Do Eminem's violent lyrics cross the line?

"He's bigger, louder and meaner than pretty much any mainstream artist."

By Salon Staff

Published June 12, 2000 7:18PM (EDT)

Invisible man BY ERIC BOEHLERT (06/07/00)

So rock critics give Eminem a "free pass" on his misogyny and homophobia. Big deal -- they've been doing so ever since rock 'n' roll first came out. If anything, rap has been singled out for misogyny, while the sexist content of classic rock has been ignored. The Rolling Stones have made a career out of misogynist material (beginning with "Under My Thumb" and including "Brown Sugar," about the rape of black slaves), and otherwise "progressive" artists from the Beatles ("Run For Your Life") to Neil Young ("Down by The River") have done some nasty material. Yet "Run For Your Life" is dismissed as a youthful indiscretion, and "Brown Sugar" is rarely called into question. Musically, "Brown Sugar" and "Under My Thumb" are brilliant, but then so is Dr. Dre. Blues and country have long histories of hateful, violent material. None of it quite as strong as Eminem, but to portray him as unique (rather than the culmination of a grim tradition) is inaccurate. What's more interesting is that the relatively tamer (but growing more vicious all the time) trend of male-bashing songs by female artists has been ignored. "No Scrubs" and "You Oughta Know" haven't exactly done wonders for relations between the sexes.

-- Dave Platt

I'm writing in response to Eric Boehlert's recent essay on rapper Eminem's new record, "The Marshall Mathers LP," in which Boehlert rips mainstream music critics for condoning the misogyny, violence and homophobia in Eminem's lyrics. In his essay, Boehlert includes a piece I wrote for the Kansas City Star among a list of other pieces that, he says, tried to "convince readers that Eminem's odious tales are simply the latest in the grand tradition of shocking youthful rebellion."

Missing the point of what I wrote, at least, Boehlert then dismisses these arguments by distilling them into a flimsy, ridiculous hypothesis: Eminem is no different from the Beatles or Robert Johnson. The intent of the piece I wrote for the Star was not to condemn or condone Eminem's lyrics or Marilyn Manson's or the Insane Clown Posse's. I did admire lots of things about Eminem's first record, particularly his raps about growing up as a runt in a dead-end world ("If I Had" and "Rock Bottom"). His new record, though, is mostly rubbish -- rank, hateful extremism for its own sake.

The piece I wrote was prompted by Senate hearings held last year, post-Columbine, and headed by a grandstanding senator from a nearby state, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. Like most politicians looking to take the moral high ground and muster a few good sound-bites, Brownback wanted to get on TV and protect the children of this country by attacking music that glorifies violence and sexual deviance. However, the only music Brownback chose to focus on, the only genres he named explicitly in all of his sermons, were rap and heavy metal. In my piece, I intended only to illustrate how difficult it is to be consistent when you start blaming one genre of a larger culture (pop music) for problems in our society: If you're looking to eradicate violence in music, why stop with rap and heavy metal? What about pop music, the blues or old-time country? I was not comparing Eminem's artistic merit with the others' because artistry was never the point of Brownback's campaign. He and people of his age and lifestyle don't go there because they know (a) no one would take them seriously if they did and (b) rap and heavy metal are safe and easy scapegoats.

As for Eminem: I agreed with much of what Boehlert said in his piece. The review in Entertainment Weekly, in which the reviewer separates moral responsibility from artistry, was particularly absurd and cowardly. But as noxious and objectionable as Eminem's new record may be, I'm not about to blame it for bigger problems in this world or suggest it should be banned anywhere. That would be as absurd as comparing Eminem to the Beatles.

-- Timothy Finn
Pop music writer, the Kansas City Star

I am a musician myself, and certainly not easily put off. The forays into self-loathing and depression released by Nine Inch Nails take a place among my favorite albums ever. I've been known to embrace the shock-rock of Marilyn Manson (which actually gets ridiculous as much as it gets offensive) as well as the deranged yet masterful breakbeat ramblings of Mindless Self Indulgence. Yet the first time I listened to my 17-year-old sister's copy of "The Slim Shady LP," I could only get about six songs in before I felt my lunch start creeping its way back up my insides. Groovy, yes. Tight, yes. Disturbing, definitely. Too much so.

It is one thing to attack stale mores and powerful social institutions in shocking, over-the-top ways; it is wholly another to rap nonchalantly about murder and rape with a careless, guilt-free, fuck-it-all attitude. And to be praised for it?! True, there is a certain amount of violence traditionally present in rap. But artists like Method Man, Notorious B.I.G. and even Eminem's mentor never seemed to wholly and unrelentingly ADVOCATE it! Even Body Count's controversial "Cop Killa" can't compete with the malicious depravity found on "The Marshall Mathers LP." So, kudos again to Eric Boehlert and It takes the kind of courage that only a hip site like this can have to print this kind of responsible opinion (even if the site also publishes a pro-Eminem article, "Sharps & Flats" -- but I suppose that's only responisble, unbiased journalism).

-- Michael Norton

I had thought the violent gangsta-style rap thing was played out -- but Eminem has to bring this dead horse back for one more run, beating it extra hard for good measure. He's bigger, louder and meaner than pretty much any mainstream artist I can think of. He gets away with it for two reasons: He's white and thus is not a threat to society, and he presents his message with humor. I really enjoyed "The Slim Shady LP" in spite of myself, but I have to draw a line somewhere and this foul-piece of sellout crap is it. I don't expect him or Dre to care -- the whole point is to make money. I do expect my record reviewers to actually review something and not follow the herd with rave reviews over a disturbing record. Cheers to Salon for actually listening, but don't expect many people to notice.

-- Mike Richmond

The core of rappers' attitude toward women seems to be that they enjoy being serviced sexually by them, but at the same time women who have sex with them -- or anybody else -- are "ho's." This is nothing more than a remix of the old Madonna/whore paradox that has been fully -- and less crudely -- explored at length elsewhere. There is no art in encrusting this chestnut with new layers of libel and profanity. Salon and other publications are playing into the hands of scumbags like Eminem by taking their pathetically unoriginal bait. Looks like I took it too -- but I still don't buy rap records or subscribe to cable music stations.

-- Joan Tintor

Salon Staff

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