When Eminem released his freestyle as part of the BET Hip Hop Awards’ annual cypher, it turned out to be a 4-plus-minute a capella tirade against President Donald Trump. He indicted the president for his most egregious transgressions: perpetuating racism, emboldening white supremacy, his irresponsibility with North Korea, the attacks on black NFL players, his abandonment of Puerto Rico. The list goes on.
Hip-hop fans, athletes, and mainstream media, praised the lukewarm freestyle as urgent, necessary, powerful and genius. “After 27 years of doubts about rap I am now a fan,” sports and political commentator Keith Olberman tweeted. “Best political writing of the year, period.”
To suggest that Eminem’s mediocre bars were anything other than tepid demonstrates a a shamefully low bar for the craft of hip-hop and for what constitutes bravery. To declare that Eminem’s freestyle about Trump is a turning point in hip-hop is lazy, uninformed. That’s not surprising, though. White artists are often lauded for their courage in speaking out against injustice, while black artists are often overlooked or penalized for the same actions. When Beyoncé showed up to the Superbowl in an outfit that honored the Black Panthers, conservatives slammed her and the police union called for a boycott of her subsequent world tour.
The reality is, rappers have been criticizing the government, picking apart systems of oppression and addressing the pervasiveness of police brutality in black communities since the art form’s inception. It’s why rapper and Public Enemy member Chuck D famously dubbed hip-hop “the black CNN” decades ago.
“To Pimp A Butterfly,” Kendrick Lamar, 2015
“Changes,” 2Pac, 1992
“Georgia… Bush,” Lil Wayne, 2006
“Be Free,” J. Cole, 2014
“Untitled,” Nas, 2008
“Fuck the Police,” NWA, 1988
“Fight the Power,” Public Enemy, 1989
“A Song for Assata,” Common, 2000
“Police State,” Dead Prez, 2000
“Revolution,” Arrested Development, 1992
“Reagan,” Killer Mike, 2012
“The Point of No Return,” Geto Boys, 1996
“Words I Never Said,” Lupe Fiasco, 2011
“The Message,” Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, 1982
“Sound of Da Police,” KRS-One, 1993
“Bin Laden,” Immortal Technique feat. Yasiin Bey, Jadakiss, Eminem, 2005