Humour: A Staple in White Hip Hop

A Concordia women’s studies faculty member argued that rapper Eminem uses humour to defend his vulgar and violent lyrics when she spoke at a small lecture last Friday afternoon at the Sir George Campus.

Robyn Diner said Eminem, “gives humour a bad name,” so she “feels justified in critiquing his just ‘joking’ defense.”

Diner, who has been part of the Simone de Beauvoir faculty for nearly nine years, shared how humour has served two distinct purposes with regards to white hip hop. In her opinion Eminem uses humour as a weapon to defend himself against critics, whereas Princess Superstar, a white female hip-hop artist, draws on humour to cleverly enlighten listeners on feminism.

Diner also said that instead of taking responsibility for his lyrics Eminem often blames it on his alter ego, “Slim Shady”, or states that he did in fact pen the lyrics but it was all just a joke. She continued to stress the ridiculousness of this “persona defense” as she said she could easily become, “Robyn One, Robyn Two and Robyn Three,” and blame all her faults and stupid comments on the latter two Robyns.

It was also shared by Diner that Eminem has been crowned a lyrical genius because, “mostly white, male music journalists decided that he was,” using the fact that he “found a word that rhymes with oranges, syringes,” as proof for his genius status.

Diner is in favour of the cunning approach used by hip hop artist Princess Superstar, “a not-so-nice half-Jewish girl,” who uses “ironic overstatement,” as a tool to touch on feminist issues. In her music she highlights the way women are treated as sexual playthings with her overtly sexual lyrics.

In the song “Kool Keith’s Ass”, Princess launches a hilarious attack on the sexist ways in which women’s bodies have been used to market hip hop,” said Diner. Princess used her wit to turn the exploiter into the exploited by asking “Kool Keith” to pose in a thong on the cover of her CD.

Princess takes responsibility for her lyrics, according to Diner, and does not use an alter ego as a scapegoat like Eminem seems to do endlessly with “Slim Shady.” Another direct difference between the two artist’s approaches can be seen in the target of their jokes. Diner explained that humour can be used in a self-mocking way to empower those at the butt of the joke, as seen with Princess, or can be used in a vicious way where women, gay men, lesbians and or feminists are at the butt of Eminem’s jokes.

Diner continued that there is room to make money with “beautiful, anti-sexist, queer-friendly hip-hop,” and Eminem now has the privilege to stop doing, “that white-dude-dumbass sht, but him and his PR people have chosen to keep the game going.”

Despite the fact that Eminem and Princess Superstar have created two very distinct branches of humor, Diner pointed out that they have both used their white status in strategic way to market themselves.

Eminem has used his “white trash” background advantageously, representing the white teenage-boy demographic to boost record sales. Diner also said he has shed light on American class relations by rapping about the pain disenfranchised people feel.

Princess Superstar has taken a very different route, using her “whiteness” to venture into topics that black female hip-hop artists like Lil’Kim, Foxy Brown and Missy Elliot have not talked about as explicitly. Diner explained that Princess Superstar “performs the idea associated with the slut via hyperbole and a certain sense of detachment, in order to convey that one cannot be a slut, one can only do or undo her.” The idea of “staging the slut via self-pimping” is seen in her explicit song “New York City C*nt.”

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