Do you remember the first time you heard Eminem rap about torturing and killing his daughter's mom?
I do. I was 13 and Em had just come up, because there was no missing a white Midwestern rapper if you grew up in a place like Bismarck, North Dakota in the 1990s.
It was hard not to idolize him: street cred from the get-go, a trailer park kid making millions, then lifting up non-white friends to get them paid too. Kid even acknowledged his privilege, writing about how he knew he had it better and easier than anyone around him because he was white and cute and straight and funny.
The homophobia rubbed me wrong, but back then you couldn’t swing a dead blunt without hitting 10 punchlines with gay slurs, so... I let him get away with it.
And the "I'm gonna kill Kim" shit was funny to me too when I was 13. Wit, wordplay, and a frightening plot line I could follow, where the hero is a damaged straight young white man, and the villain is a woman who loves him.
If Em hated anyone more than Kim it was his own mom, for daring to be poor and still having a kid, and for her issues—with mental health, with substances, with men.
Women, right? Fuck 'em.
At this time, around 1999, Bill Clinton was my president, and was about to become the most popular one in my lifetime, according to, like, math. Maybe the most influential liberal economist in the world was this French guy, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the most influential movie producer, this gruff New Yorker named Harvey Weinstein, greenlit projects that were very important to me.
What can I say, other than that today I'm pretty sorry I lived through that and didn’t know more. It was the ’90s. Guys like Eminem could be your idols. They insisted on it even.
At long last, some are dying off. If a young man like that came out today, no one would laugh off any of the Eminem songs I listened to hundreds of times in my adolescence. Men who want to tell stories like that, joking about killing a woman who stressed you out, are getting driven out of every creative industry, and fast.
I'm 32 now, and we're grown up. Working on it, anyway.
And then, last week, one of my childhood idols got his soul snatched by some creature that looks like a rejected Avatar character, eating what appears to be a bowl of cereal while standing in the middle of a nowhere street in Cleveland.
There's already been more debate than we need about MGK vs. Eminem. Take your cues from other, smarter people than me on style points, on which of these two dudes’ lines roasted the others’ better.
"Rap Devil" ain't a feminist anthem. (No song is when you ring the bell on "taking" your rival's woman, like she’s a purse to be snatched.) MGK certainly didn't #metoo Eminem.
Fine then. I will.
Not till I was 27 did I figure out the reason women in the Wedge neighborhood were crossing to the other side of streets at night, even if I was distracted or blackout drunk (reader, sometimes I was), was because they worried mine was the last face they'd ever see in this life.
That I sometimes look a little like a dude who might be about to tell you about his rap album likely did not ease their fear.
And I. Know. Why.
I understand Eminem has clapped right back, and now we're all pumped, and divided, because drama draws out character, and because it’s fun—hey, one of these guys could get jumped in the street, or in a hotel lobby, or even gunned down in his car!
Exciting, enmity, innit?
But I don't listen to Eminem anymore, not one bar, which 13-year-old me would never have seen coming. And I'm not embedding his YouTube in this blog. Good luck getting better at living in this world, Em.
Because I'm busying myself with some other shit in my life. Staying up late and texting women I know to make sure their Lyft driver isn’t trying to follow them into their house without permission ("it's OK," I say, "just stay on the phone with me for a minute so he knows you're not alone") or apologizing for asking someone out on a date in a moment when I had professional influence on her career and didn't do that kind of math at that time. (She said no; we're still friends.) Or texting women I worked with in my 20s and asking "What was it like being around me? Did you think I bullied people?"
It's heady shit. It's hard. But now's the time to ask those questions, politely, and cut out the people who won't.
Point is, I've got some work to do, and thinking about Eminem's boyish emotional life is no longer part of it.
The wheel turns. Some successful men get scared of the generation coming behind them because they dress funny, and talk in code, and all have strong marijuana in their vape pens, and ask consent, and eat ass. It's weird out here. Sorry not sorry? Try to be brave, or open about it. Adapt or retire.
The Bismarck white boy I was when growing up would've been inclined to support Eminem in this beef. The Minneapolis weirdo I've grown into just wants the Real Slim Shady to please sit down and please be quiet, please.
As a man approaching his 40s Eminem (or whichever Hallmark card retiree writes lines like this for him) rapped: "I'm not afraid," and "Everybody come take my hand."
Yeah, cool. But, Em? Some people are afraid. And your hand is not what they're missing in life. They're women who can’t get by on their own, not yet, the kind you gave cover to a generation of men to treat like shit. Or murder, if they bugged you or turned you down for sex.
Back when I was a small town white boy listening to songs like "'97 Bonnie & Clyde," about a man pulling the body of someone that loved him toward a lake, I was writing lines like "I am bored and boring," which was true then. But now that I'm mature and living in a city and have been through some real shit I want to write realer lines, like: I am a little scared and a little scary. All men are.
I was trying to narrow in on an ethos this past weekend, while I kept watching Machine Gun Kelly shred my boyhood God, and I think it's: Don't kill women. And/or: Maybe don't make tens of millions of dollars off joking about it. Apologize.
MGK does all the traditional beef stuff well, fucks Em right up over his voice, his affectations, his beard, those dreadful outfits, his room-temperature, cheesy self-importance.
But there's more to this story. This is about selfishness.
Should Machine Gun Kelly have mentioned Eminem's daughter by name? Maybe not. But I bet he wouldn't have if Eminem hadn't used recordings of his daughter's voice in his songs, while also rhyming about killing her mother and then scoring him some strange pussy to replace the woman he'd just murdered.
When I was 13 my life was filled with great women who I loved, and at the time I took every single one of them for granted, and let some poseur convince me being witty and a good storyteller was enough to let you get away with murder. And it’s really not.
I'm learning there are (at least) two kinds of charm in this world, and one of them is dark, the kind that convinces a woman to follow a man even if she's a little afraid of one day winding up in the trunk of his car. And I'm off scenes like that these days, unless they have a twist ending and the only character who dies is the man driving the car.
I would say Machine Gun Kelly just killed Eminem for me. But if you ever gave a single real fuck about a woman in your life, Eminem's been dead to you for years.