Eminem’s back, again?
Whether we knew it or not, were ready or not, Eminem has been working. He dropped a new album, Kamikaze. He did so in presidential fashion (although clearly he’s not a fan of the man currently sitting in the oval office) by casually posting on Twitter that he hoped he hadn’t “overthought” the collection. Complete with art inspired by the Beastie Boys classic debut album Licensed to Ill, Kamikaze reminds you that this is one of Rap music’s heavyweights.
Kamikaze showcases Eminem the way old-school listeners remember him, full of impressive skills and a lot of venom. In fact, one track on this short LP is from the upcoming movie Venom. The album appears to have been inspired mostly from a negative reception to his last album Revival. The glitzy collaborators like Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys, Pink and Beyoncé had apparently not resonated appropriately with critics and maybe rap music’s new generation who, as Eminem might put it, may have been too “leaned-out” to be able to follow even a poppier version of Eminem. I say that because, much of the Kamikaze LP takes aim at the unoriginality of recent rap — and it has plenty to say about that topic, to the point of perhaps hurting the album thematically by basically making one point, over and over again.
Eminem is in fine form vocally starting with the very first track, “The Ringer” features more than one flow as he dexterously spits rhymes that contemporary rappers would strain to come up with over a contemporary aural sound bed. The music on the album feels more suited to the era of its release than most of his oeuvre. Several producers make a very modern yet clean soundbed for Eminem to maneuver within. And when I say maneuver, I mean go at it like he’s famously known to do. Taking critics, mumble rappers and well, seemingly EVERYBODY, to task for the current state of rap music. Songs like “Lucky You”, “Not Alike” “Fall” and the title track “Kamikaze” continue the general topic which is that the quality of rap music (and I used to call it Hip-Hop but can’t bring myself to associate Hip-Hop with the likes of Tekashi 6ix9ine, Lil Xan or Lil Pump) has declined and we need more of what Eminem and the few folks that he sanctions bring to the table. And well, I agree with that sentiment whole-heartedly. So, Hold that thought.
When he isn’t decrying the decline of Rap Civilization, he dips into his satirical (formerly known as his Slim Shady persona) characters on songs like“Normal”, “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy” each of which challenges notions of what it is to be any of those things. Here is where sometimes it’s hard to distinguish whether he’s putting on a character or letting some of his own character come out under the guise of a “character”. Well, at least that’s what critics far deeper than me will tell you. Here is where the venomous misogyny that he is oft tagged with in the past comes into the picture. For example, in “Normal”, he takes on the persona of an intensely controlling boyfriend who ultimately “…busted her jaw with / a Louisville Slugger …” “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy” both question the notion of the “nice guy” as perhaps just a masked version of the toxic masculinity that surfaces in “Normal”.
Answering to Revival’s presumptive failure looms large over the course of the album. There are even sketches featuring his manager who warns him not to simply diss everyone who has said bad things about him, to him justifying why some people deserve to be served for not “getting it”. However, he does what arguable makes him an artist more so than a skilled craftsman in one affecting song called “Stepping Stone” that chronicles some of woes of the now- extinct crew D12. In the song he examines how the effort to bring this crew of friends along into the same industry that granted him so much success met with decidedly mixed and poor results both professionally and personally between the members of the group. Here is where his technical prowess as a rhymer takes a back seat to genuine storytelling and feeling. I would guess that it will be the most memorable song to Eminem fans from this album despite the considerable sparkle on the rest of it.
Kamikaze is already finding both fans and harsh critics. Some characterize the album as an angry man who desperately wants to seem relevant to a younger generation. Others find it a refreshing return to form for a skilled MC. I definitely hold the work in high regard. This is quality writing and performance, particularly in today’s market. However, it isn’t a classic as there isn’t enough of his heartfelt material here to balance the stylistically impressive yet ultimately shallow bulk of this album.
Another thing to note in terms of the theme of which I have previously mentioned that I agree with Eminem on; Rap is in decline, but Eminem being someone on the vanguard of the music for many years has played a part in allowing it to decline. At one point on Kamikaze, he accuses a rapper of imitating Lil Wayne as if that is the crime. That is simply the copycat syndrome which has been in the rap game since the dawn of it (lest anyone forget that the first rap gold single had a verse completely stolen from an MC that doesn’t appear on said record). No, the crime is that Lil Wayne, someone endorsed by Eminem several years back has become the blueprint of today’s modern rappers. So, to complain about an inevitability that could have been predicted at that time when you didn’t complain about the source of the inevitability ultimately reads slightly disingenuous.
About the Author:
Martin Kelley (Martay) @Martay_ReelOne
Producer and Writer for Reel One Entertainment Worldwide
Editor-In-Chief of CinemATL and Co-Host of The CinemATL Podcast
Emcee from Reign of Terror