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Why Eminem's 'Trump Stomp' Deserves Critical Examination

Trump or Eminem? The rapper challenged his fans to choose at the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards. (BETNetworks / YouTube)

On Tuesday night, BET aired a 4½-minute Eminem video during its hip-hop awards. The song—which many dubbed a “freestyle,” despite being prerecorded—features the rapper delivering a rhyme that figuratively “stomps” Donald Trump.

Filmed in a parking garage with a crew of rappers standing in the background, the footage appears as gritty as the cypher (a BET awards tradition), relentlessly laying into Trump as it builds into a crescendo that peaks with an ultimatum: “Any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his, I’m drawing in the sand a line: You’re either for or against. And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split on who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for it for you with this. F— you.”

Despite the traction it is getting online (over 22 million views and counting on YouTube alone), what Eminem did was nothing new. For nearly four decades, rap and hip-hop have been the home to fierce social, cultural and political critiques of American society. Before descending into what underground hip-hop MC Immortal Technique has described as a watered-down era filled with “recycled flows and candy-ass beats,” mainstream hip-hop churned out two decades of lyrical storms that challenged things like white supremacy, police brutality and the systemic ills of capitalism.

Since the “watered-down” era began, somewhere around the early 2000s, the underground scene picked up the radical ingenuity that flourished in the 1980s and ’90s. It is in this underground scene where hip-hop, in its most critical form, has continued to thrive through the mics of Dead Prez, Rebel Diaz, The Coup, Jean Grae, Marcel Cartier, Verbz Vegas, Jasiri X, Talib Kweli, and so many others. It is in this underground scene where United States presidents have been metaphorically sniped many times before: Killer Mike lambasted Ronald Reagan in his track, “Reagan; Immortal Technique destroyed George W. Bush on multiple tracks throughout his presidency; and Lowkey kicked off a series of “Obama Nation” tracks and remixes that exposed the false promise of the first black president during his time in office.

Eminem’s impromptu track, which has been officially titled “The Storm,” is fairly unique in that it represents a direct attack on a sitting president by a prominent mainstream artist. Eminem is not underground. Rather, he is a major part of the calculated, corporatized scene. Not since Kanye West’s courageous proclamation on live television, stating that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” have we seen such a profound statement in real time.

Certainly, Eminem is on the downside of his career. The bulk of his fame and money has already been made. He is no longer a “centerpiece” artist. But this latest move is still fairly bold, when considering the political timing and his controversial existence as a white artist who made it rich by taking ownership of a black art form.

In terms of the political message, it must be noted that some of the lyrics and theme of the freestyle were lukewarm and reactionary. There were seemingly positive references to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, despite their roles in a corporate political party that has been complicit in the decimation of the poor, working class and black communities. And there was a pro-military theme throughout, deploying the same opportunistic and jingoistic language that often weaponizes right-wing rhetoric in a way that led Colin Kaepernick to accurately state last year that “there’s a lot of racism in this country disguised as patriotism.”

Eminem is not revolutionary (as so many of his counterparts in the underground scene are), so it is understandable that such nuance would miss him. And it is also clear that he used both of these themes as a way to highlight the hypocrisy of folks like Trump, Mike Pence, the Republican Party and their many supporters. The points are valid on face value, if not radical.

Regardless of the lack of radicalism, Eminem deserves credit for two reasons.

First, the rhyme is an impassioned and forceful condemnation of not only Trump, but the culture of white supremacy that has been emboldened by Trump. This culture, which has always existed and remains deeply embedded in our society, is now coming to a head at a time when four decades of neoliberal economics has devastated working-class communities. This economic environment, which has been facilitated by both Democrats and Republicans and has been characterized by capitalism’s global shift, has led some members of the working class to grasp on tightly to their whiteness.

Proto-fascist movements like the Tea Party, which precipitated Trump’s rise, have now turned into full-blown ethno-nationalist movements rooted in hysterical myths like “white genocide.” Eminem attacks this association head on, specifically referencing the white-nationalist marches in Charlottesville, Va.: “From his [Trump’s] endorsement of [Steve] Bannon, support for the Klansman, Tiki torches in hand for the soldier that’s black and comes home from Iraq and is still told to go back to Africa.”

Second, and perhaps most crucial, is that Eminem makes a credible attempt to reconcile his role as a white artist who got rich and famous through appropriating black culture and innovation—a highly exploitative process that has immensely benefited legendary acts like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and many others.

Unlike those artists of the past, Eminem proves willing to attempt to represent and defend those who have constructed this culture to his benefit. This is done in a way that clearly alienates much of his fan base, which ironically consists of white folks who actively denigrate the same culture that Eminem has taken from, reproduced, and delivered back in a way that is only celebrated by them due to the hue of his skin.

In doing so, he mercilessly mocks the attack on immigrants (“He’s gonna get rid of all immigrants! He’s gonna build that thang up taller than this!”) while throwing clear and unambiguous support behind a lightning rod for black liberation—Kaepernick. While holding up a power fist, he stares at the camera and aggressively states, “F— that, this is for Colin, ball up a fist and keep that s— balled like Donald the b—-,” and follows with the ultimatum to his fans who support Trump—“You’re either with or against,” and if you can’t decide, “I’ll do it for you: F— you”—finishing with a middle finger to their collective faces and a raised fist in the air.

Due to some reactionary logic that prevents a full-form radical critique, the hype regarding the track should be tempered. However, at the same time, it represents a valuable blow to the most prominent pied-piper of white supremacy in Trump, while also shedding light on the systematic exploitation of black culture that has benefited so many white artists with no reciprocity.

Many of Eminem’s fans will leave him for his “betrayal” as their great white hope. Others would do well to visit hip-hop’s rich history of social, cultural and political critique, of which this track serves as a primer.

Colin Jenkins is founder, editor and social economics department chair at the Hampton Institute, a working-class think tank.

Colin Jenkins

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