”
The “I did it for fun,” no-apologies apologia also rolled in in the song “Guts Over Fear” that arrived late in November 2014, very close in time to when the song “Vegas” leaked and revealed a lyric about raping rapper Iggy Azalea.
“It just breaks my heart to look at all the pain I caused / But what am I gonna do when the rage is gone? / And the lights go out in that trailer park… / And I”m frozen cause there”s no more emotion for me to pull from / Just a bunch of playful songs that I made for fun,” he rhymes in “Guts.”
The next month, Eminem made a cameo in Seth Rogen and James Franco's comedy “The Interview,” as himself, declaring on “television” that he was gay (which was the gag).
All of these songs, incendiary lyrics and walk-backs arrive at a time when Eminem is promoting a new effort, whether it was his Shady XV compilation, “Southpaw,” his “Marshall Mathers LP II,” “Hell: The Sequel” with Royce da 5'9″.
The adage goes “It's better to ask forgiveness than permission,” but Eminem does both, working the quick succession of taking a shot and then saying “just kidding.” As authenticity in rap music continues to be defined in the present era (consider this week's Meek Mill/Drake “ghost-writing” dust-up), Eminem will continue to run into problems by using “I'm only playing” to justify lyrics with anti-gay slurs, transphobia, and violence against women, whether taking aim at a celebrity or not. As he's throwing bricks, he's also adding them to a wall that could alienate him from future audiences who have less tolerance for kididng-not-kidding. For one of the best-selling pop artists in history, is “sorry” due in the future?