Eminem’s freestyle on the BET Hip-Hop Awards show was not good.
Like many of the overrated rap titan’s worst songs, it was filled with colorful metaphors about nothing and fanciful, ridiculous non-sequiturs that distracted from his point rather than reinforcing it.
He sounded like a runner who’d just started jogging again after a year-long knee injury — a year spent doing little besides hate-watching Fox News and pounding Big Macs with fries and shakes on the side. He was literally gasping for breath in an arena that required nothing of him.
There was no beat, so it was impossible to tell how offbeat he was. He yelled the entire verse as if he wasn’t standing in a near-empty, totally silent garage with a microphone taped to his chest. The whole thing came off like aggressive spoken word poetry.
Yet, the denizens of the rap internets ate it up. Twitter users from the average man on the street to rap luminaries like J. Cole showered the verse with fire emojis and praise because he had enough guts to say what pretty much any decent person has been pointing out for well over a year now: “Donald Trump is bad.”
Which is sad, really. Evidently, not only has the bar been so lowered for (certain) rap legends that “That’s an awfully hot coffee pot / Should I drop it on Donald Trump? Prob’ly not,” is allowed to fly, but we’re also giving props to the loudest guy who showed up latest to the party.
Do you want protest music? A quick search on Genius.com reveals that everyone from Joey Badass to Nicki Minaj has ripped the sitting Commander In Tweets, with the aforementioned pointing out how ill-equipped he is to lead on “Land Of The Free” and outright yelling “F*ck Donald Trump” on the incendiary “Rockabye Baby.” Black rappers have been going in on Donald Trump for a good, long while, but certainly weren’t the only ones.
Speaking of f*cking Donald Trump, just a year ago, Compton’s other poet laureate YG straight up made that the title of a single, then remixed it with two white rappers, Macklemore and G-Eazy, just a few months later with “FDT.” Where was the feverish response then?
And even before they took a stand alongside a West Side gang banger, Mac Miller appeared on The Nightly Show to explain the opposition to Donald Trump’s campaign in a measured, reasoned speech that detailed all the reasons why the reality star was all wrong for the Presidency. He received little of the same praise or adulation, and the video itself has an eighth of the views Eminem’s freestyle has on Youtube a whole year later. Eminem’s video’s been up less than a day.
However, maybe that’s why Eminem’s verse resonated so much. Because we’ve already tried measured. We’ve tried reason. We’ve tired of both.
It seems the only way to reach people in 2017 is the same way Donald Trump did in 2016: With fiery, blunt invective and rants. The other side spent so much time yelling, it seemed like the only reasonable thing to do was to try to de-escalate, to talk them down. We forgot that the trolls and the Gamergaters and the bigots and the sexists weren’t reasonable. They related to Trump because he “tells it like it is.”
So Eminem went on BET last night to tell it like it is. There is no middle ground on this particular issue. Silence is support. You can’t have it both ways. To be a “rap fan” while remaining silent when so many rappers have spoken out is intolerable. To be an Eminem fan while standing in opposition to everything Eminem represents — whether willingly or unwillingly — is reprehensible and untenable.
For all his faults, Eminem stands on the bridge to two worlds. Much like the 8 Mile Road border between rural and urban Detroit, Em is the divider or the connector for his young, angry, disenfranchised, white fans and the world of hip-hop, the urban ghettos and ‘hoods where poor Black folks struggle and strive under the weight of ingrained American injustice.
Clearly, he is a better translator than clean-cut Macklemore and G-Eazy will ever be. For all of their earnestness, the most hardcore rap fans find them corny, whether white or black, whether or not they actually deserve the description. Mac Miller is an indie crossover, to be sure, but all his success comes with that caveat — he just doesn’t have the same platform or cultural cachet of an Eminem.
Eminem, like Donald Trump, he of the ubiquitous spray-tan/hairpiece combo and the Apprentice-inspired catchphrase, is an American institution. When nearly every other institution — cable news, the church, reality TV, the NFL — is kowtowing to Trump’s brand and the threat of a dip in ratings or one of his patented rants, we need the few who are willing and have a platform to take a stand. Despite every complaint I’ve leveled against last night’s freestyle, that is the one thing I can’t take away. Em said what needed to be said — bluntly, clearly, passionately, and on a massive stage free of distraction.
Eminem’s verse was wack, but it drew the line in the sand. Now, it’s up to his fans to decide where they want to stand.