Eminem’s Stan Held Abusive Men Accountable, Now Music Glorifies The Accused
As thoughtful as it is thought-provoking, Eminem’s Stan was decades ahead of its time.
Not only did the rapper foreshadow celebrity ‘stan’ culture, creating such an impact that his definition of the term has since been added to the dictionary, Stan is a perfect depiction of Eminem holding abusive men — like his alter ego Slim Shady — accountable.
The song follows the story of Eminem’s ‘biggest fan, this is Stan’ as he tries to get the attention of the rapper by writing and sending letters incessantly. Stan relates to Eminem through his misogyny, which he believes they share. It is a key theme in Eminem’s earlier music which surfaces in tracks that are written from the viewpoint of the Slim Shady alter-ego.
For example, in one of his three verses, Stan tells Eminem his girlfriend is pregnant and that if he has a daughter, ‘Ima name her Bonnie’ — a reference to ’97 Bonnie and Clyde, a song which chronicles the fictional story of Eminem running off with his daughter Hailie (the Bonnie of the song) after having murdered his ex-wife (Hailie’s mother).
You can watch the Stan video here:
In the same verse, he attempts to impress the rapper by using derogatory slurs to talk about women; ‘I read about your Uncle Ronnie too, I’m sorry. I had a friend kill himself over some b*tch who didn’t want him. See, I’m just like you in a way,’ he says.
Stan’s third verse is the most ominous; he is so far gone that he has come to embody the rapper’s lunatic doppelganger. This is confirmed in the line ‘Hey, Slim, I drank a fifth of vodka, you dare me to drive?’, a reference from My Name Is, from The Slim Shady LP, an entire album dedicated to the alter-ego.
It’s also worth noting, Stan sits in the self-titled Marshall Mathers album next to the track Kim, in which Eminem delivers a psychotic, murder fantasy about killing his then-wife. It’s fitting, then, that one song later, Stan is arguably now even a caricature of Slim Shady as he drives himself and his pregnant girlfriend off a bridge: ‘But I didn’t slit her throat, I just tied her up — see? I ain’t like you ’cause if she suffocates she’ll suffer more and then she’ll die too.’
In writing back, Eminem’s tone is mature, stable, and of kind concern. He gives Stan advice on his relationship and girlfriend, that ‘you need to treat her better’.
‘In that verse, he’s saying ‘Hey man I want you as a fan, but I’m being actual Marshall Mathers here right now and I’m saying that’s not actually me and that’s not cool, don’t do that stuff,’ says YouTuber Rap Critic. He also notes that in this final verse, we see an element of self-awareness and guilt come from Eminem at the end of the song.
The beginning of the verse sees the rapper questioning Stan: ‘Why are you so mad?’ He later confirms that the real Marshall doesn’t find any of the similarities between Stan and Slim Shady impressive, telling Stan that the things he says in his music are him ‘just clownin’ dawg’ then adding, ‘How f*cked up is you?’
J’na Jefferson, a music journalist and critic in the US, describes Eminem as ‘one of the most self-aware artists’ she’s ever seen: ‘In hindsight, the song is him taking responsibility for his own work, which he’s done for the last several years of his career.’
While the first three verses of the song are the rapper acknowledging his influence and the impact he may have on impressionable fans — especially young men — the song’s ending distinctly separates the real Eminem, a rap artist, from the alter-ego of Slim Shady that has inspired Stan, a man who is abusive to women.
However, 20 years on, the music industry still has a long way to go.
In September 2019, rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine admitted to seven years of domestic violence against women in a government cooperation agreement. In exchange for admitting his crimes, the government agreed not to prosecute him.
Despite the confession, his career has skyrocketed since. Barely a month later, in October 2019, he signed a two-album contract for more than $10 million. It’s difficult to know who to blame, even when female rappers like Nicki Minaj – who collaborated with him on the single TROLLZ earlier this year – publicly support him. The song debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, marking the rapper’s first number-one single.
In June 2018, tributes poured in after rapper XXXTentacion, real name Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, was shot dead in Florida. He had openly documented his struggles with depression through his music, which garnered a loyal fanbase.
After his death, his ex-girlfriend faced a huge backlash from his fans when she came forward with allegations of a history of abuse at the hands of the rapper. Geneva Ayala said the rapper had beaten and choked her while she was pregnant, holding her captive in rooms for days to heal because he refused to take her to hospital. Fans rushed to his defence, citing there was ‘no evidence’ of her claims.
There’s also the example of Kodak Black, who has been accused of assaulting women twice yet has still received support from other male artists, like Chris Brown. In 2017, he was indicted on charges of first-degree sexual assault. Also that year, he appeared in court after his anger management counsellor, Ramona Sanchez, said she no longer recommends the rapper participates in group therapy after he had become violent towards her in a session.
Similarly to how rappers were quick to poke fun at Megan Thee Stallion after she accused Tory Lanez of shooting her in the foot in July, they still glorify the abusers among them today. Rather than coming out in support of the Hot Girl Summer rapper, her male counterparts, such as Cam’ron, took to social media to share memes mocking her situation.
Arguably, this is the exact culture of silence among men that Eminem dispels in the final verse of Stan, in which he refuses to validate Stan’s actions, instead asking: ‘How f*cked up is you?’
J’na says one key reason for rappers’ success despite common allegations of abuse is our society’s tendency to infantilise men, which consequentially results in frequently absolving their wrongdoing.
‘It’s happened for centuries, and society’s underlying misogynistic strongholds are the cause of it. If a man does something out of pocket, either minute or egregious, people often rush to his defence.’
In the case of Megan Thee Stallion, it wasn’t until Lanez was actually arrested and charged that celebrities, including 50 Cent, then apologised for their behaviour.
‘Society just doesn’t care to believe women — Black women in particular. Society needs to call for the accountability of those who still don’t get it and don’t seem to want to get it. If not, we’re going to continue to run in this hamster wheel of misogyny,’ J’na says.
Additionally, there’s the fervent need for fans to protect Black and Brown artists who find themselves embroiled in controversy.
‘I can really only speak to my observations and experiences in my community, and Black people are taught from birth to protect and defend Black men against all odds. So, that notion coupled with the idea that we tend to infantilise men regardless of how severe their problems are, that’s why you continue to see so many unscathed men in Black music spaces,’ she says.
This is a result of society’s propensity to demean and denigrate Black and Brown men. In the US, one out of every three Black men goes to prison, as compared to one out of 17 White men. The figures are not as stark, but equally shocking in the UK, where rates of prosecution and sentencing of Black people are three times higher than that of White people.
‘A lot of people continue to show them support because they don’t want to see them go down in the line of fire. They don’t want to see these men become another ‘I told you so’ statistic, so they continue to bolster them up,’ J’na adds.
Joe Wadsworth, founder of The Online Recording Studio says that without fundamentally changing some of the core messages and ideas of rap music, it’s hard to separate the art form from a message that is in some way demeaning to women.
He references the #MeToo movement and its massive impact on Hollywood. It saw some of the most notorious perpetrators in the industry, like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein, either face jail time or have their careers stripped, which in turn encouraged many other victims to come forward.
‘When it comes to abuse allegations, I think there’s a real willingness to sweep it under the rug. I just don’t think we’ve had that watershed moment in music yet that is absolutely needed,’ he says.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please know that you are not alone. You can talk in confidence 24 hours a day to the national domestic violence helpline Refuge on 0808 2000 247.
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