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Marshall Mathers became a megastar by partly tapping into the same disaffected white rage later mobilised by the ‘alt-right’. But the rapper has made it clear he doesn’t want to share fans with the president. With a new album out soon, can he prosper in an age of conscious protest?
October’s 2017 BET Hip-Hop Awards were a big night for Cardi B, DJ Khaled and Kendrick Lamar. Between them, they more or less swept the board: Cardi B took home five gongs, Khaled and Kendrick three each. But the night’s big story, at least as far as most news outlets were concerned, was The Storm, a “cypher” freestyle filmed specially for the event by Eminem: four minutes of beatless invective aimed at Donald Trump that variously took in immigration, corruption, gun control, white supremacy and the NFL controversy, rapturously received by everyone from J Cole to Snoop Dogg.
It’s a long time since Eminem has garnered those kinds of headlines. He has never stopped shifting millions of albums – 2009’s Relapse and 2010’s Recovery are among the biggest-selling albums of the century so far – and he’s still a big enough star to pull in special guests such as Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran for his latest album, Revival, out next week. Sales aside, his position as a kind of cultural locus – an artist who, in 2002 alone, was apparently discussed 153 times in the pages of the New York Times – has long since faded, perhaps to his relief. And yet, here he was again, the night’s biggest story, being debated everywhere from Fox News to Fortune magazine.