Eminem’s now infamous freestyle castigating Donald Trump at the BET Hip Hop Awards raises one very important question: What the heck was that?
I’ve watched the five-minute-long performance more times than is probably healthy, and I still have no real grasp of what’s happening, or what I’m supposed to come away with. In this regard, it is a perfect match to the similarly Dada-inspired presidency of Donald Trump—chaotic, incoherent and cynically performative.
The piece is set in a parking garage; Eminem is flanked by a few comrades and a couple of cars. The most important part of the freestyle is the beginning—not the beginning where he fantasizes about dropping a coffee pot on Donald Trump (again, what?), but the beginning where he pretends to forget what he was going to say. This false start, a weird feigned amnesia, is the frame of the whole piece, making everything that comes after suspect—Eminem as the unreliable narrator.
The effect is one of distancing, as if Eminem is no longer responsible for what comes next, after he remembers. Normally people forget things they regret saying after they’ve said them, but this rap is so incredibly dumb it’s better to just get to forgetting as soon as possible. What follows is, ironically, actually forgettable: Eminem as patriot, Eminem as troop respecter, Eminem agog at the besmirching of the office of the president. It’s the rap Lin Manuel-Miranda would have written for DNC Chair Tom Perez, if Perez were dressing up as Eminem and performing at the BET Hip Hop Awards.
I’m moving on. There is brilliant hip hop being made every day in America, and across the world. It’s fresh, funky, political and heartfelt. If you want my advice on whether or not you should care about Eminem’s political opinions, I recommend you follow his lead and forget it.