Who would've thought that an angry White boy from Detroit would be the new face of hip-hop? After winning three Grammy's last month (including Best Rap Album for his album The Marshall Mathers LP), that's exactly what Eminem has become.
His lyrical antics have earned him the respect of the hip-hop community and a slew of music critics who love him. But for me, it's hard to find the proper response.
That award-winning CD is rife with lyrics that will shock and offend anyone. More than the average talk of bitches and hoes that seems to be requisite in rap these days, Eminem offers a demented twist that belongs more in a horror film than on a CD.
But as much as I don't love Eminem, I don't hate him either. In fact, I respect him as an artist even while taking serious issue with a lot of his lyrics. Like it or not, his ability to give poetic voice to the frustrations that threaten to consume him (so read up/ 'bout how I used to get beat up/ peed on, be on free lunch/and changed schools every three months) -- and many of us -- is undeniable.
Pointing a finger at hypocrisy
He points a finger at the hypocrisy of American society in a way that few other White artists do. He raps about how it wasn't until school violence hit White America that the nation became concerned about this "new phenomenon" (when a dude's gettin' bullied and shoots up his school/ and they blame it on Marilyn/ and the heroin. Where were the parents at/and look where it's at/Middle America now it's a tragedy/ now it's so sad to see/ in upper-class-city ). I know that's the truth: When I was growing up there were no TV crews covering "Violence in Schools" when the violence touched the Black and brown kids in my hood.
And his song "Who Knew" points out the hypocrisy of parents who place blame him and other artists for their kids' violent acts. He asks why parents allow their children to see violence in movies. And again it's true: you can't make him the bad boy while you let your 12-year-old see a gun-toting, woman-bashing R-rated movie.
Violence against women
But here's where Eminem loses my respect: Women are constantly suffering in his music (Bitch I'mma kill you/ you don't wanna f*** with me/ girls neither/ you ain't nuthin' but a slut to me).
He raps about everything from beating and killing his daughter's mother (his wife, Kim) to raping and beating his own mother. (Rapper Bizarre -- who's part of Em's crew -- even rhymes about the gang-rape of a little girl.) What the hell is that all about? I'm pretty sure these are all for shock value, but I have to say, damn, E, can the females get some love?
The violence against women is so much a fabric of our culture that it desensitizes young cats to a very real problem. Women are victims on television, in movies and, for many of us, in real life. If you don't think that lyrics play a role in how heads act on the street, then you're buggin'.
Just think, the word for a woman these days (if it ain't bitch) is chickenhead -- that neck rolling, gold-diggin' female who'll do anything to get to the top of whatever ladder she's trying to climb -- and that didn't come from nowhere but somebody's song. Too many of us have experienced physical, sexual and/or domestic abuse for me to not ask why it's OK for us to big-up heads that litter their albums with this talk.
Rights vs. the right thing
I have friends who have either been raped or beat up by their boyfriends, and I know full well they don't want to hear this, ahem, stuff when they're on the dance floor: my life's like kinda what my wife's like/ f***ed up after I beat her f***ing ass every night.
I support every artist's right to say whatever the hell he wants. And I'll fight anyone who tries to censor him. But I know rappers like Eminem go too far.
Like a lot of women, though, I have to admit that I often find his music entertaining. And, like a lot of enlightened sisters who still have a thing for rap, I have to examine how I can enjoy something so harsh, so vulgar, so offensive. I have no resolution for my conflicting feelings -- no "politically correct" response. As with most art, Em's music just makes me feel, and that should be enough. But as a woman, I know it's not that simple.