Eminem’s eighth album ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ brims with dazzling acrobatic wordplay. The virtuoso is on monstrous form, spitting some of the cleverest and wittiest lines of his career. Line after line throws up unexpected twists and how-did-he-get-there moments. What he claims is true: lyrically he’s a miracle. It’s heading for the fastest-selling album of 2013 in the US and UK and will no doubt hit the number one spot across the world this weekend, adding to the 220 million records he’s already sold.
But here are some of the more questionable lyrics Em uses on the album. From ‘Love Game’: “Snatch the bitch out her car through the window, she screamin’ / I body slam her onto the cement, until the concrete gave and created a sinkhole / Bury this stink ho in it, then paid to have the street re-paved.”
On ‘So Much Better’ he calls women “fucking pigs” that are only good for “doink doink doink” recalling that old misogynist Nietzsche who famously wrote “everything about woman has a single solution: that is, pregnancy”.
Here’s another gem: “I got 99 problems and the bitch ain’t one / She’s all 99 of them I need a machine gun / I take ‘em all out I hope you hear this song / And go into a cardiac arrest, have a heart attack / And just drop dead and I’mma throw a fucking party after this”.
Just in case you skimmed over that, Eminem is saying he wants to kill a woman he particularly despises with a machine gun. He wants the woman to go into cardiac arrest – I don’t think he means dance so hard she’ll need a defibrillator – and then he’s going to throw a party.
Again and again in ‘MMLP2’ Eminem revisits the use of violence as an appropriate punishment for women who disrespect him. It’s a familiar trope, as familiar as the sun rising and setting. Remember ‘Kill You” from 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP? “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore, ‘Til the vocal chords don’t work in her throat no more?!” Fast forward 13 years and his attitude towards women hasn’t changed – and nor has our acceptance of it.
Pulling Eminem up on his depiction of women is nothing new and the word ‘misogyny’ is often loosely bandied around the rapper. What does the word even stand for today? If we take it in its simplest form to mean ‘the hatred of women’, Eminem’s guilty. In the quotes above he legitimises violence against women, demeans them as subordinate, and deserving of physical harm if they cross him.
Rap and hip-hop have had a misogyny problem for a long time. Yet in 2013 there is no sign of a solution. Danny Brown’s ‘Old’ is an introspective, personal record about depression, drug dependence and dealing with fame. He’s one of the most fascinating rappers out there. What a shame, then, that every time he mentions women on ‘Old’ – apart from his mother on ‘Wonderbread’ – they are used a device for him to assert his masculinity and sexuality. “That’s right bitch/we ain’t done yet” he raps after popping a girl a molly. In one scene he describes dogs performing oral sex on a woman. And both Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ and A$AP Rocky’s ‘Long. Live. ASAP’ don’t go easy on sexual objectification either.
As a woman and long-time hip-hop fan, I’m sick of it. I love Eminem. ‘My Name Is.. ‘ was the first hip-hop cassette tape I bought in 1999 and I remember exactly where I was when I rewound it again and again and again, to learn the rap off by heart. When I bought the Eminem record earlier today and listened to it properly my stomach turned. Is it because I’m a lot older? I can’t remember the “I can’t figure out which Spice Girl I’m going to impregnate?” line causing me too much trouble back when I was 13. So is my reaction just a cliché of the older hip-hop fan turning prudish with age?
Rizzle Kicks, probably Britain’s biggest hip hop act, even if the music they make is much more family-friendly than mainstream American rap, recently spoke out about misogyny in hip-hop. “I can’t listen to hip-hop at the moment,” said Jordan Stephens. “I really struggle.. The stuff I’m hearing in the mainstream… it’s overly-misogynistic and it’s still homophobic,” he said. “It does my head in.” ‘Blurred Lines’, the banal song by Robin Thicke, stimulated deafening criticism this year – even being banned from various universities – but debate around misogyny in hip-hop seems to have quietened down. The reviews of the ‘MMLP2’ have so far been positive, with few taking issue with his lyrics.
Eminem’s defence would probably be similar to that against the justified calls of homophobia in his lyrics. Namely, that he takes on ‘personas’. I don’t buy it. He might also trot out the defence that the accusations he faces over misogyny are because he’s white, which is just ludicrous. You might question, too, whether listening to violent lyrics have any actual effect on the listener. It’s been a while since any studies of note have been made, though previous experiments suggest listening to misogynous music facilitates sexually aggressive behaviour.
But, more importantly, what does the popularity of a man who talks a whole lot about hurting woman say about our culture at large, a world where, despite significant advancements, gender equality has a long way to go? If we accept poor political representation, the gender pay gap, attitudes towards sexual assault, sex discrimination in employment and occupational segregation, why wouldn’t we accept music that marginalises women? Are Eminem’s lyrics just a mirror of an attitude prevalent in Western society and is it hypocritical of us to baulk at his words when misogyny is rampant? (Incidentally the US ranks just 22nd out of 135 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index.)
Say Eminem returned with a ninth album without anti-women venom, would there be anything left? Who would he direct his rage at if not ‘bitches’ and ‘faggots’? Does his cultural value balance out his unpleasant content? Either way, it’s time we talked about it. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed women were inferior to men because women have fewer teeth; I’d argue Eminem’s boring, tedious misogyny is about as backward and ignorant as that – and let’s hope he’s the last in a tradition that started centuries ago.