There was merely a ripple in the cultural zeitgeist when Bruce Springsteen put aside his genial nonpartisan everyman stance and headlined the Vote for Change concerts, benefiting America Coming Together (ACT), and ultimately, John Kerry. No one blinked when Ani diFranco set off on her own tour, boldly titled Vote Dammit. Same with Moby, who has worn his politics on his sleeve from day one. And no eyebrows were raised when P. Diddy, in typical Diddy style, came out big and loud with his Vote or Die campaign – which as usual seemed to be more about Diddy than anything else.
But Eminem – the man who George Bush once called "the most dangerous threat to American children since polio" – could be the true October surprise.
Eminem is one of the least likely artists to come out with an overtly political message and a rallying call to youth, yet eight days before the election Eminem released "Mosh," the second single from his forthcoming album "Encore," scheduled for release on Nov. 6. Solidly established as an anti-hero, reveling in the fact that his words and actions – pulling a gun on his ex-wife's boyfriend, rapping about "fags" and then making nice with Elton John or mooning fans at the MTV Video Music Awards – were not to be followed, analyzed, or mimicked, Eminem seemed content to remain the angry young man with a wicked flow, biting lyrics and astronomical record sales.
Instead, he releases a rousing call to arms for the hip hop generation to take back the government that seeks to represent them. He even proclaims himself their leader. Surprise indeed.
With "Mosh," Eminem – the most polarizing musician of our times – takes on the most polarizing election of our times.
In the video, Eminem leads a mob fired up and politicized by four years of outrage and anger at the Bush administration. Clad in black hoodies, fists raised, the angry young men and women descend on a state building ... to vote.
Chunky black-and-white illustrated figures on a moody, sepia-toned landscape play out the frustration and angst of a generation. One young Iraq veteran returns home, to be met by his wife and children and a notice of reassignment; "Fuck Bush" is the accompanying lyric he spits out. Then he dons a black hoodie and joins the mob. A single mother comes home, groceries in hand, and opens an eviction notice while news of a tax cut for the rich plays on the television ... she dons a black hoodie and joins the mob.
Eminem leads the crowd, providing "spark" to the chorus:
"Come along follow me as I lead through the darknessThe video was produced, directed and edited by Ian Inaba of the Guerilla News Network, who didn't necessarily have Eminem in mind when he came up with the concept. Inaba, also a contributor to GNN's new book "True Lies" (The Penguin Group, 2004), concurs that the song and the video have altered the left's perception of one of its favorite whipping boys: "People who have been critical are now saying positive things about him," Inaba tells AlterNet. "I think he's matured a lot as an artist and he's a very hard working and intelligent artist. And I think this song and his effort is showing people that."
As I provide just enough spark that we need to proceed
Carry on, give me hope, give me strength
Come with me and I won't steer you wrong
Put your faith and your trust as I guide us through the fog
To the light at the end of the tunnel
We gonna fight, we gonna charge, we gonna stomp, we gonna march
Through the swamp, we gonna mosh through the marsh
Take us right through the doors (c'mon)"
This sea change in public perception occurred in less than five days. The video was finished on Monday, Oct. 25, and posted at gnn.tv on the same day. After rumors that MTV would refuse to air it, the video appeared on Total Request Live on Tuesday; it's currently No. 1 on the charts.
So Inaba and Eminem were a fortuitous pairing. The video was first a concept in search of a song, but when Inaba, who had worked with Eminem on his last album, heard the song, he felt it was the perfect fit. "I wanted to do a voting video," he says. "[We were] trying to come out with it right before the election – hopefully a little earlier than we ultimately did." Inaba shopped it around to record labels, landing at Interscope, looking to see who among the label's artists would be releasing an album near the election. "The video's content was pretty well established in my head when I went to his management so we were both kind of surprised when I heard the song. You know it couldn't have been a better song," says Inaba.
"Mosh" couldn't have fit better with the concept, and Inaba considers Eminem's nation of listeners a powerful bloc who otherwise wouldn't have heard the message: "We heard the song, we knew it was gonna have the reach, you know we could have gone with other artists, but he's got reach into swing states, into middle America, and that's, you know, a powerful thing." Think of it as the Michael Moore effect on an Xbox.
Indeed, in a nation where undecided-voter frenzy has reached a fever pitch, the hip hop generation has been a favorite target. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 26.7 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 24, and only 8.6 million of them – about 32 percent – voted in the 2000 presidential elections, meaning two of every three did not vote.
Reactions to the video have been dramatic. Moby, whose history with Eminem is stained with vitriol, has been effusive: "Wow, you know that Eminem and I have had our differences in the past, but this video is the best thing that I've seen all year. It's an amazing song and an even more amazing video. Please go watch." The "differences" that Moby blithely refers to include a call-out in Eminem's 2002 release "Without Me": "You 36-year-old boy fag, blow me/ You don't know me, you're too old, let go/ It's over, nobody listens to techno."
Inaba thinks the response has been amazing – and if the goal is getting out the vote, he believes that the video is a success: "We've gotten a lot of responses on message boards, on blog sites, things like that; kids saying, 'I wasn't gonna vote and I saw this video and it's really transformative and I'm now gonna go out and vote.'"
Naturally, the hip hop generation is watching, and talking. On MTV.com's "You Tell Us" feature, reactions are strong. Kyle, a 22-year-old from Ithaca, N.Y. says: "Not since Chuck D has a hip hop artist spoken so eloquently of the power in numbers. If we stand up as a bloc and vote, both the president and the senator will have no choice but to listen."
Nineteen-year-old Kelley from Apple Valley, Minn. has a different take: "I am completely appalled by Eminem's 'Mosh' video. He may have his own opinions about our president, but there should be no reason that he has to come out with this Bush-bashing video a week before the election. I am a huge Eminem fan, but this is extremely upsetting. I am also afraid that people will watch this video and be corrupted by what he is portraying, and that is a false image of President Bush."
Eminem, not surprisingly, disagrees. In an advance report of a poorly timed interview in Rolling Stone (appearing in the Nov. 5 issue), he is quoted as saying:
"[Bush] has been painted to be this hero, and he's got our troops over there dying for no reason ... I think he started a mess ... He jumped the gun, and he fucked up so bad he doesn't know what to do right now ... We got young people over there dyin', kids in their teens, early 20s that should have futures ahead of them. And for what? It seems like a Vietnam 2. bin Laden attacked us, and we attacked Saddam. Explain why that is. Give us some answers."According to the article, Eminem won't endorse a candidate: "'Whatever my decision is, I would like to see Bush out of office,' Eminem says. 'I don't wanna see my little brother get drafted – he just turned eighteen. People think their votes don't count, but people need to get out and vote. Every motherfuckin' vote counts.'"
If the video augurs anything, those votes will be legion. Eminem ends the song as a line of voters stretches out into the distance:
"As we set aside our differencesWell, do you?
And assemble our own army
To disarm this weapon of mass destruction
That we call our president, for the present
And mosh for the future of our next generation
To speak and be heard
Mr. President, Mr. Senator
Do you guys hear us?"