In the calm AFTER the storm that was legendary rapper Eminem’s caustic prerecorded freestyle rap attack on Donald Trump at Tuesday’s BET Hip-Hop Awards – along with the subsequent reaction on Twitter with millions of tweets from supporters and detractors alike, there’s still one tweeted reaction we have yet to see: that of the most famous Twitter-ready fingers on the planet: Donald Trump himself.
I don’t know about you, but I fully expected to wake Wednesday morning to a tweet from Trump blasting Eminem as a washed-up, has-been rapper whose best days are behind him.
Or worse yet, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see one of Trump’s famous change-the-narrative tweets accusing Eminem of having begged the president just days before to endorse him for a political run for office in his home state of Michigan against fellow 2000s-era Detroit musician Kid Rock.
Surprisingly, no shockingly, Trump has remained silent, at least on this issue. Instead, NBC news, Obamacare and Puerto Rican hurricane relief have been among the targets of the president’s latest Twitter barbs.
But it wasn’t for lack of trying on Em’s part.
The rapper venomously sprayed the president with stinging attacks on everything from his response to Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico to the nuclear standoff (more accurately the recent war of words) with North Korea’s leader Kim Jung Un.
Yet the most scathing remarks were centered on Trump’s crusade against (predominantly black) NFL players who’ve taken a knee in protest of racial oppression in the U.S., brought to the national forefront by several high-profile cases of police brutality in the past few years.
No need to rehash Eminem’s comments here…by now you’ve surely read about them all.
Well, I will mention this particular line from his cypher, entitled “The Storm,” because it’ll be relevant later: “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 you with this,” he speaks as he flips his middle finger and says “f— you!” directly to the camera.
If he were to do so, Trump would be correct in tweeting that Eminem hasn’t had a hit in four years, a hypothetical post the former reality TV star’s followers would no doubt retweet and “like” by the tens of thousands on Twitter, believing their guy had just won yet another battle in the ongoing social war against his haters.
Except, the reality is Eminem hasn’t bothered to release anything new in that span. His last album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, came out in 2013 (although it sold nicely for those times and did reach No. 1 – as have his last seven albums). So, it’s a safe bet that any loss of relevance for Eminem the past few years has been more self-inflicted than anything else.
The question now is: what’s next for the rapper and how will his public tirade against the man occupying the highest – and most important – elected position in the world affect him going forward?
Many cynics have speculated that the rapper’s return to the public eye in such a volatile fashion was merely a publicity stunt for a pending album release. The timing of his pre-taped performance certainly lends itself to that notion.
After all, why else would Eminem wait until now to début his expression of disdain for the most talked-about public figure who’s had heads spinning for nearly two years now (ever since he first declared his candidacy for the presidency in late 2015)? Trump certainly has fed the beast by seemingly finding new ways to anger his detractors daily.
For his part, Eminem, who has never shied away from controversy, is not the first rapper to diss POTUS #45. In fact, he’s not even the first recording artist to diss a sitting president. It’s been happening for eons.
Stevie Wonder famously blasted then-President Nixon with the 1974 pop hit “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.” Nixon coincidentally resigned from the presidency just two days after the song’s release.
Ronald Reagan took pot shots from Genesis (“Land of Confusion”) and Prince (“Ronnie, Talk To Russia”) during his presidency.
Bill Clinton was the target of Tupac’s ire in the 1999 song “Letter to the President” for, in the rapper’s view, not doing enough to improve the situation for black people.
Continuing that theme, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, rapper Kanye West famously accused then-president George W. Bush of “not caring about black people.”
Countless artists – mostly little-known country and rock ones – made it clear what they thought of former president Barack Obama (just type “Obama” in your Spotify search engine or Google “anti-Obama songs”).
And of course, there was the famous diss of President George W. Bush by the country trio Dixie Chicks, more specifically lead singer Natalie Maines, who during a London concert in March 2003 expressed her shame that the sitting president was from their home state of Texas, as the then-pending war in Iraq loomed.
That last example proved to be the most harmful to the artists’ career… at least with their country fan base. The Chicks, whose career was skyrocketing at the time, had a single riding the U.S. top ten charts and an album that was No. 1 only weeks before Maines’ famous statement. Almost immediately afterwards, the single – a remake of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” – fell completely from the charts and the album, Home, languished outside the top 20 before finally falling off.
The Dixie Chicks made a bit of a comeback three years later, with an award-winning multi-platinum album and several singles that centered on the alienation the group had received earlier, but they haven’t released a studio album since, and many of their country fans never forgave them for the ill-timed jab at Bush.
But, despite doing the unspeakable thing few other non-black celebrities in the music biz have done: come to the defense of Kaepernick’s right to protest and calling out the POTUS, Eminem won’t likely become another Dixie Chicks. There are many reasons, the most obvious of which include the different fan base to which Eminem caters. Rap music fans are generally unfazed by the politically incorrect, anti-establishment lyrics uttered by their favorite artists.
Another is that the vitriolic blast from the other night isn’t really much of a departure from Eminem’s already caustic rap style and the messages he’s delivered in the past. It’s what’s endeared his fans to him for nearly 20 years now.
Country music fans, however, prefer that their artists follow a more respectful path. Part of that respect includes love of flag and country – as well as respect for its leader (albeit apparently on a sliding scale dependent upon who that leader is). It’s one thing for outsiders like rappers and liberal rock artists to not follow that code, but when the Dixie Chicks – one of their own – chose not to do it, that was akin to threatening their 2nd Amendment rights.
But another reason Eminem’s career will survive this is the different environments in which the two artists’ made their statements. In early 2003, America was only 18 months removed from 9/11 and Bush was riding a high approval rating that would reach the 70% range when the U.S. invaded Iraq (after peaking at 90% in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks).
By contrast, Donald Trump is hovering in the 30-40% approval range (and dropping) depending upon which poll one believes – although even the Trump-friendly Fox News polls from late August show the president’s approval rating dropping, with that survey showing that many believed Trump to be tearing the country apart – a theme reiterated by several of the barbs contained in Eminem’s cypher from this week.
Put simply, it’s more popular to dislike (and even disrespect) Trump than it has been any other sitting president in recent memory.
But there’s also a very key, non-political, non-president-specific, non-genre-related reason that Eminem will fare better than the Dixie Chicks did. It’s a technical one…
Or less specifically, the way in which music is predominantly consumed in 2017.
Back in 2003, CDs still made up the majority of U.S. record sales. Paid downloads and streaming were not yet a major factor, so people largely still had to go to brick-and-mortar stores and pull out their wallets to get music. The amount of effort required back then to acquire albums made protesting unpopular artists a much easier prospect.
Fourteen years later, with music literally a click away on our personal smart devices, fans – whether they like what Eminem did or not – will be more tempted to give his new music a listen, if for none other than the curiosity factor. It’s far easier to protest publicly but then stream that new Eminem release in the privacy of your own phone.
And you don’t have to suffer the indignity of owning the recording after you’ve finished listening to it. (But those streams do count. Remember: the universally panned “Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift entered at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart just last month based largely on record streaming numbers.)
Then there’s another factor…or non-factor.
Let’s face it, radio isn’t nearly as important as it was 15 years ago in breaking new music. When stations quickly dropped the Chicks’ “Landslide” from their playlists in March 2003, singles sales followed suit and there was nothing else to buoy the song on the charts. It fell from 10 to 43 and then off the chart in a two-week span.
Today, those two elements – record sales and radio play – drive the charts much less so than streaming does. And Eminem has proven that he can still go viral – as this week’s “The Storm” video attested.
In other words, radio may not play it and people may not buy it, but they’ll still seek it out to hear it – one way or the other. And it’s those streaming numbers that will keep Eminem at the top of the charts.
So, the volatile rapper will likely continue to be the bane of Trump supporters’ existence in the wake of his most raw criticism of the president yet. He may even have lost some of his own fans as a result of his “drawing in the sand a line” between those who support Trump and those who don’t before apparently flipping off the ones that don’t.
But Eminem’s next album – when it’s released – will likely become the 44-year-old rapper’s eighth No. 1 LP, further solidifying his future Rock & Roll Hall-of-Fame legacy and padding his lead as the best-selling rapper of all time.
As for Donald Trump’s response to this issue? Well, maybe he’s just figured out the best way to counter-punch his most vocal critics…
Ignore them, don’t dignify it…and for Pete’s sake don’t tweet about it!