Eminem’s career is built on narcissism. His brand of white rap has seen him construct his own cult of personality, his most famous singles centred on his own image along with some pretty gruelling tirades about his relationship with his mom and ex-wife. One of his best-loved singles is a self-spotlighting song structured around the repetition of his own name (‘The Real Slim Shady’) while arguably his best track sees him play the role of his own obsessed fan (‘Stan’). Throughout his career, Eminem has remained egocentric, focused on self-referencing rap and rarely foraying into bolder territory.
But on his new single ‘Untouchable’, Eminem turns his attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, calling out police brutality and condemning the unequal treatment of black people by the American justice system.
There’s no denying ‘Untouchable’ is a noble effort, Eminem making his stance crystal clear as he raps about crooked cops and a racist society that lets white criminals off the hook while coming down hard on people of colour. “Black boy, black boy, we don’t get your culture, man,” he raps, switching between the role of police officer and despairing omniscient narrator before surmising rather glibly “There are times it’s been embarrassing to be a white boy.”
But Eminem offers more than an easy condemnation of current affairs, suggesting measures to decrease tension in black neighbourhoods. Part of the answer lies in hiring more black officers, Eminem suggests, as well as educating white cops on black culture in order to stamp out the rampant racism running through the force. Better career opportunities are another priority, Eminem declaring “McDonald’s is the only franchise that’ll hire us,” in a rather uncomfortable line that sees him briefly adopting the voice of a black person. His intention is surely good but it’s a jarring lyric, Eminem becoming overzealous in his role-switching.
For the most part though, Eminem’s lyrics are on good form as he jumps from calling out trigger-happy police officers to a culture that demands respect for the Star Spangled Banner (“A piece of cloth that represents the land of the free that made people slaves”). But while the track’s first half is an engaging indictment, the second half sags, outstaying its welcome and descending into a lengthy rant that’s difficult to invest in. Eminem sounds sluggish, his once quickfire raps now slower and less urgent. In the past, Eminem has tackled similarly contentious themes (though tended to bury them in his albums rather than risk his reputation by pushing them as singles), but ‘Untouchable’ lacks the hyperactive fervor that made them so convincing. ‘Untouchable’ pales in comparison to the likes of ‘White America’, the savage opening of The Eminem Show from 2002, getting bogged down in its own righteousness.
It’s good to see Eminem lending his voice to a noble cause and his criticisms of Trump’s America are valid and thoughtful. But for all its good intentions, ‘Untouchable’ leaves us yearning for Eminem’s heyday when his raps were more succinct, more ferocious and delivered with a lot more bite than this.