"I am phenomenal
However long that it takes
I'll go to whatever lengths
It's gonna make me a monster though
I am phenomenal
But I would never say, 'Oh, it's impossible'
Cause I'm born to be phenomenal..."
Lines like that are exactly why Eminem is still phenomenal -- winning Grammys and earning respect after nearly two decades in the industry. He's the monster that just won't go away and he explains it all the video for his new song off the Southpaw soundtrack -- not to mention in his interview with Stephen Colbert, Beats1 Radio chat with Zane Lowe and recent documentary via Complex Magazine, "Not Afraid."
So, when it was declared a while back that Eminem has "lost his powers", that he's "immature" and oblivious to the world around him or might even be brain damaged the monster in me started to creep out. See, critics like these are missing the entire point about identity that the rapper has been making for nearly two decades. He is presenting himself as the monster and superhero of western culture, the one who is horrifying because he embodies and pronounces beliefs and acts we think we've gotten over--like sexism, racism, violence and homophobia. The reason he continues to succeed with superhero strength in horrifying us after all these years is because of the way he demonstrates these so-called surmounted beliefs with cultural relevance.
Like any superhero he is a master of costume changes. Whether it's dressing in drag in videos like "The Real Slim Shady" or as Robin to Dr. Dre's Batman in "Without Me", dramatizing revenge murder-suicide fantasies in "Love The Way You Lie," "Kim" and "Bonnie and Clyde", or portraying a frat boy turned date rapist in "Guilty Conscience" and predicting our obsession with editing our lives and ironic quest for privacy on social media in "The Way I Am" and "Phenomenal," or shining light on neglect and bullying in "Cleaning Out My Closet" and "No Love" and showing us how music, racism and technology can impact society for the worse in "Stan" and "Rap God," Mr. Mathers reminds us that many of our society's beliefs have not advanced a bit.
What makes Eminem even more relevant now than he was at the turn of the 21st century, aside from his collab with Apple Music and overall digital presence, is that he not only proves our long standing cultural ills are still alive and well but he reminds us that we are not yet really certain about what our new beliefs should be. Can we really say we are an anti-sexist society when women make only 72 cents for every dollar a man earns? When female college students who say they've been raped have to walk around with mattresses strapped to their backs in order to be heard? Can we say that we've surmounted racism when police in cities and suburbs all over the nation don't seem to think #blacklivesmatter? Can we say that we're against child neglect and abuse when affordable day care and maternity leaves are increasingly unavailable? Can we say that there is net neutrality when access to the Internet decreases as one gets further from youth, cities and wealth? Can we call ourselves religious when churches are on fire? I think not. And if you're really listening to Eminem's music then you won't think so either.
So while others wish to send the monster back under his bed I won't. I want him to stay right out in front of our eyes. And I want critics to really turn an ear to their own sidestepping rhetoric. If you're tired of Eminem then you're revealing more of the privilege you have to turn a deaf ear to the suffering exposed through much of his music. You're exactly the ones he's talking to... still. Perhaps another listen to his message would allow you to find the freedom to sing a new song. And it might give the rest of us a chance to actually begin to break free of the stuff about which The Monster-Superhero raps. Then maybe we can all be phenomenal.