The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Monday, January 8, 2001

Drawing The Line At Eminem

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Once again, Eminem finds himself at the center of controversy, this time over his four Grammy nominations. Once again, gay, lesbian and women's rights activists are speaking out against the hateful messages in some of the rap star's lyrics. The Marshall Mathers LP, the most recent album from Eminem (born Marshall Bruce Mathers III), includes homophobic raps and lyrics graphically depicting violence against women. In an editorial published in its Jan. 4, 2001 edition, the Wall Street Journal commented: "Certainly, Mr. Mathers can hide behind the First Amendment, and we don't quarrel with his right to record whatever he wishes. But when journalists at distinguished newspapers judge his album to be among the best produced in the past year — as did two at the New York Times — an eyebrow must be raised. To make matters worse, these judgments always come with absolving caveats. Eminem is an ironist, they say; his lyrics may be asinine, but they do rhyme, and he's got the rhythm of a sophisticated musician. They ask us to believe that the medium (music) and the message (beat your wife, rape your mom) must be judged separately." The Wall Street Journal should look beyond music critics. The system that birthed and promoted Eminem to stardom celebrates corporate capitalism day in and day out. Interscope Records, Eminem's label, is a division of Universal Music Group, one the biggest music corporations in the world. The head of Interscope is Jimmy Iovine; in years past, Iovine created three albums that paired major stars and Christmas songs to benefit the Special Olympics. Over the years he's worked as an engineer and/or producer with Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and U2; clearly he understands both the power of music and the impact lyrics can have on those who hear them, for good or evil. I have long been an advocate of artists' right to make the albums they want to make without interference. I still hold that position. But that doesn't mean every album an artist turns in must be released. In some cases, they aren't (for instance, a year or so ago Iovine decided not to release an album by Aimee Mann). These days, many artists make their recordings independently of their label, and then turn in a completed album to the company. At that point, someone has to take responsibility, and accept or reject the album. Iovine and his corporate bosses could have refrained from signing Eminem. Having signed him, they could have rejected both albums and let him out of his contract. They did none of these things, for the same reason that MTV has celebrated Eminem from day one — the almighty dollar. Sorting these issues out is very difficult. Both Eminem and his brilliant producer Dr. Dre are extremely talented. Eminem connects with today's youth in a way unlike almost any other current artist, and he's given kids something of their own that drives their parents up the wall. But while the music-biz machine can't control what the kids will embrace, it can draw its own line regarding what it will release and what kind of message it wants to be associated with. Eminem is — or should be — way over that line. His album may be musically great, and he may deliver his hate message in an artful manner, but it's still a hate message. Eminem is likely happy to be at the center of a storm again, of course. Like a lot of kids who misbehave, he loves the attention. And he likes how the uproar generates more album sales. After all, he wants to bank as much cash as he can before his time runs out, as it surely will.

Datastream: It would be nice if MTV would come clean regarding Eminem, but it can't. In discussing its plan to air the names of the victims of hate crimes for 17 commercial-free hours this week, MTV Networks programming president Brian Graden told the Associated Press that the upcoming year-long public service campaign against discrimination was prompted in part by the company's recognition of its own role in Eminem's success. From this truthful beginning, Graden seems to slip into fantasy. "Graden said MTV gave Eminem less air time when the nature of his lyrics became apparent and examined the controversy in its news programs," reports the AP. Not exactly. MTV began airing Eminem videos in 1999 when the artist's debut album, The Slim Shady LP, was released. Slim Shady is full of the same kind of hateful lyrics that abound in the Marshall Mathers follow-up. None of which stopped MTV from airing a two-hour Eminem special a day before The Marshall Mathers LP was released, placing the video for "The Real Slim Shady" in high rotation or giving the rapper a prime performance slot during the network's most recent awards show.

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears weekdays at 9 AM PST, except when it doesn't.

Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

copyright (c) 2000, 2001 michael goldberg | design by elephantcloud