Eminem has dropped a surprise new album, Kamikaze. I say “dropped” but of course in my day – and, for that matter, Eminem’s day, for we are contemporaries – you “released” an album. (Never mind. I’ll use the new term even though I cringed slightly at myself as I typed it.)
Marshall Bruce Mathers III, however, feels no pressure from age to leave the rapping and new vernacular to the younger ones. Is he edgy, tho’ – like he was in the Nineties? What does “edgy” even mean? It used to mean that you were unafraid of pushing boundaries and questioning the status quo, but these days (God I’m old. I just wrote “these days”… someone please buy me some lavender soap-on-a-rope then drive me to the bingo), edgy is anyone who is just bloody rude and dispenses with any of the etiquette and social norms which used to stop people being out-and-out vile to each other.
I loved Eminem back in the Nineties. It was a different world back then. His sweet little ditties about murdering his wife, putting her in the boot and going with his toddler daughter to dispose of her remains were the soundtrack to my twenties. They were also an insight into what a desperate mess his head was in.
In those days, anyone who thought it was misogyny just didn’t get it. He didn’t want all women murdered, just his wife and, on occasion, his mother. To his daughter in 1997’s “Just the Two of Us”: “Oh, where’s Mama? She’s takin’ a little nap in the trunk. Dada musta runned over a skunk.”
I wanted that to be the “first dance” song at my wedding but convention forbade it.
I loved that there were complaints about him. I loved that older women recoiled from him. At 23 I had no interest in having anything in common with a 40-year-old woman. Now I’m a fortysomething myself, I don’t feel all that different to when I was 23, except I’m no longer desperate to be cool.
Back when I was 23, Eminem felt truly punk. Not giving a stuff about being liked or approved of by the mainstream – and in fact actively kicking them away – was something I was in awe of. I loved that his fury was so real and raw and never saw him as anything other than a young guy in terrible pain desperately needing to express himself.
I was aware, too, that I was listening to him as a reasonably educated twentysomething woman and I wasn’t a flailing-uncomfortably-in-my-own-skin teenaged boy. At 23, I really wasn’t bothered about what teenagers were listening to. In my own teens, I hung out with a group who were listening to Public Enemy. I knew how politicised rap was and yes, my gender made me feel a little left out of the loop, but the excitement was all there nonetheless. Nineties teenagers enjoying Eminem were no different. You’d have to be an utter headcase if you took his lyrics seriously anyway.
Then, with Eminem at his peak, I was embarking on my own punk adventure: starting the terrifying process of becoming a standup comic. I was shy and riddled with self-doubt and crushing anxiety; Eminem’s “I just don’t give a f***” attitude was my inspiration.
My crush on Slim Shady came from the same place my crush on Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character came from: a need to comfort a misunderstood little boy deep inside the body of a slightly psychopathic grown man. I was not, am not, drawn to men like that in my real life. I had a boyfriend in my twenties throw a tea-towel at me during a row and I ended things with him immediately as I saw the tea-towel as a gateway to heavier objects.
Rap, like every other art form, moves forward, and lyrics about chopping women up just don’t work anymore. Some might argue they never have. I’ll leave that debate to Twitter.
Stormzy showed us at the Brit awards how modern “edgy” works. His attack on Theresa May and her handling of Grenfell dropped a grenade which only music from a place where deep anger and pain meet with intelligence and talent can deliver: “Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell? What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell?”
If Emimen is edgy, it’s very much in the mould of his younger self. Our Marshall remains unable to do anything other than say exactly what he is feeling, even if that’s homophobia, sparing no one’s feelings in the process. He unapologetically displays his own vulnerability and inadequacies while trashing everything and everybody else. Anyone can be rude, anyone can be callous but doing that artfully, baring your soul at the same time – that’s edgy.