Eminem’s Subversion of Negative African American Stereotypes in Gangsta Rap

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While Gangsta rap is a method for African Americans to protest against the discrimination they face due to the negative stereotypes formed around them, it paradoxically reinforces the “gangsta” stereotype through the frequent use of vulgarities and themes that are considered criminal or offensive to discuss in real life, such as drugs, racism and sex (Canton, D. A., 2006). White Americans’ misinterpretation of lyrics is the main cause of this controversy (Campbell, K., E., 2007). Despite Gangsta Rap being the communication of the daily struggles of African-Americans, White Americans interpret it as vulgar, corrupting, furthering discrimination of the former.

Eminem is a White American Rapper, who began his career during the golden age of Gangsta Rap, in the early 1990s (Caramanica, J. 2005). Eminem was raised within and supports a “mainstream Christian value system” (Dallam, M., W., 2007). Despite this, he is still considered influential in Gangsta rap, and his White American Christian view on morals is unique in the Gangsta Rap world, where stereotyped Afro-Americans rap . Yet, he also exhibits heavy Afro-American influences in his songs (Boyd, T. 2009). This research believes that Eminem’s position as a White American allows him insight into the White American society, allowing him to comment on White society fairly.

However, his upbringing and Afro-American influences give him deep insight into the nature of Afro-American Culture, allowing him to sympathize with and be relevant to Afro-American society. Thus, he has a unique position as an White influential figure who intentionally acts out afro-american stereotypes. Being White-skinned, he legitimises his opinion on White discrimination, as a White American who acts out Afro-American stereotypes. We will examine Gangsta rap’s impacts on American Society, as well as find limitations due to the lack of analysis of White-American rap, specifically how Eminem subverts Afro-American stereotypes to critique White Americans.

The Paradoxical Nature of Gangsta Rap in representing Afro-Americans

In the article by Canton, D. A. (2006), he mentions that there are “numerous controversies in hip-hop music”, such as racial epithets and criminal behaviour. These controversies affect the way the White Americans view Gangsta Rap. Quinn, M. (1996) also affirms that it has become standard practice for television news and other news sources to make a connection between rap and crime. Hence, Gangsta rap culture encourages White Americans to link violence and crime to Afro-Americans due to the lyrical content.

However, Gangsta Rap is a form of expression for African Americans, to depict the struggles and oppression their face in their daily lives. Quinn, M.states that rap music is easily theorized in terms of resistance, for it is based on urban black culture. In other words, Gangsta rap is easily interpreted as a medium for Afro-Americans to voice out their frustrations against oppression they face from White Americans.

One example of this paradoxical nature in “F*** tha Police”(N.W.A., 2000)

“F*** the police! Comin’ straight from the underground

A young n*gga got it bad ‘cause I’m brown

And not the other color, so police think

They have the authority to kill a minority”

In this lyric, Ice Cube says he “got it bad” because he’s “brown.” This is a reference to his skin colour, which makes him a minority in the predominantly White American society, and how his skin makes him a target for police brutality. In fact, “F— tha Police” takes the form of a trial against the LAPD, with N.W.A. mocking the prejudiced justice system, while depicting the LAPD as criminals. The song is about the police brutality and racial profiling present during this era. However, the song was perceived as an expression of violent tendencies towards White Americans, due to the violent content and target audience of the song, while the young black members of N.W.A exacerbated the situation as they fit the young, violent Black stereotype.

Additionally, the LAPD were a large government authority. Through this song, N.W.A encountered a legality problem, as they were insulting governmental authority, leading to the FBI sending a letter to Priority Records, which claimed that N.W.A “encourages violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement officer.” (Hochman, S. 1989). While the police hate during this era was noticeable, it was underlying, as no one had the courage to say it in public, until N.W.A’s release. Thus, Ice Cube’s first, hard hitting line at the LAPD comes “straight from the underground.”

By exploding the media’s representation of young black males as gang members, N.W.A. inverts a power relation in which whites are on top and blacks on the bottom, transforming it into one in which White Americans fear Afro-Americans.

The song was created during the 1990s, a period of racial tension in America. Racial profiling and discrimination reached a fever-pitch in the late-80s after the emergence of crack in 1986, and the formation of Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (Sterling, E. E. 1997). Through the song, N.W.A protests against the blatant police brutality faced by African Americans. The violent, vulgar imagery and insults are present throughout the whole song, resulting in the perception of the song as violent.

Through this conflicting nature of Gangsta Rap causing White Americans to misunderstand the content of Gangsta Rap, our research seeks to look and research the unmentioned cultural solutions.

The Failure of Intercultural Integration of Gangsta Rap

There have been many attempts to allow Gangsta Rap to be integrated in mainstream media. This was to allow Afro-Americans to have a voice in society, emphasizing a fresh pursuit of individuality and self-expression (McNulty-Finn, C. 2014). However, none of them were effective. Rap has become increasingly prominent in mainstream media, with magazines like The Source becoming more popular (Quinn, M., 1996). However, the integration of Gangsta Rap been flawed and ineffective. By linking rap with crime, it has made people take notice of rap, but reaffirmed the idea that Gangsta Rap promotes crime.

Another ineffective method is censorship of lyrics. Censorship makes songs appropriate for children with the removal of vulgar content. Rap is unable to reach out to youth, and cannot expose them to sensitive topics in society such as racism. (Campbell, K. E., 2007) Censorship causes gangsta rap to lose its main message and reduce the song’s impact.

The whitewashing of Gangsta Rap is usually ineffective. Afro-American rappers are able to rap about the “ghetto life”, as they are the ones that experienced it (Campbell, K. E., 2007). Vanilla Ice, a white rapper, was looking for fame and fortune. He claimed to be raised “on the streets of Miami”, in an attempt to expand his audience, a claim that was quickly debunked (Bernard, J. 1991). His songs only focus on the controversies, such as sex, women, and expensive cars. This causes his songs to lose Gangsta rap’s true meaning.

For example, in “Ice Ice Baby”(Winkle, V. 2000)

“Police on the scene you know what I mean

They passed me up confronted all the dope fiends”

While many rappers of that era documented the tensions between black youth and police, Vanilla Ice, being white, never had to worry about being policed. Hence, the police “passed [him] up”, ignoring him as a suspect for drug abuse, hence “dope fiends”.

Vanilla Ice shows why Gangsta Rap is thought to be Afro-American music. The “ghetto life” associated with Gangsta Rap is usually only experienced by Afro-Americans, hence it would make sense that most Gangsta Rappers would be Afro-American. A White American had never truly experienced the “ghetto life”, hence they could never be a truly respectable Gangsta Rapper.

By understanding why the aforementioned methods failed, we can see how Eminem is effective. The above methods do not convey the entirety of Gangsta Rap, instead narrowing to focus on the controversial side of Gangsta Rap. However, Eminem is able to bring the entirety of Gangsta Rap culture to everyone, while disproving Afro-American stereotypes.

Eminem’s Relevance to Gangsta Rap Popular Culture and White Culture

In that sense, Eminem is an exception to the norm. He has first-hand experience of oppression towards Afro-Americans, as he spent his childhood in Detroit, and his closest friends were Afro-American (Bozza, A. 2010). He is unique as he was one far removed from middle-class privilege or entitlement. It encompasses not only the lived experience of the poor working class, but also blackness, the experiences of his upbringing gave Eminem those indispensable qualities: authenticity.

Eminem has been accused of stealing Afro-American culture for his own profit, while mocking Afro-American struggles by claiming he has undergone similar experiences. On the other hand, the White American community blamed him for corrupting their children with graphic references to contentious themes. (Dallam, M. W., 2007) However, he embraces this criticism to further build up his image.

For example, in “Without Me (Mathers, M. 2000)

“I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley

To do black music so selfishly

And use it to get myself wealthy”

Elvis Presley, like many white musicians of his time, has been accused of incorporating (or stealing), elements of black music and selling it to the masses, making millions off of it in the process. The comparison between him and Elvis emphasizes his fame and influence in society, while reminding everyone that, like Elvis, he took a black cultural product and sold it to a predominantly White audience, opening the door for rap into the White community, building up rap’s image.

Yet, Eminem does not face opposition from the Gangsta Rap community, and is often embraced as a legitimate figure of Gangsta Rap (Boyd, T. 2009). He garners respect from Afro-American peers as he does not disassociate himself from Afro-American culture, and “bows down accordingly”, paying homage to his Afro-American influences. For example, in “Till I Collapse” (Mathers, M. 2000)

“I got a list, here’s the order of my list that it’s in;

It goes, Reggie, Jay-Z, Tupac and Biggie

Andre from Outkast, Jada, Kurupt, Nas and then me”

He lists out famous Afro-American rappers as his childhood inspirations, acknowledging their impact on his career and musical style, paying homage to them. He also places himself behind numerous Afro-American artists, at the bottom of his extensive list, indicating that he understands the influences of these artists before him and is humble enough to acknowledge that they have done more for rap than he has, according them respect. Additionally, his concerts and associated acts heavily feature Afro-American artists, while he has publicly acknowledged his mentor Dr. Dre many times, an Afro-American. He was also a part of D12, a rap group made up of Afro-Americans.

He has also helped build up rising stars in the rap scene, most notably Afro-American rapper 50 Cent. In his recent album Kamikaze, he gave his own opinions on the current rap culture, and hit back at his critics.

For example, in “The Ringer” (Mathers, M. 2018)

“So finger-bang, chicken wang, MGK, Iggy ‘Zae

Lil’ Pump, Lil’ Xan imitate Lil’ Wayne

I should aim at everybody in the game, pick a name”

He criticizes the current climate of rap, expressing his contempt towards mumble rap especially. Mumble rap focuses more on making beats and sounds over actual wordplay, hence it does not focus on political topics like racism, rather simpler topics such as showing off one’s wealth. (Deven, J. 2018). In these lines, he mocks the flow of Lil’ Pump’s smash hit “Gucci Gang”, pairing it with the nonsensical rhyme of “finger-bang” and “chicken wang”, to demonstrate the lack of lyricism and meaning of the mumble rap generation, giving rap culture a bad reputation. He also mocks their blatant mimicry of Lil’ Wayne’s name, since both of their names model after him. This violent mockery of white rappers, with the listing of multiple white rappers, shows Eminem’s passionate antagonistic view towards White American’s attempt to incorporate Afro-American culture into their own style of rap.

Eminem is the bridge between White culture and Gangsta rap, as he is a White American with Afro-American experiences and influences. Eminem is able to speak to the White community without the negative stereotypes of an Afro-American rapper, making the messages discussed more serious, while identifying the problems within White American society. His own White American “view” of the world allows him to communicate problems with Afro-American treatment to allow the White community to understand, making messages more effective. (Dallam, M. W., 2007)

For example, in “Untouchable” (Mathers, M. 2000)

“As Dallas overshadows the battle for Black Lives Matter

We fight back with violence but acts like that are

Black eyes on the movement

Which makes black lives madder

At cops and cops madder

That’s why it’s at a stalemate”

Eminem references the shooting of 14 Dallas police officers which occured at the end of a Black Lives Matter movement, which resulted in the death of 5 police officers (Young, S. 2016). Even though Em criticizes the police on this track, he refuses to condone acts of violence towards them, with incidents such as the Dallas shooting allowing the opposition to condemn the movement, which gets in the way of the movement reaching its goals. Eminem cleverly refers to this conflict as a “stalemate.” In chess, a stalemate refers to a draw, in which there is no winner, much like this conflict between White and Afro-Americans. Additionally, chess pieces are also black and white, making this a clever comparison.

For example, in “Untouchable” (Mathers, M. 2000)

“Seems like the average lifespan of a white man

Is more than twice than a black life span

I wonder sometimes if it has a price scanner

I feel like checking out on life, can’t escape this circumstance”

The reference to a “price scanner” impresses upon the idea of a black male questioning the value of his own life. He comes to the conclusion that in comparison to his fellow white citizens, he has been “checked out” at lesser value, with a white man’s life worth “twice” a black man’s, and comtemplates “checking out” of life, in other words suicide. Through this lyric, Eminem raps from an Afro-American perspective, effectively showing how Afro-Americans are frequently pressured by a predominantly White society.

Eminem’s relevance to both White American and Afro-American culture, allows him to effectively convey messages in his songs through the subversion of negative stereotypes.

How Eminem Exposes How White Culture is as violent as Afro-American society

Gangsta rap is a medium in which Afro-Americans voice out their struggles. However, White Americans often associate the overly coarse language and vulgar themes to form negative, inferior stereotypes of Afro-Americans. However, Eminem demonstrates how both races are of equal standing. He unveils problems in White society which White Americans accuse Afro-Americans of, showing that they mirror those in Afro-American society and are hence equally flawed. In doing so, Eminem undermines White Americans’ justification for Afro-American criticism. He describes flaws in the White community through his lyrics, such as “97’ Bonnie & Clyde” and “White America”. 97’ Bonnie & Clyde is a song about Eminem murdering his wife. The title of the song is a reference to Bonnie and Clyde, an infamous couple of outlaws. This reference reminds others that the White community is not the “Perfecttown” that it was portrayed as (Campbell, K. E., 2007). The imagery of Eminem killing his wife, and playing with his daughter shortly after shows the duality of White culture. While White culture is perceived as a flawless society, with ideal citizens, the undiscerned dark side of White society is revealed, and the censorship is shown through Eminem’s quick shift, through his declaration that:

Dada made a nice bed for Mommy at the bottom of the lake.

This sentence is a depiction of “whitewashing” of White American crimes, as Afro-American crimes are focused on, while White American crimes are glossed over.

From this, we can see that Eminem’s subverts Afro-American stereotypes and links it back with White American society by making White Americans the subject of the stereotype. This points out issues in White society, bringing White Americans equal with Afro-Americans, undermining their justification for discrimination towards Afro-Americans.

Another example of how Eminem uses his lyrical controversies and stereotypes bring White Americans down to the level of Afro-Americans is in “Guilty Conscience” (Mathers, M. 1999)

In the music video, Eminem and Dr. Dre are portrayed as the inner voices of people in the songs. However, Eminem, a White American, is portrayed as “Evil” while Dr. Dre, an Afro-American, is portrayed as “Good”. Throughout the video, Eminem acts spastically, erratically, to reflect a person’s more uncontrollable, insane mind, the part which tells them to make the “immoral” decision. As we can see in the image, Eminem is portrayed as the confrontational White person, aggressively prodding Grady to murder his wife for cheating. For example, Eminem raps “F*** slittin’ her throat, cut this b*tch’s head off!”, in an attempt to convince Grady to murder his cheating wife. In contrast, Dr. Dre, or “Good”, is calm and collected, rapping at a slower, calmer pace, reflecting the rational part of a person’s mind. An example of this is when he tries to reason with Grady’s justifiable anger, when he says,”But think about the baby before you become all crazy”. There are 3 different scenarios in the music video. “Good” wins the first scenario while “Evil” wins the second. In the third scenario, “Evil” not only wins, he manages to turn “Good” evil as well. The inversion from White American’s perception of White as “Good” which is tainted by the Afro-American evil shows the difference in Eminem’s perspective. He perceives that being White or Afro-American has no correlation to “Good” or “Evil”.

White America by Eminem was one of Eminem’s songs which addressed issues that Afro-Americans face, especially racial profiling and police brutality.

In White America, he raps:

“So now I’m catchin’ the flak from these activists when they raggin’

Actin’ like I’m the first rapper to smack a b*tch or say ‘f*ggot,’ shit

Just look at me like I’m your closest pal

The poster child, the motherf*ckin’ spokesman now, for—”

In these lyrics, Eminem describes how critics didn’t protest when other Afro-American rappers acted homophobic and misogynistic. When other rap songs such as Straight Outta Compton dissed women with lyrics such as “I’ma call you a bitch or dirty-ass ho”, critics such as The Guardian blamed him for the spread of such controversial topics among the youths in White American society.

This screenshot from Eminem’s music video shows Eminem’c mockery of biases in government, as well as the corruption in public authority figures. This confirms Eminem’s relevance with the Afro-American society, as he is able to comment on the blatant censorship in the USA. In Eminem’s music video, there are many graphic images of offences which are considered criminal in society, such as graffiti, gangs and drug abuse. However, the only scene censored with a parental advisory sticker is of an Afro-American being physically abused by the police. This reflects how the government in covers up blatantly racist acts which are carried out by their supposed upholders of the law.() Even a lynch mob is featured in the video, with no censorship whatsoever. Through the use of increasingly violent and psychedelic imagery in the music video, Eminem emphasizes the government’s intentional ignorance of White brutality towards Afro-Americans.

How Eminem’s lyrics exposes the stereotypical nature of White Americans

The lyrics of Eminem’s songs often show the stereotypes Afro-Americans face from White Americans. Eminem subverts these stereotypes in his song. In “Ole Foolish Pride”, he records,“Black girls only want your money ’cause they’re dumb chicks”. Eminem uses the common stereotype that black women are “gold diggers”. This quote is also supported by “So get outta here, ‘cause I don’t need your ass.’

Eminem tries to show that White Americans tend to think of a black woman who loves someone as “Gold-diggers’, his songs are also widely agreed by fellow Americans, and is a sense, Enimen is promoting the fact that White Americans tend to have a stereotypical nature, and also showing that him, also a White American, has a stereotypical nature towards Black Americans. Another quote in the song shows the immense hatred towards Afro Americans, especially the women. Everytime he says ‘black girl’ the next time will say ‘wack girl’, and tries to say that all Black women are gold diggers, and mentions them dating you to take your money repetitively in the song.

Eminem also describes how an Afro-American trust in his abilities was what led him to his popularity, rather than a White American helping him to the top. Before getting signed by Dr. Dre, Eminem had been rejected by a few labels, mainly due to the fact that he was white, as well as his dismissal from FBT Productions. However, Dr. Dre trusted his abilities and mentored him, bringing him to the top and enabling him to start his career.

This can be inferred from Eminem’s lyrics in “I Need a Doctor” (Dr. Dre, 2011)

“It was you who believed in me when everyone was tellin’ you

Don’t sign me, everyone at the f***in’ label, let’s tell the truth!

You risked your career for me, I know it as well as you

Nobody wanted to f*** with the white boy”

Dre played a significant role in Eminem’s rise to success, as he signed Eminem onto his label despite Eminem’s volatile position as a white rapper in a predominantly black career, as well as a previously failed rapper. This shows how Dr. Dre’s willingness to ignore racial boundaries in a career and person allowed the duo to achieve mutual success, with Dr. Dre becoming the third richest hip-hop in 2018, and Eminem becoming one of the most prominent rappers.


Gangsta Rap’s paradoxical nature results in it’s controversial nature, encouraging links between violence and crime to Afro-Americans due to their lyrical content, despite it being a form of expression for African Americans. This causes unnecessary stereotypes. The integration of gangsta rap into mainstream media has not been effective, as the media usually focuses on the negative sides of gangsta rap, ignoring the part where Afro-Americans express themselves.

However, Eminem allows for Gangsta Rap to be exposed to the public. His songs are heavily influenced by Afro-American rappers, and contain true Gangsta Rap culture. Being white, his view of the world effectively communicates problems with Afro-American treatment to allow White Americans to understand. His words carry around much more weight as it is a white man advocating for gangsta rap. Furthermore, his popularity leads people to take his words more seriously.

Therefore, by analysing his lyrics, we can see that eminem is trying to bridge the gap between the Afro-Americans and the white Americans, proving how the blacks are equal to the Whites. In order to use his connections to effectively bridge the gap between Afro-Americans and White Americans, we feel that the American government should use him as a figurehead on public platforms such as radio or television so that the White American community can hear about his first-hand experience with Afro-American society.

You have chosen good materials, but you are giving SUCH A SIMPLISTIC ANALYSIS AND EVALUATION OF ALL YOUR MATERIALS!!! I need you to really work on the analysis and evaluation of each of these songs. I was also looking at some of the rap songs yall choose to analyze, like “Guilty Conscience”, this particular song exposes a lot of racial tensions and is really good in proving your point. But it seems like you are not building on it.

Analyse mv, lyrics, concerts

Another example of how Eminem uses his lyrical controversies and stereotypes bring White Americans down to the level of Afro-Americans is in “Guilty Conscience” (Mathers, M. 1999)

“Okay, thought about it? Still wanna stab her?

Grab her by the throat, get your daughter and kidnap her?”

The lyrics are about Grady, a white 29 year-old construction worker. He returns home from a hard day of work and catches his wife cheating on him. In the end, Grady is convinced by Evil, portrayed as the voice of Eminem, to kill his wife. Eminem uses the stereotype of young black men being muscular to describe Grady, bridging the gap between White Americans and Afro-American stereotypes. Eminem uses white people in the song to show how White Americans are as violent and as immoral as Afro-Americans, bringing White Americans to the same level as Afro-Americans.

Due to this, Eminem is seen as a legitimate Gangsta Rapper as he has faced issues of oppression, drug abuse and violence before. Eminem is one of the few rappers who have experienced flak from both the Afro-American and White Community.

In “Cleaning Out My Closet”(Mathers, M., 2002), he states:

“Have you ever been hated or discriminated against?

I have, I’ve been protested and demonstrated against.

Picket signs, for my wicked rhymes, look at the times”

Eminem voices out the discrimination he has faced throughout his career, being wronged for every small thing he has done, such as his “wicked rhymes”, a reference to his controversial lyrics. By “look at the times,” he means that his controversial lyrics frequently ends up on the news, presumably to get condemned by the public.

For example, in “Shook Ones (Part II)”(Deep, M. 1995)

“For all of those, who wanna profile and pose

Rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nose bone”

The word “profile” refer to racial profiling, while the second line references a lethal finishing move made famous in the 90’s by Bruce Willis, a fatal move meant to kill, indicating an intent to kill racists, or White Americans. Throughout the song, many violent themes are prevalent, reflected from the body count of 6 in the song. Through the lyrics, Mobb Deep is trying to say that Afro-Americans turn violent as a reaction to the oppression they face from White Americans. However, White Americans interpret it as Afro-Americans expressing violent tendencies, reaffirming links between Gangsta Rap and violence.


Cite this paper

Eminem’s Subversion of Negative African American Stereotypes in Gangsta Rap. (2021, Jan 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/eminems-subversion-of-negative-african-american-stereotypes-in-gangsta-rap/

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