Eminem has been characterized by some as a rap god. For a while, he was. Once the tragedy of the late 2017 “Revival” struck, many took it as a personal let down. The man they idolized as one of the best rappers in the game put out an album that cemented himself as a has-been.
Even with top features from Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé, it was a bust. The lyrics, the rhymes and the messages didn’t stick with people. Some people even disliked that there were such popular artists involved - bringing popstars into the mix of rap was a tricky game. It mostly left them desirous for the old “Slim Shady.” So, after a gap of not even a whole year, he wrote a new group of songs and attempted to bring himself back.
In “Kamikaze,” which released without prior notice besides a tweet as he dropped it on Aug. 31, the main message he wants to share is that he’s heard all the reactions to last years album, and he’s not happy. After being critically panned by pretty much every music reviewer around, he rants on nearly every track, taking a personal stance against the media and the journalists who affronted him.
Starting with first track “The Ringer,” Eminem gets right into his anger and sets the stage for what will appear frequently throughout the rest of the album, insulting those who negatively reviewed him (saying in the track that journalists can get a “mouthful of flesh”), as well as multiple current day “lazy” rappers.
As an ‘old-school rapper’ of sorts, he positions himself throughout the album in a place of superiority over the current state of rap. Throughout the album, he takes multiple jabs at the ‘mumble rappers’ of today, likening their songs as much of the same and too commonly featuring flexing with jewelry and other material goods. He derides more people than he praises, which is unsurprising in rap, but a little surprising personally for someone who had such a tank of an album so recently. Among these are Machine Gun Kelly, with whom he’s had longstanding beef ever since Kelly made remarks about his daughter’s appearance; a handful of mostly forgettable rappers with the “Lil” prefix; and Tyler, the Creator, who he originally had a good relationship with until Tyler, along with many others, dissed his last album online. Unsurprisingly, his disses have been met with backlash, with Kelly already putting out a return track, and most notably, people lamenting against his usage of the f-slur against recently bisexual Tyler (which I personally agree with the complaints, even though fans of Eminem will say it’s just how he’s always been and he can’t be expected to change even when the social climate does, but that’s a whole other thing). However, he does give props to a handful of popular rappers, including J. Cole, Big Sean and, most notably, Kendrick Lamar, from whose flows he samples multiple times on the album.
The entire album isn’t just him complaining about how people don’t like him and how he thinks he’s better than everyone else, though. It also includes thoughts about how he regrets leaving behind his old rap group D12 in his journey to success in the song “Stepping Stone” and how he desires for normal relationships with women, bemoaning the confusing ones in his life (“Normal,” “Nice Guy,” “Good Guy”). One might think his inclusion of lyrics such as “I slipped up and busted her jaw with a Louisville Slugger” in songs where he talks about his relationship issues might give him pause, but perhaps not. He takes a bit of time to make fun of himself as well, such as in the title track “Kamikaze,” where he compares the failure of “Revival” to the similar failure of 2005’s “Fack.” He even acknowledges his entire album is complaining about people’s dislike of “Revival” in skit “Paul” where his manager calls him and says, “I don’t know if that’s a really great idea.” He is clearly not without humility.
Closing the album out is “Venom,” named after and for the film set to release in October. It sets the stage for the rest of the soundtrack and attributes to the caution people are already showing towards the film. The song is decent, probably oddly the most catchy and likeable off the album, but people’s current dislike of Eminem combined with the opinions already had about the film based off the trailer and first images leads to even more anxiety.
I don’t dislike the album just because it’s entirely complaining; music can very often lead to catharsis for artists, but it’s a little different if this catharsis is just throwing a public tantrum. Following up an album that was heavily panned as just complaints about its reviews brings to mind someone who can’t take criticism very well. Someone who’s 45 years old and has been a popular rapper since 1999 should know a little better.
I admit to being a fan of him in my younger years, singing along to “The Real Slim Shady” whenever it came on the radio, yet everyone can note the decline in Eminem’s creativity since those times. His derision against modern rap and artists and the similarity they share is valid, however, and his constantly impressive flow is a refreshing listen compared to tired and boring mumble rappers. Still, I guess I just feel a little disappointed. It almost feels better to listen to the songs in the background without paying attention to their whiny lyrics. Here’s hoping in the next one you finally learn how to take criticism and improve upon yourself, Shady.
Edited by Siena DeBolt | firstname.lastname@example.org