Eminem needs no introduction. He hasn’t needed one in over 20 years. Taking the world by storm at the end of the '90s, few artists in history have stretched their popularity as successfully over the span of two decades. Maintaining public interest is equally as difficult as making people care in the first place. The public, to some degree, still has interest in Marshall Mathers. On the short list of rappers who can stop social media with a surprise album release, Em is near the top.
Last night, without any warning, Eminem released Kamikaze. The 13-track album comes just eight months after Revival, the artist's tragic ninth studio album that was rightfully panned by critics and fans alike. Did the reaction to Revival inspire a return to the drawing board? Kamikaze is an unusually quick return for Em at this stage in his career, but is he doing so with self-awareness? Did he read the criticism of what made his prior work such a musical chore to complete?
Will this be Eminem’s redemption release? It's the most important question that comes to mind before pressing play. To retain public interest requires being interesting. Sadly, that’s something Eminem hasn’t been in years. If nothing else, I’m going into Kamikaze looking for music and an artist worth getting excited for.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Godspeed.
1. “The Ringer”
Three seconds into the album and there’s an explosion. That’s one way to begin, with a bang. Em’s speaking, says he wants to punch the world in the mouth. Did he just say he wanted to ra… Shock value is the most boring tool in his hip-hop utility belt. 21 Savage has to be the most referenced new rapper. Frank, JAY-Z, Eminem, the list goes on. He’s doing the Migos flow. It’s awkward but not terrible. Eminem is going through an existential crisis. With hip-hop getting older, mid-life crisis music should become more common. In a sense, Em’s a pioneer for that brand of rap. Why is he doing this? I understand lyrical exercises but Em is becoming a treadmill that’s juiced up to a frantic speed. There are some good ideas here, though. Just mentioned the BET cypher and shouted out the colorblind people. Was that a Joe Budden shot? Shooting at Trump. He’s really bothered Trump didn’t try to box in public. Beef with journalists. Meh, meh, meh.
Eminem and Mike Will! Wow. Uh, I didn’t see this coming. Sounds like Eminem asked Mike to make a version of Galaga background music with bombastic drums. I can’t believe I’m listening to Eminem make a subpar song about being a GOAT. I’m trying to imagine Em playing Playboi Carti’s “Wokeuplikethis*” and I can’t fathom it. This hook is horrendous. Muhammad Ali spent a majority of his life teaching us how to brag just for Eminem to make a sauceless anthem that sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself more than the general public. I can’t consider him a shell of his former self when he sounds so removed from what made him captivating. I do like the riffs that are bringing life to the bass line. I’m pretty sure Eminem is now a parody of artificial intelligence hip-hop. Did he just mimic Kendrick’s "HUMBLE." flow? Okay, I laughed. That was mildly entertaining. He just mentioned Ali. How dare you speak of the champ and not do a song called "Greatest" justice?
3. “Lucky You” ft. Joyner Lucas
Joyner Lucas and Eminem. If the remix of “Lucky You” features Kendall Jenner and Pepsi then racism in America will spontaneously end. Joyner is starting this one. No drums, I like the slow buildup. Joyner doesn’t sound bad. I’m into his energy. An interesting trap banger. Starting to think Kamikaze is Eminem’s KOD. Lot of shots at fellow rappers on this album. He is rapping, and I’m pretty into his tongue-twisting flow. I really hope Em can match the energy. Okay, he doesn’t sound so bad. Said he sold his soul for some GRAMMYs. I’m not mad at this one thus far. This is definitely his KOD. I can do without the mumble rap slander. He could actually learn a lot from them if he listened. I can see the Mountain Dew rap community being very much into this. Has Eminem been so legacy-focused before? Seems like the Revival criticism has Em bringing out his trophies and putting them on display. Interesting.
4. “Paul (Skit)”
Throwback Shady move. Paul is asking about Em replying to everyone. Ha. The concept of Kamikaze 2 reacting to the critics of Kamikaze is a hilarious slippery slope that I pray does not happen.
Eminem is everything but normal. A relationship song? Man, how did he not put Drake on this. Did he rip this beat off YouTube? It sounds like he downloaded the 128 kbps version. What is he talking about? Eminem thought it was a good idea to make a song about a toxic, abusive relationship in 2018. Wow. I mean this is the guy who killed his wife on wax. I guess what they say is true: if you give a man an inch he will never stop walking on your patience. I like this third verse flow. “Let's sleep on it like they did Revival,” this man is hurt. I pray by the time I reach 40 the last thing I care about is critics.
6. “Em Calls Paul (Skit)”
Em called back Paul. Honestly, this is a skit that should be on your first album, not your 10th. I guess you never stop caring. We went from Stan stalking Eminem to Eminem pulling up on critics. Including, I think, our own Andy James haha. This is the worst timeline.
7. “Stepping Stone”
One thing Em can learn from the mumble rap period of rap is shorter records. Wait, this sounds good. Reflecting back on 2012. Mentioned the death of Proof. I love this beat, it sounds like something he should be rapping over. The hook completely killed all enthusiasm. I feel like I was in a hot air balloon, enjoying the scenery, and he suddenly decided to deflate the bag with a needle. He’s still capable of self-reflective, passion-driven rap music, but he needs a better editor. Someone has to say: This is not a good hook, this is not a good flow, this is not a good beat, this is not a good idea. Having the ability to be great doesn’t absolve you from falling short of said greatness. Third verse is good. This is the mid-life crisis rap I’m here for. Did he just end D12? Eh, wasn’t expecting that. Conceptually, the stepping stone metaphor is really good. It just needed a better chorus.
8. “Not Alike” ft. Royce da 5’9”
TAY KEITH DROP!!! By far the most exciting moment of the album. That’s his signature piano melody. Meh, Eminem using the SoundCloud rapper flow is blowing my non-existent high. ROYCE! I’m ready to make the case that 5’9" has adapted better to the times, matured as an MC, and makes better music than his Bad Meets Evil other half. Debate your local drug dealer. He’s money dancing all over these keys. Tay Keith has to pass Royce the pack. “Your music sounds like Dr. Seuss inspired it” got a chuckle out of me. Em, stop torturing me. This parody is torture. Okay, the verse is an improvement. Eminem’s usage of ad-libs is so awkward. Creating an entire album criticizing the state of rap is very bland. I need David Dennis to send Em a “Go season some food” tweet. The explosion with the flow switch is hard. Eminem calling Trick Trick is a phone call I want to be on the other end of. Prodigy shoutout made my heart warm. This flow is ridiculous. He’s packing one million words into this pocket. This is robotic. He changed flows more times than Beyoncé changed wardrobes at Coachella. Technically, I’m impressed.
This beat sounds like Beavis and Butt-Head made it. Honestly, this song sounds like it was made for someone to say “wedgie” on it. There’s definitely a whoopie cushion sound somewhere in this beat. So unbearable. Wait. Is he defending criticism that his success is tied to being white by asking why every white rapper isn't as successful as he is? That’s not the hill to die on, Marshall. I hope Rick Rubin didn’t make this beat. [Editor's Note: He did not.] Who is he talking about? How dare Eminem say anyone's freestyle was embarrassing? Wait. This beat switch is better but the rapping didn’t improve. I’m over it. I wonder who he’s talking about but who cares really.
I wonder what he thinks when he makes certain creative decisions. I hate the vocal effect on the hook. The flow and the beat complement each other well. Charlemagne reference. Is he doing “How to Rob” in 2018? Budden got a bar. Sheesh. Ak caught one to. This is ridiculous. WOOOO! Did he just call Tyler a… Get me off this ride. Someone save me. I know it’s been said that trainwrecks are hard to look away from but this isn’t one of them. “Time to separate sheep from goats” is my favorite bar thus far. This is so painful. Oh, okay. The only shit I’ll allow him to talk is about influence and giving the world 50 Cent. These are facts.
11. “Nice Guy” ft. Jessie Reyez
Now that we have Jessie Reyez I can publicly admit how much I didn’t enjoy Skylar Grey. Skylar was like if you 3D-printed a singer. Man, that was mean. Karma is going to eat me alive. Eh, I don’t know about this one. Jessie Reyez sounds like this chorus was a reference track for Harley Quinn’s character on the Suicide Squad soundtrack. Why is Eminem still making songs with “suck my dick” in the hook? How are we supposed to take him serious with songs like this? Who is he making this music for? Who is Eminem selling to? I would love to ask him. Call me, Paul.
12. “Good Guy” ft. Jessie Reyez
Eh. I don’t know about this one either. I like the production. Man, who is Eminem dating? Can we get him a wholesome wife? I feel like a good woman will save him from himself and then save us. I’m just ready for this album to end.
13. "Venom (Music From The Motion Picture)"
Eminem making a song for the Venom movie soundtrack is fitting. I hate this beat. Eh, I don’t know why he’s so dedicated to creating songs that are just a cluster of rhymes. Another terrible hook. Eminem is a rapping crossword puzzle, you have to go through all the jumbled words to find what sticks out. Lyrically, he’s bringing to eardrums what eating a dictionary would do to tastebuds. I'd much rather listen to Twista's Kamikaze.
Final (first listen) thoughts on Kamikaze:
Kamikaze begins with an explosion. What follows is 46 minutes of self-destruction. Not the alluring, vibrant combustion of artists showing their blood, guts, heart, and soul to the world. No, this is the loud unraveling of a great artist throwing a tantrum because he’s insecure about critics, album sales, and the changing culture that once championed him.
The project gives a voice to Eminem's feelings about Revival, how he feels the album was overlooked and underappreciated. It's too bad he spends the majority of the new album lashing out at everyone but himself. Eminem is the saint and we are the sinners of Kamikaze. There is nothing wrong with him and everything is wrong with us. He doesn’t acknowledge creative shortcomings or the flaws that have continued to sink his Titanic; he’s too busy admiring the trophies acquired on the boat rather than the holes drilled into the dock.
He’s sinking into an abyss, fading into the black, becoming a bitter elder statesman who thinks mocking the kids is the best method to prove his superiority.
The difference between J. Cole’s KOD and Eminem’s Kamikaze is how one uses modern techniques to communicate with a modern rap audience while the other borrows their form as a way of mocking. It’s hilarious irony how he criticizes the kids for mumbling but continues to rap at an incomprehensible pace. He’s like a magician criticizing other magicians for pulling rabbits out of their hats just to pull a cheeseburger from his crotch and wonder why we won’t applaud him.
Immaturity has been a part of Eminem’s brand for as long as I can remember. Kamikaze further proves that Eminem is hip-hop’s Peter Pan and it’s past time to grow up. The fairy dust is no longer helping him fly and the crash is painful to watch.
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