Yesterday, during a multi-part interview, Eminem admitted that he regretted using a homophobic slur on “Fall,” a track off his latest album, Kamikaze.
The line (“Tyler create nothin’/ I see why you called yourself a f—-t, bitch”) was directed at Tyler, The Creator, after the Odd Future rapper tweeted what was widely assumed to be a negative critique of about Em’s 2017 release “Walk on Water.” In the interview, Shady explained, “I think the word that I called him on that song was one of the things where I felt like this might be too far. Because in my quest to hurt him, I realize that I was hurting a lot of other people by saying it.” He added that he even second-guessed himself before the release, which is why the slur appears distorted on the track
This isn’t the first time the rapper has used homophobic slurs in his work, nor is it the first time he’s been called out for it. In the past, Eminem has tried to absolve his sins with publicity-stunt collabs (shout out to his 2001 Grammys performance alongside Elton John) or defending his word choices through his own interpretations (“Those kind of words, when I came up battle-rappin’ or whatever, I never equated those words [with being gay]… It was more like calling someone a bitch or a punk or asshole,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013).
But this is the first time Eminem seems to understand the gravity of his actions. After nearly 20 years of superstardom, he is undoubtedly one of the most important musicians of our time, and with first-week sales of Kamikaze scoring the fourth-largest week for an album in 2018 (434,000 equivalent album units), it’s clear that people are still listening to what he has to say. With this new interview, Eminem finally signals that he understands his role as an influential figure that has the power to shift culture.
This comes as relief, certainly. But given extended his history of derogatory word choices, I encourage Eminem to do more with his platform. Less than a month ago, a nine-year-old killed himself after being bullied for coming out. The children who taunted him for his sexuality weren’t born like that; homophobia is learned. And given the child’s age, it’s fair to assume that his classmates’ parents grew up in a time where toxic slurs from artists like Em were regularly thrown around on the radio and elsewhere. Take, for example, these particularly belligerent bars from “Criminal,” a cut from his 2000 The Marshall Mathers LP: “Whether you’re a f-g or lez/ Or a homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest/ Pants or dress/ Hate f-gs?/ The answer’s yes,” he raps.
That track is close to two decades old, but Em’s fans are still treating his word as gospel. Every comment section criticizing the slur usage in “Fall” was filled with offensive slurs from followers defending their hip-hop hero. It would be inspiring to see Eminem actually do something with his power, something that advances the discussion around LGBTQ issues in hip-hop and maybe even influences his fans to open their minds to things they’d never bothered to consider before.
The most obvious way Shady could begin to right his wrongs is to donate proceeds from “Fall” to a LGBTQ organization, like The Trevor Project. The group focuses on suicide prevention efforts and offers a toll-free telephone number that connects youth in crisis with trained counselors. A generous donation could help the non-profit in its effort to expand TrevorText and TrevorChat, initiatives that make it even easier for youth to connected with necessary help.
Eminem could also use his platform to help make hip-hop more inclusive for LGBTQ artists. Giving a queer indie artist the opportunity to spit a verse on his next album would provide invaluable visibility in a genre that is notorious for its disregard towards LGBTQ performers. To be clear, I’m not demanding a “Kumbaya” moment in the vein of Macklemore or Logic; the thought of something so potentially hokey from Slim is cringeworthy. Instead, Em could team up with Roy Kinsey or Dai Burger or Quay Dash — promising MCs that are one major co-sign away from blowing up. He could also consider enlisting an indie singer such as Ah-Mer-Ah-Su, Siena Liggins or Dizzy Fae for a hook, a la his “Love the Way You Lie” and “Monster” team-ups with Rihanna.
Lastly, if Eminem wants to show his newly expanded capacity for wokeness, he absolutely needs to retire derogatory slurs from his lyrics. And this goes for loopholes too: no more creatively censoring the words; no more suggesting the words; no more using LGBTQ idenities as a punchline. It’s 2018. Do better.
For a wordsmith of his caliber, there are surely more creative ways for the former battle rapper to take someone down — and after all the chances he’s been afforded, it’s past time to show growth.
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