Jun 07, 2005
"I am whatever you say I am"
Shortly after the release of The Marshall Mathers LP, in 2000, Eric Boehlert wrote a column for Salon, accusing critics of giving the rapper a pass on the misogyny and homophobia in his lyrics. This prompted hand-wringing in the very outlets that had wildly praised the album just weeks before. When Rolling Stone asked me to write a news story examining the issue, I jumped into the fray.
I had conflicted feelings about Eminem, which only made him more intriguing to me. I loved his humor, artistry and willingness to expose himself emotionally. The attitudes his songs express about women and gay people, however, are clearly a problem. I would have loved the opportunity to sit with him for a lengthy interview that would have explored these issues in detail. Instead, I got fifteen minutes on the phone with an artist who was, understandably, defensive. I'm sure he would deny it, but I could hear hurt in his voice when he asked me, "It's not about, like, the talent or nothing. It's just about how fucked up the lyrics are?" That emotion quickly solidified into a tough, unyielding posture.
I was partly driven to do this story by a conversation I'd had with a gay friend of mine who was incensed that no one had taken Eminem to task for his lyrics. He spoke movingly to me about the issue, so when I was offered a chance to write about it, I felt somehow that I was doing it for him.
A few months later, that friend and I were discussing our favorite albums of the year, and the first one he listed was The Marshall Mathers LP. "You're fucking kidding," I said. "You lectured me for forty-five minutes about Eminem's homophobia. And now his album is your favorite record of the year?"
"Well nothing else came out that was nearly as interesting," he said. "And, besides, he's really cute." That conversation, of course, perfectly presaged the eventual transformation of Eminem from public menace to movie-star sex symbol.
In In Other Words, this interview appears in a much longer version in a section called "In Transition," that also includes interviews with Rufus Wainwright and Trey Anastasio.
This is about the lyrical content.
It's not about the lyrics?
It's about the lyrics . . .
I'm saying, it's not about, like, the talent or nothing. It's just about how fucked up the lyrics are? Because I'm going to be honest with you, I'm just about fed up with talking about my lyrical content. I'm on my last leg with this, because every writer I've been talking to has given me nothing but, "So, your lyrical content . . ." Nobody wants to talk about the positive shit I'm doing. Everybody just wants to talk about the negative. I mean, go ahead, shoot, though, I'm used to it.
You won't be railroaded.
People say that your lyrics encourage violence against gay people and women.
Let them say it. I'm not even trying to defend it. Like I said in one of my songs, "I am whatever you say I am." I've answered this gay-bashing thing many a time. And I shouldn't even have to fucking explain myself. I could just say, "faggot, faggot, faggot," and leave it at that. But I even go on to justify what the fuck I'm talking about.
Would you say "nigga" on a record?
Nah, I don't use that. That word is not even in my vocabulary. And that's just out of the respect that I do black music. I don't think that you can put race alongside gender, a man preferring a man. A gay person can be of any race, you know what I'm saying? Those are two completely different things.
But there is a lot of violence against gay kids.
Let me ask you this: Has anybody went out yet and bashed a gay person when they listened to my record? So what's the point? And the term "faggot" to me doesn't necessarily mean a gay person. I used that word coming up as a battle MC and that was a way to battle another dude and to take away his dignity, take away his manhood -- "You faggot!"
Everybody uses that fucking word. Everybody's sitting around in their living room, "Oh, dude, you're a fag." And I don't think they're talking about a gay person. They're talking about "fag" as an asshole -- "Quit being an asshole. You're being a fag. You're being a dick. You're being a jerk."
But there is a difference when you're speaking to millions of people.
But there's been no case of any gay bashing going on because of my record. As far as, like, gay people and stuff, that's their business. I don't care. Truthfully, I don't care. It's not none of my business.
Are you concerned that MTV might back off its support of you if enough pressure is brought to bear on them?
Nah, not at all. But as far as the general public, I don't owe them shit. I don't owe nobody an explanation for a fucking thing. Truthfully. And I still find myself explaining myself.
I think people for the most part -- kids, especially -- get the joke. They can tell when I'm serious and when I'm not. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for.
Well, I know you've got to get onstage. Thanks for taking the time to speak to me about this.
It was good talking to you, man. I like clearing the air about things.
From Anthony DeCurtis' collection of interviews, In Other Words.