Eminem’s homophobic lyrics are the worst kind of throwback

The rapper tries to stay relevant by tossing out the f-word. It has the opposite effect

Topics: eminem, the marshall mathers LP 2, Rap God,

Eminem's homophobic lyrics are the worst kind of throwbackEminem (Credit: Reuters/Jumana El-heloueh)

Eminem, in the lead-up to his new album, has released several songs, and one of them is getting the sort of media attention he enjoyed in the early 2000s.

Younger readers may not recall that, years before the dark but sanitized “Love the Way You Lie” and “Not Afraid” iteration of Eminem, the rapper was deeply controversial for violent and homophobic lyrics; he ended up performing with Elton John at the 2001 Grammy Awards in order to quiet some of the criticism. (Not that it mollified the critics entirely; GLAAD protested outside the ceremony.)

In 2013, the nasty lyrics haven’t gone away, but the criticism, though definitely happening, is somewhat more muted. It seems unlikely anyone will take to the streets this time; it’s no longer novel to protest Eminem. Eminem’s (or his label’s) current strategy seems to be pitching different singles at different elements of his fan base. “The Monster” is a relatively tame, radio-friendly collaboration with Rihanna; “Rap God,” on the other hand, is violent and nasty. Eminem wants to break a “table over the back of a couple faggots and crack it in half.”

“You fags think it’s all a game,” he intones.

This isn’t the only time even in recent years that Eminem’s played up his homophobic side; in “Roman’s Revenge,” a 2010 collaboration with Nicki Minaj, he rapped, “All you lil’ faggots can suck it / No homo, but I’ma stick it to ‘em like refrigerator magnets.” But nothing ever quite seems to stick to Eminem; he has produced content so regularly in recent years that his reputation as a reliable hitmaker overshadows the elements of his music that people would rather ignore.

After all, Eminem’s mentality seems in many ways paused in the culture as it existed before a lengthy hiatus; he did not release an album for five years, as he dealt with substance issues between 2004 and 2009. Or perhaps his awareness of the culture stopped earlier, upon Eminem’s rise to fame and his existence within the bubble of celebrity. This is a culture where hacky and often outdated jokes (Eminem makes fun of Britney Spears’ ex-husband Kevin Federline, the musician Kid Rock, and “the ugly Kardashian” on a single song) coexist alongside lyrics threatening gays.

You Might Also Like

Not that Eminem sees his words doing this; this is precisely what comes of existing both as an integral part of pop culture and entirely removed from life as lived by real people. He gets to define what words mean, as shown by his comments to Rolling Stone on “Rap God”:

I don’t know how to say this without saying it how I’ve said it a million times. But that word, those kind of words, when I came up battle-rappin’ or whatever, I never really equated those words …

To actually mean “homosexual”?
Yeah. It was more like calling someone a bitch or a punk or asshole. 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 shit 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. I’m glad we live in a time where it’s really starting to feel like people can live their lives and express themselves. And I don’t know how else to say this, I still look at myself the same way that I did when I was battling and broke.

“Battling,” here, refers to rap battling, the one-on-one fighting whereby the rapper’s object is to utterly annihilate his opponent using whatever he can. So calling one’s opponent a “fag” is acceptable — because it has no bearing on whether or not the person actually is gay.

But, obviously, using “gay” as equivalent of “a bitch or a punk or asshole” is language that encourages nasty and stereotypical depictions of gay people. Eminem is good enough with words to recognize its effect as such, but not willing to abandon an effective device to get press or not actually as accepting of “gay, straight, transgender” as he claims.

“Rap God” feels like a relic. Its existence may excite the blood for Eminem’s core fan base who’ve been there from the beginning (the rapper’s new album is called “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” an apparent sequel to his 2000 record), but it’s entirely out of place amid mainstream rap, whose practitioners are alternately concerned with outsize consumerism, their evolving understanding of themselves as political actors, or gushy emotion. Though the song’s rollout seemed opportunistic, the Macklemore/Ryan Lewis song “Same Love,” an anthem about equality, isn’t just emblematic of where the culture is right now vis-à-vis gay people; it also pointed out where music is. Eminem’s been grandfathered in, as he’s up to the same tricks he’s been doing throughout this aging century. Younger rapper Azealia Banks’ career momentum entirely halted after her attempt to do the same rhetorical trick Eminem does, redefining “faggot” to mean a weak man.

If Eminem really were a rap god, he’d be producing music that will endure. “Rap God” doesn’t feel like the sort of document that anyone will look back on ruefully as a document of how homophobic 2013 was, because it has absolutely nothing to do with the culture right now. Once the excitement of his new material fades away, will anyone take it seriously as music? The kids who listen to it (those unembarrassed they’re listening to music fundamentally meant for their 30-something uncles who actually remember the year 2000) will likely hear the slurs as something entirely outdated. Those offended by Eminem’s latest slurs should take that outlook immediately and hasten his accelerating transit away from the center of contemporary culture.

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...