Just how much has America changed since Donald Trump’s election? Eminem, knee-deep in controversy a generation ago for misogyny and homophobia, is back as a self-styled moral conscience.
The top-selling rapper in history rips into Trump on Revival, his first studio album in four years, in which Eminem openly muses on whether he can stay relevant as his career enters its third decade.
Revival, which came out on Friday, returns to Eminem’s musical tropes as he recrafts pop tunes into quick-tongued raps and taps some of the biggest names in music as collaborators, including Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys and Pink.
But the 45-year-old also shows a new side — a politically sensitive Eminem, woke and alarmed at the direction of the United States a year into Trump’s presidency.
“Someone get this Aryan a sheet / Time to bury him, so tell him to prepare to get impeached,” Eminem raps on Like Home, juxtaposing the imagery of death and the racist Ku Klux Klan.
“He’s trying to divide us,” Eminem warns, taking the language of a street activist, while vowing, “He’ll only unite us.”
Eminem — who has faced criticism throughout his career for employing a homophobic slur, although he insists it is just a narrative device — also attacks Trump for seeking to ban transgender people from the military.
Revival opens on a fresh note for Eminem — Walk on Water, the album’s first single, a piano ballad about self-doubt that features a Gospel-tinged chorus by Beyonce.
But the 19-track album quickly returns to more familiar territory. Believe and Chloraseptic, which is assisted by the up-and-coming New York rapper Phresher, are backed by minimal, ominous beats with nods to horrorcore.
Remind Me refashions the singalong chorus of I Love Rock and Roll, the boisterous classic by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, while In Your Head builds off a riff in The Cranberries’ Zombie.
On Untouchable, Eminem — who has brought hard-edged hip-hop to a white audience like no one else — embraces the slogans of the Black Lives Matter movement as he voices outrage at police brutality.
“I admit there have been times when it’s been embarrassing to be a white boy,” he raps, as he offers solidarity with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other American football players who have knelt during the national anthem as a protest over racial injustice.
Not all of the political bent on Revival is likely to sit comfortably even with Trump’s opponents. Eminem, whose songs have often imagined violence against women, depicts Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka inside his car’s trunk on Framed.
Passionate opponent of Trump
Eminem’s political passion appears deeply felt, with the rapper going public with harsh denunciations of Trump even before Revival.
While Trump enjoys little celebrity support, Eminem’s hostility is notable as the two share much of the same demographic base. Eminem hails from Michigan and has personally struggled with some of the afflictions of working-class white Americans from the Rust Belt — addiction to painkillers and junk food and, to put it mildly in Eminem’s case, complicated family relationships.
Eminem — who on his last album apologised to his mother whom he once spoke of raping and killing — on Revival offers his regrets to Kim Mathers, his high school sweetheart whom he married and divorced twice.
“I loved you, but I hated that ‘me’ / And I don’t want to see that side again / I’m sorry, Kim,” he raps on Bad Husband.
Eminem’s oldest child — Hailie, who turns 22 on Christmas Day — makes a cameo in Bad Husband and also inspires one of the strongest songs on Revival — Castle, written around a series of letters addressed to his daughter over the years.
“Things that should have been private with me and your mother is public,” Eminem raps ruefully of his past songs.
And the song may draw a curtain. With the track, Eminem rapped that he is “100 per cent finished” with airing family baggage.