At this year’s BET Hip-Hop Awards, rapper Eminem went on a freestyle rampage. His target? The US president and his supporters, and what the rapper views as a return to widespread racism in America.
The video of Eminem’s performance is available on YouTube. Most of the comments are not helpful for viewers trying to thoughtfully assess what the rapper has to say. Some responders noted that the performance was cringe-worthy. I have a suspicion that some people have not heard rap without studio effects or backing instrumentation and the like.
In addition, some people criticized Eminem’s delivery. I interpreted his voice and body language as conveying anger and frustration. His one nod to humor was to imitate what he considered the voice of a typical Trump supporter.
What is more telling and relevant here, is that, love him or not, Eminem took a controversial stand and the act of blatantly stating what he thought–without trying to be humorous or even entertaining, was brave.
Often, the rich and famous are criticized for being too comfortable and for pandering to those ideas, entities and individuals that keep them comfortable. So, when a rapper (or athlete, for that matter) says, “No. Here’s my protest,” it is worth noting. Not because the person is famous, but because he or she has risked something.
Eminem took a risk in terms of producing raw material without the security of a studio and all its equipment to help him. He also took a risk in terms of alienating former fans–there is a particularly jaw-dropping segment in the song addressed to that group. But he also reminded those who needed such a reminder, that rap didn’t begin as the art form of the content. It grew and evolved as a result of injustices.
According to some people’s assessments, Eminem just compiled the most recent injustices and said what a number of people thought. His art, his protest, resonated with audiences. And on that last point alone, Eminem’s freestyle rap protest was a success.