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Throwback Thursday – 1999

Eminem has often been accused of being homophobic. Maybe it’s because he rapped “I’ll still be able to break a motha-fuckin’ table over the back of a couple of faggots and crack it in half.” Maybe it’s because he rapped “My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge / That’ll stab you in the head whether you’re a fag or lez.” And “All you lil’ faggots can suck it / No homo, but I’ma stick it to ’em like refrigerator magnets.” And “Little gay-looking boy / So gay I can barely say it with a straight face-looking boy / You witnessing massacre like you watching a church gathering taking place-looking boy / ‘Oy vey, that boy’s gay,’ that’s all they say looking-boy / You take a thumbs up, pat on the back, the way you go from your label every day-looking boy.” And “You fags think it’s all a game.” Anyone can see how the artist born Marshall Mathers got labeled a homophobe, even if he pretends he doesn’t see it.

So it’s ironic that in his first hit single, the song that put him on the map and into the international consciousness, the music bed is based around a sample from an openly gay singer-songwriter.

“My Name Is” became Eminem’s first single to crack the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #36. Its music is taken from a 1975 release called “I Got the…,” written and performed by Labi Siffre. Siffre, who was born in England in 1945, says he knew he was gay since age four. He met his life partner, Peter John Carver Lloyd, in 1964. They remained a couple for 49 years, until Lloyd’s death in 2013.

Before Siffre would allow Eminem to use the sample, he made the rapper change some of the words on “My Name Is.” The lyric “My English teacher wanted to have sex in junior high / The only problem was, my English teacher was a guy” became “My English teacher wanted to flunk me in junior high / Thanks a lot, next semester I’ll be 35.” The lyric “Extraterrestrial killing pedestrians, raping lesbians while they’re screaming, ‘Let’s just be friends!’” became “Extraterrestrial running over pedestrians in a spaceship while they’re screaming, ‘Let’s just be friends!’”.” Said Siffre, “Dissing the victims of bigotry – women as bitches, homosexuals as faggots – is lazy writing. Diss the bigots, not their victims. I denied sample rights till that lazy writing was removed. I should have stipulated “all versions” but at that time knew little about rap’s “clean” & “explicit” modes, so they managed to get the lazy lyric on versions other than the single and first album.”

For Throwback Thursday this week, Tunes du Jour revisits some of the musical highlights of 1999, kicking off with Eminem’s “My Name Is.”


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My Birthday Advice: Don’t!

doggies + Elvis
Today is my birthday. Over my 25+ years on earth, I’ve learned many life lessons. Most of them came from songs. My birthday gift to you is a playlist of 100 songs offering advice as to what not to do.


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Elvis Costello Helps Me With Geography

History was not my strongest subject at school. Nor was Geography. I’ve always been good with things that incorporate logic. Memorizing facts? Not so much.

Music was the exception. Because music was my primary passion, stories and trivia about my favorite artists and songs tended to get lodged in my brain, never to escape.

Sometimes I came across songs that taught me facts and concepts more effectively than any teacher. Thanks to Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s “NaCl,” I got an A in Chemistry. The song explains the ionization process, wherein atoms gain or lose electrons to become positively or negatively charged, by detailing a budding romance between Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl). I can tell you when Louis XVI assumed the monarchy in France, thanks to Allan Sherman’s “You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louis.” Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” educated me on the sinking of that ship and, more importantly, gave me a way to recall the names of the five Great Lakes, thanks to a gratuitous verse that names all of them.

Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army” helped me with crossword puzzle clues such as “River in England.” The song’s reference to “the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne” gives me three options for that answer. The Oliver of the song’s title is Oliver Cromwell, an English military and parliamentary leader in the 17th century. I don’t remember learning about him in school but maybe I did.

Ringo + Elvis C 2014-08-25 13.48
Today is Elvis Costello’s 60th birthday. Kicking off our playlist is “Oliver’s Army,” a song that wasn’t destined to make Costello’s Armed Forces album until Steve Nieve, Elvis’ keyboard player, suggested adding a piano riff based on Abba’s “Dancing Queen” to the track. That brought the track to life, giving Costello his first UK top ten single, reaching #2 in 1979.

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