It was just two months ago that rapper Eminem performed an unadorned, scathing rap with heavy political overtones at this year’s BET Awards. With his new album “Revival” set for release in three days, the Detroit native has released a single that demonstrates the rapper’s penchant for brutal honesty and old school rap skills.
“Untouchable” and the reach of social media
For many people, their first introduction to Eminem’s new song came via an audio clip shared through social media. Many of those people might not have even been aware that the rapper had a new album coming out. The responses to the video whether shown on Facebook or YouTube are always polarized.
Because of social media, new audience members have been reached. However, this close to Christmas, some people have not developed an appreciation for music that they find divisive. Others who might be rap fans, might not appreciate the way the track sounds. And there is yet a third group, those who, rap fans or not, appreciate what Eminem is saying and echo his sentiments.
Eminem’s “Untouchable” and the legacy of rap
What “Untouchable” isn’t is coy. It is clear what the song is about. In the song, Eminem describes the often problematic relationship between black American communities and white police officers. The phrase “white boy” begins the chorus between verses. The delivery of the line is antagonistic and taunting. The phrase “black boy” is repeated at the beginning of verses.
Eminem covers a great deal in regard to America’s race relations. While the current spate of shootings involving unarmed black people and police officers comprises part of the lyrical content, the rapper also broaches the less-talked-about dynamic of how a lack of knowledge of black people leads to fear and suspicion in officers, whose only experience with black communities might have been gained from watching rap videos. Further, he even discusses black men’s shorter life spans in comparison to white men’s, and other observations that show that Eminem is paying attention to both American history and the history of rap music.
Like his rap for the BET Awards, Eminem recalls rap classics such as “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash when he takes on uncomfortable topics. In addition to the content of “Untouchable,” the rhyme scheme used is somewhat unusual and the approach to the soundscape is not typical of today’s rap and hip-hop.
The lyrics for “Untouchable” sound raw. It is the gritty shout in an urban setting. Especially when Eminem raps, “White boy, white boy…” The rhymes don’t match up at the end of lines, which actually makes audiences pay attention to what the rapper is saying.
People who are used to rap or hip-hop sounding slick or over-produced, or as an example of a hip-hop subgenre, such as trap, will be disappointed. Here, Eminem uses his voice like a siren. His lyrics are the spotlight on a problem, and while the glare might not be pretty, it is nonetheless honest. Audiences can choose to deride the work as not as good as some songs that are arguably more “fun,” but it is necessary. As the release date for “Revival” draws closer, listeners can only hope that the title refers to a return to rap’s early days, when community problems were discussed because they were problems, not because they made people feel good.