Eminem's Hip Hop Awards Performance Sucked, But Here's What You Can Do With It

(This post began HERE.)

Earlier this week, social media networks were filled with video clips of Marshall Mathers, bka Eminem, delivering four minutes of relatively scathing bars critiquing 45, aka Donald Trump. 

I missed the BET Hip Hop Awards (that's a stretch, but how can you miss something you probably would not have watched anyway?), but I was excited to hear Eminem spit because despite all critics, The Real Slim Shady can spit. 

I pulled up the video while waiting in the airport anticipating classic bars like "OOPS. POW. SURPRISE." Instead, I listened to four minutes of rhyming anti-Trump rhetoric that did nothing to me politically or lyrically. Disappointed is probably the nicest thing I could say.


Eminem's career at best has demonstrated his artistic capacity to mimic traditionally accepted ideas of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and rape culture through rhymes over beats. I do not consider myself what one may call a "true hip hop head" but because Joan Morgan freed us in When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost, I am completely fine with knowing all the lyrics to many songs and also calling out where systemic oppression meets idealized notions of race, class, gender and sexuality in hip hop. 

Let's be real, Em's classic performance was with Yasiin Bey in 2009 and that verse contained bars that said...

My dick is so big if I add another inch to it,
You would swear when I rape you that you were actually into it.

and continued with

Mail a gift to Taylor Swift's trailer, a picture of my genitalia,
with a note sayin bitch I can't wait to nail ya.

The most scathing lyrics in the 2017 performance were (I struggled to really find anything as piercing as those from 2009...)

Racism's the only thing he's fantastic for 'Cause that's how he gets his f**king rocks off and he's orange

Eminem is known for his ability to story tell using rhyme, creating vivid and usually dark and violent images with each 16. Listening to his latest performance, I was underwhelmed. Here he was, a white man with access to wealth and a public stage, who has the talent and the following to dictate a narrative that could actually be adopted to the most politically apathetic group of people and he delivers warm milk instead of hot bars???

My criticism of the performance aside, I received an email that noted how young people might be talking about this performance in their classes the next day. I considered the ways in which most teachers who are not thoroughly engaged in how music informs the learning experience, especially for Black children, are ill-equipped for actually using this moment as a learning opportunity. More importantly, if music (beats and rhythms) and rhyme (lyrics and flow) are not incorporated into your learning spaces for Black children, you are not doing your best work as an educator. You are not being culturally responsive. You are not giving students the best opportunity for them to thrive in the learning space. You are not doing your job.

For this performance, since everyone is talking about it, I suggest getting the lyrics out and...

ENGLISH - talk about cadence and rhyme or about the structure of an argument or about word choice...the possibilities are endless!

SOCIAL STUDIES - do we know all the current affairs he's referencing?

MATH - syllables and beats are all about fractions that add up to 16!

SCIENCE - identify the scientific principles Eminem brings up in this verse!

PHYSICAL EDUCATION - Can you stomp this beat out? Can you stomp the beat while I stomp the lyrics?

To help you and your colleagues, here are five things that you CAN DO to better integrate the fundamentals of creativity used in hip hop and rap music genres into your classroom:

1) Recognize the true power music has in young people's lives. If I had a nickel for every time a teacher or administrator asked a student to take their headphones out of their ears, I wouldn't owe Sallie Mae a daggone thing. Music is influential...music is defining an era or generation and if we do not recognize that we are missing a critical opportunity. 

2) Listen to the music young people are listening to without judgement FIRST. In community organizing work, we are always told that you need to meet people where they are and then give them the tools necessary to see where they should go. There is no way a young person will be willing to respect your integration of hip hop and rap into their learning without knowing that you actually gave what they are listening to a chance. A good critique can only come from authentically engaging in the discourse. You can dismiss a song, an album, or a genre without listening to it...with guidance from experts...WHICH IN THIS CASE ARE THE YOUNG PEOPLE YOU ARE WORKING WITH!

Speaking of, have you heard this? 


3) Give students opportunities to use music as they learn. There are some amazing examples out there. Check out some of my favorites. 

4) Practice music making in your personal learning journey. This takes work. What is all the rage in education right now are "professional learning communities". However, where can the professional learning community actually take you if it is not a space for you to test out teaching and learning experiences that challenge your own creativity, spontaneity and rigor? A teacher of Black children, cannot say "that's not my style" and abandon an opportunity to make student engagement and learning a priority in the classroom. That's not good teaching. 


5) Be humble. Young people have a deeper working knowledge of many things that their teachers cannot even begin to fathom. When an educator recognizes the ability to share power within the classroom so that students can demonstrate their abilities, authentic relationships are created, which is fundamental for student achievement and success beyond the classroom. It takes a level of self-awareness and humility to challenge the status quo of teacher-student relationships -- especially those that are arranged based on "I'm the teacher" / "You're the student" paradigms. Humble yourself, give up some of that power, let student's shine!


Akom, A. A. (2009). Critical hip hop pedagogy as a form of liberatory praxis. Equity & Excellence in Education42(1), 52-66.

Prier, D. D. (2012). Culturally Relevant Teaching: Hip-Hop Pedagogy in Urban Schools. Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education. Volume 396. Peter Lang New York. 29 Broadway 18th Floor, New York, NY 10006.

Hill, M. L. (2009). Beats, rhymes, and classroom life: Hip-hop pedagogy and the politics of identity. Teachers College Press.

Rodríguez, L. F. (2009). Dialoguing, cultural capital, and student engagement: Toward a hip hop pedagogy in the high school and university classroom. Equity & Excellence in Education42(1), 20-35.


Monique Liston