Words By Marky Mark
Late Thursday, Macklemore dropped a lengthy, audio opus on white privilege and all it entails. After carving out the necessary time to listen, “White Privilege II” got me thinking about Eminem and how he would’ve approached it. Then, I remembered that in his own way, he did.
Way back in 2002, he dropped a little track you may or may not have heard of called “White America,” a song from his fourth album The Eminem Show. If “White Privilege II” is about a guy coming to grips with the opportunities afforded to him due to the color of his skin and the guilt he may feel, then “White America” is all about another guy saying f*** you to the very people who created him.
While Em acknowledges the same privilege that Macklemore is at odds about (“Let’s do the math: if I was black, I would’ve sold half/ I ain’t have to graduate from Lincoln High School to know that”) he’s not really concerned with it. In fact, you could argue that him being an MTV darling all because he dyed his hair blonde is what pushed him to become the MC he became and what fueled his genius.
Marshall takes more issue with being the cause for concern among so many white parents as they sought answers for their kids’ destructive behavior. He noticed this instinctive behavior in White culture to find a boogeyman. There has to be a reason that goes beyond their parenting or lack thereof and Shady had long become that reason. But the reality that he aptly points out, is that “he could be one of their kids” and that’s what scared them. And like a good cocky little sh*t, he reveled in ramming those facts down their collective throats.
“See the problem is, I speak to suburban kids
Who otherwise woulda never knew these words exist
Whose mom’s probably woulda never gave two squirts of piss
Till I created so much mother*ckin’ turbulence
Straight out the tube, right into your living rooms I came
And kids flipped, when they knew I was produced by Dre
That’s all it took, and they were instantly hooked right in
And they connected with me too because I looked like them
That’s why they put my lyrics up under this microscope
Searching with a fine tooth comb, it’s like this rope
Waiting to choke, tightening around my throat
Watchin’ me while I write this, like I don’t like this, NOPE!”
Eminem didn’t have to deal with the same backlash from the Black community as Macklemore has, or if he did, it hasn’t been on the same level. Most of the shade thrown in his direction came from people that looked just like him. Macklemore is seen as safe since he’s the “only hip-hop” that moms let their kids listen to. And while content is certainly a facet of that, tenor and tone have to be another, “White America” is angry, spiteful, unforgiving, and unrelenting.
Em is at his peak creatively pointing out the hypocrisy of a country that loves to cite freedom of speech as a guiding principle, was the same country who invented the parental advisory sticker for albums. And, even with that sticker, he still sold millions of records, still won Grammys, still was an pop culture staple, and even got to perform “White America” at the VMAs. And he did it in front of their screaming, adoring, joyful kids.
Fourteen years is a long time ago and America – white, black, or otherwise – is in a much different place socially and politically. Macklemore has to worry about being the latest White rapper in a time during racial unrest. Maybe if the roles were reversed, Eminem would’ve caught heat for beating out Nas, Jay-Z, DMX, and The Roots for Grammys. Mack has to be cognizant of things Em never had to worry about. Those things include an increase in censorship and political correctness, which may have put a dent in Em’s shock value.
But with this song, Marshall’s telling White people that he’s here so they better get used to it. Macklemore is just asking Black people if he can stay a bit longer just in case he’s worn out his welcome.