Prior to the lines, the rapper opened the track saying, “You know, everybody’s been telling me what they think about me for the last few months, maybe it’s time I tell them what I think about them.” Combined, many think that the shots at Tyler come as a direct response to tweets from Tyler about Eminem’s “Walk on Water.” When that track came out, the rapper posted “dear god this song is horrible, sheesh how the fuck.” That November 2017 critique has now been responded to in kind.
Criticisms have arisen with Eminem’s lyrics, specifically around his insinuation of the word f----t, widely agreed upon as a slur towards gay men. The criticism is not a new one, as the rapper has used it for almost two decades at least—bleeping the word out sonically when everyone understands what’s intended does little to lessen the impact. When questioned about homophobia in the past, Eminem has pushed back, notably in 2013, when he told Rolling Stone: “Those kind of words, when I came up battle-rappin’ or whatever, I never equated those words [with being gay]... It was more like calling someone a bitch or a punk or asshole.” Others, namely Elton John, have come forward to his defense, saying he’s not homophobic.
Fans have similarly flocked to Twitter today, pushing back against accusations of homophobia by pointing out that Eminem was quoting Tyler, who has his own extended history of using the word.
In the past, Tyler has used and come under fire for using f----t to refer to himself, those around him and others, sometimes in disparaging ways. On his song “Fuck It” he calls his boyfriend a “f-g,” and on “Smuckers” he also calls himself a f----t. But when he’s weaponized that word against others, his lyrics found him posed against the likes of GLAAD, Tegan and Sara as well as U.K. prime minister Theresa May, the latter of whom banned Tyler from the country because she said his lyrics encouraged “intolerance of homosexuality.” Much of that criticism abated after Tyler’s latest album, which many took as his coming out as a queer artist.
Before that, Tyler defended anyone’s right to say f----t in an interview with Arsenio Hall from 2013. “That’s just a word, you can take the power out of that word,” he said. “The way that I see things, it’s you that chose to be offended if you care about stuff like that.” He went on to say when he uses the word it is not related to sexual orientation. The ideas almost mirror’s Eminem’s statements -- but none of that actually tracks.
Words mean things. Every slur and derogatory word, is built on a hierarchy, demeaning others by labeling them as lesser than. Put simply: you call someone retarded because the ideal is to be able-bodied and of a sound mind. Even if the person is those things, you might use that term to in someway insult them, putting them in a category society has deemed as undesirable. "B---h" is an insult because of misogyny. It’s a statement that women are lesser than and even when used on a man, you are putting him in the same category as a woman. And as such is an insult. It’s the same way that f----t is used.
Though it can be used towards anyone, using "f----t" as an insult pulls upon this same thread of the ideal and the undesirables. Here, being gay is the insult, it is the undesirable thing. It is the thing that can be considered degrading. While some claim that Eminem is simply repeating what Tyler has already called himself, he does so in a completely different context that rearranges the power dynamics. This is not Tyler labeling himself as who he is, taking on that descriptor, this is someone attempting to use it as a scarlet letter. And that is an issue.
As we’ve seen with the recent wave of social media “cancelings,” after past tweets from the likes of Doja Cat have surfaced, statements made by public figures have public reactions -- as they should. When people in the spotlight reinforce or put forward ideas that marginalize, or discriminate against groups of people, it can embolden others to repeat those statements and others like it. Using "f----t" as an insult to Tyler might not make him feel insulted but for those listening, it stigmatizes queerness, possibly stoking ideas in gay fans that their sexuality is something to be ashamed of, less than ideal.
Hip-hop and rap does not get a carte blanche or any sort of protected status when it comes to these sorts of discussions. The idea that listeners are too “soft” for critiquing the ways in which rappers weaponize the identities of others against them ignores how much these industries are both a reflection and arbiter of culture. And it’s time that they be treated as such. If Doja Cat, Azealia Banks and various others are going to be taken to task and penalized for these types of statements, it’s beyond time that we hold our favorite veteran rappers to the same standards.