Love him or hate him, Eminem is sounding better than he has in years on Kamikaze, but it still won't be for everyone.
There was a time when Eminem was on top of the rap game, both critically and commercially (The Marshall Mathers LP is still the fastest selling rap album of all time), but, in the last ten years, many – myself included – see the Detroit rapper as having ‘fallen off’; his music seems to have become more pop-style and radio-friendly, whilst his lyrics, once notable for their humour and shock value, now often come across as cringe-y and a little immature. His 2017 album Revival seemed to be a culmination of this: it was a mess, with unexciting lyrics, poor production and collaborations with a host of popstars, from Ed Sheeran to Pink. This was, apparently, the final nail in the coffin for Eminem. But then he released a remix to ‘Chloraseptic’, in which he came back hard and addressed all of the criticism of Revival. ‘Where was this Eminem on the album?’, everyone cried, and a few of his lyrics suggested that he’d be back, soon.
And here we are. Less than 12 months later, Eminem has dropped a surprise album, Kamikaze, and it’s important to understand the context before going into this one, because it more or less acts as ‘part two’ of his response to everyone who condemned him for Revival. Happily, then, Kamikaze is a much more enjoyable project. The opening three-track stretch sets the tone right away, with Eminem spitting over minimalist beats (and a great verse from Joyner Lucas on ‘Lucky You’, whose flow matches Em’s well), and much more of the raw lyricism and wordplay that he became known for. Eminem is fired up about the reception to Revival, yet his inability to accept criticism of it sometimes comes across like a child having a tantrum, and his continued ‘rappity rap’ style – that is to say, rapping fast and packing syllables into every line at the expense of meaning – won’t, for many, make the songs particularly enjoyable to listen to. But one can’t deny the lyrical skill on show here, and these opening tracks alone are pretty much better than the entirety of Revival (let’s see if he comes after me for that one…).
As a whole, the project sounds more akin to his early music, without any over-the-top production that has marred his last few albums; notably, producer Rick Rubin is nowhere near this one. His infamous namedropping is present throughout, with Eminem taking shots at anyone he chooses – from Tyler the Creator and Lil Pump to Donald Trump – whilst Bad Meets Evil returns as Royce da 5’9” is given a guest verse on ‘Not Alike’, which fans were clamouring for on the last album. Even the funny voicemail skits (to & from manager Paul Rosenberg) from his pre-Recovery days are present, in which Eminem assures Paul he won’t respond to everyone going after Revival, before revealing he’s on his way to a critic’s house as they speak – it’s amusing, self-aware and very ‘Slim Shady’.
Throughout, Em derides the current state of rap music, from the new wave of tattooed mumble rappers to the stars accused of not writing their own lyrics – “You got a couple of ghost writers but to these kids it don’t actually matter/They asking me ‘what the fuck happened to hip hop?’ I said ‘I don’t have any answers’.” Going after such artists (think Migos and Drake), however, is a pretty low-hanging fruit, and has been done many times already by ‘old-school’ rappers like Eminem, who just seems bitter at not being ‘current’ anymore – the Simpsons joke ‘Old man yells at cloud’ often comes to mind. We know, you don’t like modern rap; what else is new? For me, tracks like ‘Stepping Stone’ are more interesting – a deeper cut dedicated to Em’s old group D12, which he admits was never the same after Proof’s death and officially confirming that they have indeed disbanded. Its hook, however, is a shouty, ‘typical-Eminem’ one; indeed, hooks continue to be his weak point on Kamikaze, with that of closing track ‘Venom’ (from the upcoming film) being the most grating, and ending the album on quite a flat note after the rawness of the first half.
It’s impossible to remove Kamikaze from the context of the Revival saga, so one can’t really avoid comparisons between the two; this album is leagues better, but it’s hard to know how much replay value it will have in the future. Although the hooks remain a mixed bunch and Eminem’s content and style of rapping will (understandably) have its detractors, it’s still a treat for fans of his older music, with better lyricism and more well-placed features and humour. It’s not up there with his classics, but Kamikaze is the best album that Eminem has put out in a decade and is a reminder to everyone that he’s still got it.
Kamikaze is out now via Aftermath Entertainment/Shady Records