Call it a comeback. After years of absence from the spotlight, Eminem returned to relevance last night with a fierce lyrical condemnation of President Trump.
Delivered during the BET Hip Hop Awards, his a cappella verse — prerecorded in a nondescript Detroit parking garage with comrades like rapper Royce Da 5’9″ backing him — picked apart the sitting president’s politics and social media antics. He lampooned everything from Trump’s immigration stance and perceived support of racial injustice to a slow response following the storm in Puerto Rico and failure to address gun control following the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
He showed solidarity with Colin Kaepernick (“This is for Colin, ball up a fist!”) and employed a redneck accent to mock Trump supporters (“He’s gonna get rid of all immigrants! He’s gonna build that thing up taller than this!”).
It was a pointed political critique from the poster boy of non-PC shock rap, and it buoyed a rare BET Hip Hop Awards show that put freedom of speech on front street.
In a night that saw Cardi B — who has now held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 100 for longer than any female rapper in history — accept well-timed awards, the show was anchored with an honorary award for 2 Live Crew founder and Southern rap pioneer Luther Campbell.
“I started hip-hop in the South,” Campbell said from the stage of the Fillmore on Miami Beach, where the annual show, hosted by DJ Khaled, taped for the first time after being recorded in Atlanta for more than a decade. The geographic shift farther south coincides with the vibrant rise of South Florida’s hip-hop scene. In an emotional, profanity-laced acceptance speech, Campbell talked about battling for respect with East Coast traditionalists who dismissed the South as backward, booty-shake music and referenced his legal battle over a historic freedom-of-speech case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in 1994.
Luther Campbell came close to tears during a spirited acceptance speech in which he recounted his Supreme Court battle for free speech.
Campbell celebrated the crowd for keeping hip-hop alive and shouted out Cardi B for winning against the odds. “Don’t let nobody tell you you can’t be. Be who you wanna be,” Mr. Nasty As They Wanna Be said, before replacing his blazer with a Miami Hurricanes Starter jacket for a closing performance that gave the crowd a peek at both his middle-aged paunch and the onstage raunch that kept Campbell dogged by the law for much of his career.
The Eminem freestyle came amid growing rumors of an impending album release before year’s end. After a four-year hiatus since his last release (The Marshall Mathers LP 2), the news of his return hadn’t warranted much hype. But after last night’s verbal onslaught, “Woke Em” is all the rage.
By the end of the night, he even had Kaepernick’s attention. “I appreciate you Eminem,” the former NFL quarterback tweeted at the rapper, capping it off with a black-power fist emoji as an exclamation point.