Even for rappers, Twitter can be a curse as much as a gift. Vince Staples found that out on Saturday when he shared his opinion on Eminem’s buzz-worthy, much-discussed BET Hip-Hop Awards, anti-Donald Trump freestyle: It sucked.
He was quickly deluged by responses from angry fans who tried to defend Em’s screed while also denouncing Vince himself as nowhere near Eminem’s level, both commercially (true) and lyrically (debatable). Vince Staples is, however, a tad bit more social media savvy than many of his contemporaries, and engaged with the Eminem defenders (and race trolls) who accosted him with his usual laidback, sardonic demeanor and surprisingly insightful witticisms.
I won’t rehash the “white privilege” discussion, because I’ve already done that, nor do I want to focus on how Vince deftly pointed to the many, many, many protest songs that had to be overlooked to assign all the hyperbolic praise Eminem received to that verse, because I hit that one too. Instead, I noticed one of Vince’s points not only perfectly summed up his argument, but also touched on a larger issue in hip-hop as well.
In response to his own supporter who tweeted that “If Eminem was black he wouldn’t be regarded anywhere near the top 10 all time,” Vince pointed out that “If Eminem was black he would be Redman. I love them both very much.”
My jaw hit the floor; he was dead right. But more than that, his statement begs the questions: Why is Eminem considered one of the greats, while Redman — and others — are consistently overlooked when it comes to that discussion, and why has Eminem been allowed the longevity — without stylistic evolution — that so many other rappers have been denied?
Eminem enjoys a certain level of privilege that affords him a larger, more visible platform than Black rappers who’ve employed the same, anti-Trump rhetoric over the past twelve months. There’s nothing wrong with that; it could be argued that it’s human nature to want to find something of yourself reflected in both art and artist, and Eminem provides both for his angsty, white, male fans (as well as the needed element of aspiration — in this case, to have an “in” with Black coolness, as Eminem clearly has with his Dr. Dre and 50 Cent co-signs). Vince even points out as much with this signature wit, tweeting that, “they don’t really listen to him, they champion him because he’s white. He’s also said that on record.”
But an interesting, overlooked aspect of that privilege is that it also affords Eminem the leeway to grow older in a genre nearly obsessed with youth, without having to evolve musically or substantially change his image, unlike countless Black rappers who have come to be viewed as washed-up, old school, or corny.
Take Redman, who was specifically mentioned in Vince’s interrogation of Em’s longevity. Vince was right; Em is almost a direct descendant of the style first fathered by Redman with 1992’s What? Thee Album. Red flung out punchlines like a dealer at a Texas Hold ‘Em table, dishing out silly homonyms at a clip that would eventually go on to inform Eminem’s flow and solidify his 10-year run as one of the most reliable lyrical gunslingers in rap. Eminem wasn’t the first to take inspiration from Red either; rappers from Mad Skillz to Jadakiss to Ludacris embraced the style and made punchline rap a legitimate sub-genre from like 1998 to at least 2004.