Detroit rapper Eminem has been a cultural symbol of media controversy since the release of his raw breakthrough album in 2000, “The Marshall Mathers LP.” Despite this controversy, he has 13 Grammys, eight #1-ranked studio albums and an Academy Award under his belt. He is the best-selling rap artist of all time.
Yet Eminem is constantly in the spotlight as a result of lyrics that some have said are both sexist and anti-gay. Even his most recent release in November, “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” has many lyrics people have called offensive.
In a changing world where the acceptance of homosexual and feminine rights is becoming the norm, Eminem’s listeners struggle to decide if his lyrics are too controversial. Containing insults and stereotypes from a culture rooted in the past, his raps have an angst and passion that have been present since the beginning of his career.
Private vocal teacher and hip-hop enthusiast John Hummel said that controversy is what fans should expect from the artist.
“Eminem built his career on making controversy,” Hummel said. “That’s what his identity is. He has to be inflammatory, because if he wasn’t, people wouldn’t listen to him.”
Many of Eminem’s lyrics target very specific groups of people, though, criticizing their beliefs and cultures.
An example of this is in his 2000 song “Criminal,” in which he writes, “My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge / That’ll stab you in the head / whether you’re a f– or l– / Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest / Pants or dress – hate f—? The answer’s ‘yes.’”
Hummel takes the stance that Eminem is simply portraying what he knows and grew up with in a satirical way.
“While I think that some of his lyrics would offend people, I think sometimes he’s being a satirist, and I think sometimes he’s being very honest,” Hummel said.
But senior Jimmy Messmore, President of the Queer-Straight Alliance of Dexter High School, said that the homophobic slurs in Eminem’s music are not acceptable regardless of whether they’re meant as satire or not.
“Inside of his songs he includes homophobic slurs, yet outside of his music he expresses support for the gay community. For that reason, it’s hard to have any strong feelings against him, but at the same time, he still includes the slurs in his music which is inexcusable,” Messmore said.
For Messmore, if Eminem wants to support the gay community, then it seems unclear why he would include these slurs in his songs unless he wishes to cause controversy willingly.
But this controversy is what draws senior Sierra Lakey to Eminem’s music.
“My favorite Eminem album is probably ‘Relapse’ (2009) because it’s really disgusting, and I love how he just goes crazy on it,” she said. “The sexist or homophobic lyrics never offend me because I feel like it’s sort of an act that he plays along with, and it doesn’t bother me.”
For Lakey, Eminem’s music has much more to offer than just offensive remarks.
“I’m drawn to Eminem’s music because I feel a connection to him. I can relate to him and what he’s saying,” she said. “I feel like he’s more genuine than other rappers with his lyrics. There’s a message behind every song.”
Senior Evan Burke has a similar opinion about the positive aspects of Eminem’s music, regardless of the controversy surrounding his lyrics.
“Even though some Eminem songs have offensive lyrics in them, he also has many songs that help people as well. For example, ‘Lose Yourself’ has helped thousands of sports teams get pumped up over the years,” Burke said.
However, Burke also didn’t fully agree with everything that Eminem has to say.
“I think that the homophobic remarks may be going a little far. He could leave those out, because it could offend some people,” Burke said.
Despite the controversy that Eminem causes, many can still find positive and artistic messages in his music.
“He has many insecurities about himself that all pertain to his music,” Hummel said. “His failed marriage, his children, his mother, all of those things kind of add up.”
Hummel also said that Eminem is a perfect example of what hip-hop can offer to the musical world. Because of the value of Eminem’s music, Hummel said that people should look past the controversy, and view the art with an objective gaze.
For Hummel, Eminem does hip-hop justice.
He said, “The thing that I find most interesting about hip-hop is that it takes something from the past, rebuilds, and puts it in a new cultural lense by giving new ownership to the whole idea. At the end of the day, Eminem is both the hero and the villain in every one of his songs.”