Eminem is arguably one of the most respected and well known musicians in hip hop history. Becoming notorious for his heavily explicit content and implementation of controversial topics in his music, Eminem’s rise to fame was largely initiated by the shock-value of his lyrics and the public reaction to them. The Marshall Mathers LP is the 2nd major album released by Eminem, it was released in 2000 by Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records. The Marshall Mathers LP is arguably one of the most controversial albums ever released, yet it still sold 1.76 million copies its first week (Hiatt, 2000). The album was heavily criticized for its misogynistic lyrics, heavy drug referencing, references to gun violence, homophobic slurs, and above all else the impact it would have on the nation’s youth (Mancini, 2000). The album exhibits many sociological concepts going into play and reflects how these concepts are reinforced and exhibited in society.
A content analysis was conducted to analyze the frequency of controversial lyrics in terms of five separate coding categories. For the sake of this analysis, the categories used are counting lyrical references to the mistreatment of women, encouragement of drug abuse, depictions of toxic masculinity, gender construction, and deviancy. The first category analyzed on the album is misogyny. The lyrics of many songs on the album reinforce the idea that women are less than men and the content of the lyrics align perfectly with the ideology of misogyny, which is defined as in sociological standards as, ‘hatred or disdain for women or girls.’ (Weinberg, 2016).
I chose this category because the ideology of misogyny reinforces gender inequality, and Eminem not only presents lyrics that include hate speech against women, he includes lyrics depicting violence against women, such as with songs like, “Kill You” where he says, “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore? ‘Til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?”. Or in “Kim” where he says, “Sit down, bitch! You move again, I’ll beat the shit out of you!”. Any lyrics that indicate disdain or abuse of women, including name calling, physical abuse, and ideologies that disrespect women will be counted for this category.
The second category focused on within The Marshall Mathers LP album is encouragement of drug use. After listening to a few songs on the album, it becomes clear that drug use is a hot topic. There are two different variations of lyrics about drug use on the album, which include songs like, “Who Knew”, where Eminem is directly encouraging others to take drugs with lyrics such as, “Fuck that, take drugs…” or lyrics involving Eminem’s personal use which can influence others as well, such as in, “Under the Influence”, when Eminem says “Two pills I pop, ’til my pupils swell up like two pennies…”. Within this category, any lyrical content involving drugs, drug abuse, or encouragement of drug use are counted.
The third category that is looked at in this content analysis is toxic masculinity. Eminem displays an attitude that demonstrates many aspects of toxic masculinity throughout the album, from braggadocios lyrics about using guns or violence, to lyrics painting a picture of hyper masculinity, such as on the track, “Amittyville”, where Eminem says “we park in front of houses and shoot, and when the police come we fuckin shoot it out with ’em too”. Any instance of lyrics depicting attributes of hyper masculinity including ones that are violent or threatening in nature and ones that aren’t will be counted for this category.
The fourth category analyzed within this content analysis is gender construction. There are many instances on the album where Eminem will make prejudicial slurs based on sexuality against same-sex individuals. He openly says that he hates homosexuals on the album with the track Criminal. His use of derogative terms such as “f*g” on the track, “Who Knew”, and the hate speech that ensues such lyrics demonstrate his homophobic views that reinforce inequality, Eminem repetitively paints the picture that homosexuals are less than that of heterosexuals on the album. For this category, any lyrics depicting gender construction or homophobia will be counted.
One of the most controversial aspects of the album is how Eminem encourages deviancy. Eminem became the scapegoat for deviant behavior after critics and the media analyzed his lyrics and realized individuals were now behaving in ways that reflected the views he expresses in his songs (Mancini, 2000). Eminem mentions his ‘poor role model’ status quite a few times on the album, including in the song, “Who Knew” where he talks about not being able to predict his albums would make kids act out. Although we don’t know for sure how media affects behavior, from a sociological perspective, the differential-association theory developed by Edwin Sutherland that states individuals learn criminalistic behaviors from socialized environments including the media. In which case, Eminem’s explicit content can motivate individuals to behave in ways that mimic Eminem’s lyrics. Thus, reinforcing deviant behavior. For this category, any instance where Eminem is encouraging behaviors that go against society’s norm will be counted.
To accurately represent the frequency of lyrical content pertaining to each category being analyzed, bar graphs were used to demonstrate the data. A separate graph was created for each category, and each category’s graph contains the number of instances where lyrical content correlates to that category for each track. The final graph contains the total frequency counts for each category amongst each song, and gives an overall comparison throughout the album. To maintain more authentic data, repeated lyrics within a song are only counted one time, such as in the hook.
The most frequently occurring theme on the album was deviancy, with one hundred and fifteen lyrical depictions of it. Coming in second was examples of toxic masculinity with one hundred and thirteen examples. The third most common category that was evaluated in this analysis was misogyny, with fifty-two references. Close behind misogyny was references pertaining to drugs with forty-nine depictions. The final category that was evaluated, with the least number of lyrical examples, was gender construction with forty-eight examples within lyrics.
In the first track of The Marshall Mathers LP, “Public Service Announcement 2000”, the few short lines that are presented contain many examples of toxic masculinity, but none from any of the other content categories. In the second track, “Kill You”, deviancy is the most commonly occurring category while gender construction is the least. In the third track, “Stan”, toxic masculinity is the most commonly occurring category while there is only one example of the other four categories. There is not enough lyrical content to analyze the fourth track, which is a skit called, “Paul”, nor the sixth track, which is a skit called, “Steve Berman”.
In the fifth track, “Who Knew”, deviancy is the most common category while encouragement of drug use is the least common. For track seven, “The Way I Am”, lyrics about deviancy occur the most while misogyny occurs the least. In track eight, “The Real Slim Shady”, deviance is the most prevalent theme with eight examples while encouragement of drug abuse is the least prevalent. In track nine, “Remember Me”, the most often occurring category is toxic masculinity while the least is drug abuse. For track ten, “I’m Back”, deviance is the most common occurring category while misogyny and gender construction are tied for the least. In track eleven, “Marshall Mathers”, toxic masculinity is the most common category while drugs are the least common. In track eleven, “Marshall Mathers”, toxic masculinity is the most common category counted while drugs were the least common.
In track twelve, “Ken Kaniff”, gender construction is the only category that is displayed within the lyrics. In track thirteen, “Drug Ballad”, encouragement of drug abuse is the most common category, while gender construction and misogyny are tied for the least. In track fourteen, “Amittyville”, toxic masculinity is the most commonly occurring category while misogyny, drugs, and gender construction are all tied for the least. In track fifteen, “Bitch Please 2”, toxic masculinity is the most frequently occurring category while gender construction is the least. In track sixteen, “Kim”, misogyny is the most common occurring category while drug abuse is the least. In track seventeen, “Under the Influence”, deviance is the most commonly observed category while misogyny is the least. In track eighteen, the final track, “Criminal”, toxic masculinity is the most common category while drug abuse is the least common.
Eminem’s lyrics are filled with deviant content which, is why it is to no surprise that deviancy, toxic masculinity, and misogyny are amongst the top three most commonly occurring categories for analysis throughout the album. Eminem acknowledges the fact that his lyrics are viewed as controversial, and he admits that he tries to say the most messed up things to get a rise out of people in a Rolling Stone interview. It makes perfect sense that he’d use lyrics that paint the picture of a deviant criminal.
Eminem’s lyrics are filled with deviant content which, is why it is to no surprise that deviancy would be the most commonly occurring category to appear on the album. Eminem admitted in a New York Times interview that he tries to say some of the most messed up things just to get a rise out of people, and that what he says on the album doesn’t necessarily reflect how he feels (Soloman, 2010). Knowing that shock value is something Eminem tries to implement into his albums, it makes perfect sense that using his lyrics he’d try to illustrate the theme that he is a deviant criminal who encourages society to do bad things.
It is not surprising that toxic masculinity would be the second most common occurring theme on the album. During this era of Hip-Hop, it was common to observe rappers demonstrating their male bravado in their music, as per Kevin Powell who helped create the documentary Beyond Hip-Hop: Beats and Rhymes (Powell, 2006). However, Eminem takes it a bit further with lyrics that also heavily encourage violence, as well as the use of guns, and the theme that he’s an untouchable gangster-like-killer who is above the law because he’s so powerful, such as in the song Amityville with lyrics “We don’t do drive-bys, we park in front of houses and shoot, and when the police come we fuckin shoot it out with ’em too”. Another theme he uses to maintain this is the emasculation of other men, which he is guilty of on tracks such as Who Knew, where he tells the audience to make fun of men who wear make-up.
Eminem is very notorious for his constant inclusion of misogynistic content in his lyrics. In an interview with the New York Times, he explains the nature behind his misogynistic lyrics by revealing info about the past he’s had with his mom neglecting to take care of him and feeding him full of pills, contributing to his drug habits. Themes on the album such as spousal abuse in the song Kim demonstrate extreme misogyny with lyrics where he calls his own wife a b***h and a slut and he threatens to kill her. While discussing how he came to create the song “Kim” Eminem claims he doesn’t feel the way his music makes him seem, and that he understands how to someone who doesn’t listen to him it may seem like he hates women.
Eminem has a long history with drugs in his music career. The two separate themes seen on this album involving drug use involve instances where Eminem is directly telling others to take drugs, for example in the song Who Knew, Eminem directly says “F**k that, take drugs, rape sluts!”. The second theme involving drugs on the album involves lyrics describing Eminem’s personal abuse such as in the song Under the Influence where he says “two pills I pop till my eyes swell up like two pennies.”. Eminem was heavily involved with drugs during this era in his music career. Rolling Stone even mentions how he took a few tabs of ecstasy during an interview with them back in 1999 (Bozza, 1999).
In the last category, gender construction, a common theme Eminem portrays in his music is having homophobic views as his alter ego Slim Shady. Eminem refers to homosexuals as “f***ts” numerous times throughout the album which has led to him receiving numerous complaints from the LGBTQ community over the homophobic content within his songs. He even has a skit on the album portraying his rivals, ICP, as homosexuals performing fellatio on a fictional male character. Such lyrics demonstrate his homophobic views which in turn reinforce inequality in society.
Sociological Perspective & Analysis
The response to The Marshall Mathers LP marked the turning point in Eminem’s career where he was just starting to gain rise to fame, before the album’s release, Eminem’s musical content referenced his poor upbringing from an impoverished home, and how he faced inequality throughout his life and in the music industry trying to make it big as a white artist. For these reasons, I found it best to use a conflict perspective in analyzing this album. The content of the album correlates to behavior and attitudes expressed from a perspective that is experiencing a power struggle, indicated by the guise of lyrics demonstrating deviant behavior, hyper masculinity, the mention of drug abuse and a poor upbringing, and other indicators of inequality from the oppressed lower class society Eminem grew up in (Fitzpatrick, 2016).
Eminem also plays on the changing attitudes of society towards subjects like same sex marriages, which society at one time did not agree with, but now is defending as Eminem insults it, as well as the idea of male superiority which is clearly no longer the case as now society views individuals with those views as misogynist, which is the image Eminem creates of himself in his alter ego Slim Shady. Eminem also references drug abuse in various ways throughout the record, including speaking on his own personal drug abuse. He also mentions the fact his mom used drugs and normalized the behavior in their home, which using a conflict perspective delves into the idea of an inequality between lower and upper class families that can attribute to such deviant behaviors.
Although Eminem is simply expressing himself and the way his life has been, his lyrical content still is met with such criticism due to the affect it may have on society. Although there is no scientific evidence of the exact effect media influence has on society, from a sociological perspective, the differential-association theory developed by Edwin Sutherland states individuals learn criminal behaviors from socialized environments including the media. In which case, Eminem’s explicit content can motivate individuals to behave in ways that mimic Eminem’s lyrics. Thus, reinforcing deviant behavior, such as the behaviors associated with drug abuse, misogyny, and hyper-masculinity.
The Marshall Mathers LP is widely known as one of the most controversial Hip-Hop albums ever. The controversy brought by the album helped bring many societal issues to light, even if Eminem may or may not have intended them to be, and using sociological perspectives allows one to understand the implications such content can have on society when individuals are exposed to such content. By analyzing Eminem’s album, one can understand how sociological perspectives can be used to critically evaluate content and the affect it has on the society at large, as well as how society contributes to the content spoken of within the album.
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