By Seth Tamarkin, Staff Writer
Eminem hasn’t dropped a great album in nearly a decade.
After his “woke” 2017 album Revival got the worst reviews of his career, critics and fans alike were wondering aloud if he had lost all relevancy entirely. Only eight months later, he decided to find out himself with a surpise new album, Kamikaze, that addresses his critics as well as the state of Hip-hop in 2018.
Dissing somebody to get attention for your own project is a lame stunt that rappers love to pull.
Just look at Nicki Minaj’s rants towards Travis Scott—but it’s undeniably exciting to hear Eminem go in on everyone from other rappers (like Lil Xan and Drake) to his many Revival critics (like Joe Budden and Charlamagne tha God).
He grew up as a battle rapper, so it’s only right his lyrics don’t slack there.
Yes, there are still occasionally corny Eminem lines like his Tyler the Creator diss “You worship D-12’s balls, you’re sack-religious”. Overall though, his lyrics are the most interesting they have been in years.
The song “Stepping Stone” actually ranks among some of his best songs ever as he delves deep into the fractured relationship between him and his old bandmates from D-12.
The first track “The Ringer” sees Em pulling himself “from the jaws of defeat” in one giant five-minute long verse that grips the listener with rapid-fire rhymes and funny punchlines.
Eminem also shines on the title track. He comes closer than ever to sounding like the old Slim Shady thanks to ridiculous bars coupled with an even more ridiculous beat that samples his despised song “Fack.”
The fact that he sampled a song widely acknowledged as his worst shows the tongue-in-cheek humor that hallmarked his early albums also returns.
Another song that brings back Slim Shady vibes is “Greatest,” a track where Eminem professes that he’s the greatest of all time.
There are of course bars aimed at those who disagree, such as “Like a wedding band / you gotta be diamond to even climb in the ring” but he also spares room for jokes at his own expense.
Using Kendrick Lamar’s famous flow on “Humble,” Eminem opines loudly that “Revival didn’t go viral!”
Although the Slim Shady era humor is welcome, he also brings back elements that have long lost their luster.
For instance, ‘Normal’ is yet another song about toxic love, a dead horse he beats over and over again in literally every album he’s made.
‘Nice Guy’ and ‘Good Guy’, a two-part suite at the end of the album, at least try to flip the tired topic on its head by riffing on the toxic masculinity of “nice guys” but are brought down with annoying hooks.
Awful hooks are another Slim Shady-era gripe that return in full force.
While songs like “Fall” benefit from Bon Iver front man Justin Vernon’s singing, most of the other hooks on the album feature Eminem trying to sing, with a lot of emphasis on “trying.”
The shameless movie plug “Venom (Music from The Motion Picture)” features a hook so terrible that no one will be shocked if the song doesn’t make it into the movie.
‘Not Alike’ contains another hook that threatens to derail the entire song. The hook consists of Eminem listing random things that rhyme—everything from “sponge, mug, folder” to a “young thug poster”—because those things have about as much in common as he does with today’s rappers.
Ironically, he ends up having a lot in common with them though because saying a bunch of words that don’t mean anything is just as corny as “not sticking to a subject”.
Luckily, “Not Alike” is saved by Tay Keith’s thumping production along with an impressively fast flow from Eminem.
Speed rap has become an increasingly lame hidden weapon for many white rappers who lack skill in other departments, but Em’s ferocious delivery and lyricism allow it to sound less cliched than usual.
No one will argue that Eminem isn’t one of the greatest lyricists ever, but it is generally agreed that his production and poor choices constantly hinder his other albums.
While there are some bad choices still, like letting him do his own hooks, the album is overall a nice step back into relevancy thanks to consistent production and sharp writing 7.5/10.