Call it a comeback. After years of absence from the spotlight, Eminem returned to relevance last night with a fierce lyrical condemnation of President Donald Trump.
Delivered during the “BET Hip Hop Awards,” his a cappella verse — pre-recorded 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 the slow response following the storm in Puerto Rico and failure to address gun control in the wake of 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 accept well-timed awards — who has now held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 100 for longer than any female rapper in history — 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 further 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 U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in 1994.
Luther 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 Colin 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.