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Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 17:26 GMT
Head to head: Eminem

Controversial rap star Eminem has provoked furious criticism for lyrics which some say promote homophobia and violence against women. But others are equally effusive in their praise for the singer, who has been likened to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for the poetry in the same lyrics.

So is he right or wrong? Chris Morris, editor of gay rights magazine Outcast, and Liquid News music correspondent Rebecca Lovell argue the toss.

Eminem says he was "put here to put fear in faggots".

His lyrics include violent imagery about raping women, holding gay men at knifepoint and setting up a group of his friends to take his little sister's virginity on her birthday.

It's bizarre stuff.

Chaotic mantras like "take drugs, rape sluts, make fun of gay clubs and men who wear make-up" feature throughout his latest album, Marshall Mathers.

It's not hard to see why gay and women's rights activists are up in arms.

Although some fans have inevitably - though unconvincingly - sought to defend the lyrics as "fantasies", "metaphors" and "ironies", I don't believe there is any justification for normalising and even encouraging rape.

Whatever Eminem's intention, the result is the same.

In a country still struggling to accept diversity, the prettyboy rapper has cleverly tapped into a popular mood that many of us hoped had gone away.

His success shows our failure. The fact that so many young men enjoy dancing to misogynist songs with obsessive anti-gay undertones is evidence of how far we have yet to go before we can call Britain a civilised nation.

After all, this is not some dodgy C-list artist with a cult following - Eminem is popular and mainstream, and nominated for a Grammy. We cannot ignore his success or deny his appeal.

However, the artist himself is but a symbol of a wider problem - he may fuel the flames of bigotry, but he did not light the fire.

Banning his records, as they have at the University of Sheffield, is probably not going to solve Britain's taste for misogynist music.

As any weightwatcher will tell you, starvation only makes you hungrier for more. Censorship will simply play into his hands.

I think we need to look at why young men think it's cool to disrespect women. We need to understand why homophobia gives them street cred.

Only then will we get to the root of the problem - and solve it.

Chris Morris, Outcast editor

Lock up little Jemima in her bedroom - the devil of rap, Eminem, is coming to a venue near you.

Middle-class parents up and down the country are beginning to believe the media hype - the bottle blond rap star is more evil than Hannibal Lecter.

But that's just what it is - media hype. Even mainstream BBC News is getting involved in the controversy, calling for research notes on a boy named Marshall Mathers.

But what is all the fuss about? Eminem was right - we are living in a world of hypocrisy.

Whilst starting a witch-hunt in public, 15 million of us have copies of his albums hidden amongst our collections. And there is a reason for that.

Eminem is a modern-day poet - the most original and talented artist to emerge on the American music scene in years.

He was spotted by one of America's biggest record producers Dr Dre for his rapping and given the means to continue with what he does best.

His songs express a rage against a world of dirt poor white trailer trash in his own language.

Nobody who has actually calmly listened to the words can deny his talent, wit and irony. Like any of the literary greats his lyrics work at many different levels.

The idea that he should be banned is a sign of dangerous hype and a repressive tabloid world.

One of his most controversial and biggest international hits, Stan, about an obsessed fan who kills himself and his pregnant girlfriend isn't encouraging fans to do the same but rather expressing a fear about deranged fans.

Eminem actually advises the fan to get counselling before he does something stupid - hardly the words of a madman.

His songs are not direct statements but observations of a mixed-up world.

While his younger fans seem adept at reading between the lines, the musician's irony and humour is totally lost on many of his critics.

But the tabloids lap up the controversy. In a few years this fuss will seem incomprehensible.

Great things have always been borne out of deep dark passions - great films, great books, great plays. Eminem's anger gives his music an energy and appeal.

The man himself gives the music a credibility amongst an audience who feel out of touch with a plastic world of manufactured pop.

Eminem is a man who has used his talent to dig his way out of the ghetto.

Anyway the star himself isn't too bothered - millions of fans do get it and buy his music. Ironically most of them are young, white, middle class kids.

His style has got him sell-out tour dates, four grammy nominations and multi-plantinum record sales.

Banning Eminem would be madness. It's time to lighten up.

Rebecca Lovell, Liquid News music correspondent

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