Eminem, arguably the noughties’s most iconic rapper, has been known to dabble in political music. In 2004, he released Mosh, a protest song from his Encore album which derided George W. Bush regime. Twelve years later, he has repeated the feat with his anti-Trump anthem Campaign Speech. But whereas Mosh was critically acclaimed by both musically and politically aligned critics, Campaign Speech has received overwhelmingly negative reviews across the board. What went wrong?
“Eminem has caricatured himself in a form of meta-musicality”
In 2004, Eminem pleaded with his audience to vote Bush out of office, in the post-9/11 shadow of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Upon the album’s release, Mosh was not included on the final cut, and was made freely available on the internet. Measured and focused, it is from Slim’s peak period of The Marshall Mathers EP and Encore.
Departing the heavy tone of Mosh, which NME praised for atmospheric, “rainfall, gunshots and music so slow and oppressive you can practically feel your ribcage tightening”, Campaign Speech is stripped-back, with barely a backing track for Eminem’s eight-minute freestyle. It sounds lower-budget, reactive, and flailing. Eminem has always unabashedly and unapologetically used misogynistic, homophobic slurs in his music. It seems that this time, however, Eminem has caricatured himself in a form of meta-musicality. Campaign Song is one of his most hypocritical, outrageously offensive songs to date, one which projects a persona all too similar to that of Mr. Trump.
Move forward 12 years from 2004, and Eminem’s place in popular culture has somewhat diminished. His cultural capital when he released Encore was infinitely higher than it is in 2016. This is a fact Slim acknowledges himself in his 2013 song Rap God, arguably his best work in recent years, where he reminds us that he was once, “king of the underground”, questioning if he can get away with his dark references, “now that [he] ain’t as big as [he] was”. Slim demonstrates his longevity by noting that he has, “Made a living and a killing off it / Ever since Bill Clinton was still in office / With Monica Lewinsky feeling on his nut-sack.” This reference in Rap God is a mere foreshadowing of the vulgar content of 2016’s Campaign Speech.
“Eminem has never actively advocated a presidential candidate in his lines: his music is negatively driven, rather than a call for direct action.”
Trump is infamous for his misogynistic attitude towards women. The famous video which surfaced in October, of him discussing “grabbing women by the pussy,” is a line that would not be out of place in an Eminem song. In Campaign Speech, Eminem lays down rape slurs, suggesting a “dangerous man” would, “Use intercourse to settle scores/ With women who have been vendettas towards men.” The violent agenda doesn’t end there, with the rapper threatening to “Run the faucet/ I’m about to dunk a bunch of Trump supporters underwater.” His message is blatantly anti-Trump, and yet he blames his very audience, the American people, for having such a candidate, saying “That’s what you wanted / A fuckin’ loose cannon who’s blunt with his hand on the button / Who doesn’t have to answer to no one.” Eminem aligns himself as a similarly dangerous and threatening presidential candidate, who has always ignored criticism for his offensive lyrics, just as Trump ignores any denunciation aimed at him.
Eminem has, notably, never actively advocated a presidential candidate in his lines: his music is negatively driven, rather than a call for direct action. Similarly, much of Trump’s recent campaigning has been less about policy and more an aggressive derision of ‘Crooked’ Clinton. Mic. compared Campaign Speech to, “a pure Hollywood slasher fest – difficult to stomach or condone, but even harder to look away from.” This encapsulates the 2016 run-up to the election: pure spectacle, with the world watching, eyes screwed up, scared to see what happened next. As Eminem’s career continues – he has promised a new album soon – his songs become less innovative and less effective, his cultural capital diminished. Trump, notorious for his short temper, has not acknowledged Campaign Speech, and it certainly did not put a dent in his ultimately successful campaign. Like Trump, Eminem is resorting to radical means to get noticed, but not to the greatest effect- perhaps next time the rapper will produce a song with the power to sway political opinion and prevent the next political disaster.