There’s an old trick in hip-hop, where a sound effect mimics the screech of a record breaking, and the same few bars of a song keep playing over and over again in loop, like a stutter. Eminem has been using the trick for over a decade now— in his music and in his life.
Since the debut of The Slim Shady LP in 1999, critics, civil rights organizations, and music fans with consciences have blasted Eminem over the rampant use of lyrics in his songs that could be construed as homophobic, or, at the very least, hateful and offensive to the gay community. And since the debut of The Slim Shady LP in 1999, Eminem has denied that he is defined by any of those bigotry-indicating adjectives…but has gone on using the controversial language anyway.
The broken record keeps on screeching.
In “Rap God,” he raps about his ability to “break a motherfucker’s table over the back of a couple faggots and crack it in half.” And there’s the rant in the same song that uses “gay” as a shaming insult: "Little gay-looking boy / So gay I can barely say it with a straight face-looking boy / You witnessing massacre like you watching a church gathering taking place-looking boy / 'Oy vey, that boy's gay,' that's all they say looking-boy / You take a thumbs up, pat on the back, the way you go from your label every day-looking boy."
Rolling Stone asks Eminem why, after years of being called anti-gay for his lyrics and years of telling interviewers he has no problem with gay people, he continues to use words like “faggot” and “gay-looking” as an insult.
“I don’t know how to say this without saying it how I’ve said it a million times,” he starts his response. (“Tell us about it,” says everyone who’s tired of having to point out that his lyrics are offensive, no matter how many times he says he doesn’t intend them to be.)
He then launches into the same story he’s told before, about how when he was growing up, calling someone a “faggot” was just as common and meant the same as “calling someone a bitch or a punk or asshole.” (Remind y’all of a certain butter-loving celebrity chef and her justification of the use of a racial epithet?) To his credit, Eminem’s right. He has a said this about a million times at this point, or at least once. Most memorably, he sat down with a pre-out Anderson Cooper and told him “Faggot was, like, it was thrown around constantly, to each other, like in battling, you know what I mean?”
His conclusion then, in 2010: “I don’t have any problem with nobody.” His conclusion now, after another round of controversy: “But the real me sitting here now talking to you has no issues with gay, straight, transgender at all.” Screech. Hearing that record scratch and repeat?
Yes, yes. We are aware that Eminem, allegedly, has no problems with anybody. But isn’t he also, then, being a hypocrite who has no problems with anybody? He’s been admirably outspoken about his feelings on the gay community and that he wishes no ill-will towards it. He even came out in support of gay marriage! But what do those words really mean when he’s releasing a song with lyrics that explicitly wish ill-will on the gay community?
To say that actions speak louder than words might be a lazy cliché. But it’s no lazier than using the word “gay” as an emasculating insult, so here it goes. Saying he has no problem with the gay community superficially indicates that Eminem isn’t homophobic. But repeating the same tired excuse for why he uses homophobic lyrics anyway renders the claim all-but meaningless.
The Rolling Stone interviewer, disappointingly, gives Eminem an easy out at the end of the interview excerpt, essentially excusing away the behavior for him, saying, “I kind of thought you were doing it because when you’re rapping as Slim Shady, part of your mission is to annoy people.” It’s an opportunity for Em to nod emphatically in agreement without defending his arguably hypocritical behavior with any more complexity.
“I think people know my personal stance on things and the personas that I create in my music,” he says. “And if someone doesn’t understand that by now, I don’t think there’s anything I can do to change their mind about it.”
The record spins on.