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Is Eminem’s BET Freestyle Too Little Too Late?

When we talk about Eminem’s anti-Trump, anti-racism freestyle at the Black Entertainment Television network’s Hip-Hop Awards, we don’t ask whether or not he’s fallen off (he has), or if his slavish dedication to interlocking rhymes and wordplay/puns gets in the way of his music (it does).

We ask: Was it too little too late?

Think about how Donald Trump won Michigan by a narrow margin. And think about which white Michigan rapper you heard about in political news all through the last election cycle: Kid Rock.

You could not escape Kid Rock in the news a year ago. And even though Eminem was on-record as anti-Trump at the time—and his song “Campaign Speech,” which threatened to “dunk a buncha Trump supporters under water” got 12 million views—it’s about the grandness of the gesture, consistency over a lengthy period, and building support for your cause. Kid Rock made sure you knew he was back in the news, that the reason he was back was to talk about politics, and his politics were pro-Trump. He campaigned way harder for Trump than Eminem did against him. Kid Rock even tried (however seriously) to run for senator himself.

Meanwhile, rappers who were courageous enough to write the leading Trump protest anthem before the election could have used Eminem’s support: YG and Nipsey Hussle. “FDT” rules, and it’s still the main anti-Trump rap song. But even YG seemed to sense the importance of hearing white voices on this topic. I took that to be the reason he threw G-Eazy and Macklemore on the remix. Again: where was Em?

I’m not saying any one person should shoulder the blame. But I am saying Eminem could have tried harder to sway the election.

And now we have this slow, thoughtful, tortured and most likely pre-written freestyle. The content is very good. Near the end, he tells his fans they have to pick a side, which is great. Because silence is complicity—especially white silence.

But is that just another layer to Eminem’s guilt, in addition to having Trump support him in 2004 during the Encore roll-out, and dissing black women in his early raps? He’s a lot more woke now, but is that what this is about? Eminem showing us how woke he is? At this point in Trumps’s all-spin-zone no amount of cynicism is too much. Doesn’t Eminem have an album about to drop? This verse may be late, but if it’s not even about the people, it’s really not about shit.

So I guess in lieu of going back in time to try harder to prevent this all, I don’t know what I want Eminem to do. Run for office? (Probably not.) Throw benefit concerts like MCA did for Tibet? (Feeling this more.) I do believe he can do powerful work, though, and this seems like the most activated he’s been—though I wouldn’t go so far as to call him an activist yet. Maybe if he needs to brainstorm, he can ask the women who started Black Lives Matter how to help? Or tap into his local network and ask dream hampton what to do? 

Or maybe he already did and this is just phase one. Time will tell.

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