KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The rapper Eminem made some news this week when he showed up on the BET Hip Hop Awards Tuesday night for a performance aimed at a very specific target. For four and a half minutes, Eminem railed against President Trump from every angle - his policies, his looks, his tweets. Eminem called it "The Storm."
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EMINEM: (Rapping) From his endorsement of Bannon, support for the Klansmen, Tiki torches in hand for the soldier that's black and comes home from Iraq and is still told to go back to Africa - fork and a dagger in this racist 94-year-old grandpa who keeps ignoring our past historical, deplorable factors.
MCEVERS: And Rodney Carmichael of NPR Music is with us to talk about this now. Hey there.
RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly. How you doing?
MCEVERS: I'm good. So what did you think when you first heard this?
CARMICHAEL: I mean, I was blown away sitting at home on my couch, like a lot of people. But honestly, like, before we even get to the content, like, the first thing that struck me was the timing of it because, you know, all year we've been hearing these rumors that Eminem might be releasing an album. And honestly, he's been so quiet and so irrelevant in terms of what's happening in rap right now for so long that...
CARMICHAEL: ...Nobody really seemed to care that much. But you know, after this, he obviously has the whole world watching. So...
MCEVERS: So are you suggesting that this was maybe something to get us all talking about him again?
CARMICHAEL: I think you have to look at it that way in some degree. You know, I don't - I wouldn't say that that in any way diminishes the content or what his point and intent was in saying what he had to say. But you know, I think the timing is good. And if he wants to drop an album right now, I think it'll be a good time for that.
MCEVERS: Right, right. I mean, this is what Eminem does though, right? Like, he's taken shots at boy bands, at his ex-wife, even his mom. So I mean, is this really that surprising that he would do this?
CARMICHAEL: Let me tell you why it was surprising to me. It's because you're right. He's always been provocative. But he has never been considered a politically conscious or woke rapper, as we like to say nowadays, right? Like, he's been anything but that. If anything, he's been on the other end of the spectrum in terms of his history of homophobic lyrics and all that kind of outrageous stuff. You know, I mean, he went after President George W. Bush at one point while he was president, but it was really minor compared to this. This is a new lane for Eminem.
MCEVERS: I mean, other rappers have gone after Donald Trump pretty specifically, and it has not - you know, it has not become this big of a deal.
MCEVERS: So I mean, let's just talk about the politics of this a little, right? Eminem is from Michigan, which Trump won. So do you think that's something Eminem's thinking about here?
CARMICHAEL: Well, yeah. He knows exactly what he's doing here. I mean, he knows that there's a lot of overlap between his fan base and Trump's, which to me is why his call-out of his fans is really so significant.
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EMINEM: (Rapping) And any fan of mine who's a supporter of his, I'm drawing in the sand a line. You're either for or against. And if you can't decide who you like more and you're split on who you should stand beside, I'll do it for you with this.
CARMICHAEL: On the flip side, if you look at it, you take a rapper like Macklemore - super popular, huge white fan base, never shied away from challenging his audience like he did last year with the controversial song "White Privilege II."
CARMICHAEL: But last month, he releases a brand new album and decides to stay totally silent on presidential politics and systemic racism and all of this stuff that Eminem is talking about in his rap, which to me just kind of underlines why this is a really big deal for somebody like him to speak out in this way.
MCEVERS: That's NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael. Thank you so much.
CARMICHAEL: Thank you, Kelly.
(SOUNDBITE OF EMINEM SONG, "LOSE YOURSELF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.