Written by Emmanuel Roldan
Eminem may be one of music’s most controversial figures, but love him or hate him, few can actually argue against the technical prowess he brings to the table as an emcee. And even fewer can argue against his numbers. With two certified Diamond albums under his belt, (and pretty much all the rest going a couple times platinum (no big deal)), Eminem is easily one of the most widely respected and beloved artists of our time.
That is… he was, until recently. Before we break down his newest album Kamikaze, we have to briefly discuss the context behind the reason it even exists in the first place. For those of you who were fortunate enough to not listen to Eminem’s 2017 album Revival, do yourself a favor, and just… don’t. It is the wackest of records, and not really worth much of a retread.
Revival was Eminem’s first album in 4 years, featuring a whopping NINETEEN tracks for an hour-and-14-minute-long pop disaster of a dude in his 40’s rambling nonsensically and swearing at the president. Even the guest vocals from some of the biggest names in pop, including Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, and Alicia Keys—who’s performances and style just don’t mesh well with Eminem’s aggressive approach to hip hop—could not save this garbage fire.
All of this, understandably, received backlash from fans, with many boldly stating that Eminem is “too old”, “washed up”, “embarrassing himself”, “he’s lost it”, “please retire”, etc. Besides, it’s a new age. Fans have traded in their CD players for Soundcloud. Lil Pump, Lil Xan, Lil Yachty, Migos, 6ix9ine… These are the new, tattooed faces of rap now. And with this new wave of young rappers coming up and stealing the spotlight, there’s little room left for the titans of yesterday.
Enter: Kamikaze. Not even a year since Revival hit shelves, and out of absolute nowhere, Eminem drops a surprise album: Kamikaze; a 13-track long, scathing clap-back at everyone who took shots at him. Em fires back at nearly every single criticism he’s received from “you’re too old to rap” to “you mispronounced Die Antwoord on Revival”. To be honest, Kamikaze being dropped out of nowhere is surprising, but the even more surprising thing is… how solid it actually is.
From the moment I heard the first 30 seconds of track one, I knew we were in for something we hadn’t heard from Eminem in years. This song is the thesis statement of the album, and it plows through its entire 5 minute run, with no chorus, just laying waste to all of Eminem’s detractors. He takes shots at critics and rappers alike, from Charlamagne Tha God to Lil Xan, Lil Pump, and Lil Yachty, all in one song.
While there is admittedly a lot to enjoy about some of these newer rappers, there’s also one very legitimate criticism that fans of hip hop (and clearly Eminem) have: They-all-use. The-same-flow. OR they kind of just mumble their lyrics in a really slow, trance-like lull that would not fly in rap 10 years ago. In “The Ringer” Em sarcastically slips in and out of this flow to prove his point about it. My personal favorite part is when he starts spitting “Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang” and takes a shot at Lil Pump at the same time.
“The Ringer” stands out as a distinct track on the album because it’s so calm and foreboding. It’s like the calm before the storm. It’s a well thought-out essay on why he’s about to massacre everybody right before he, well, massacres everybody.
Choice Lyric: “…Nine tenths of your rhyme is about ice and, Jesus Christ, man, how many times is someone gonna “f**k on my b**ch”???”
By track two, I was excited about this record. I never thought I’d be saying “the new Eminem album is tight” in 2018, but here we are. One of the biggest criticisms of Eminem’s more recent albums have been that the beats were typically pretty garbage. Why did he keep rapping over pop instrumentals and weird classic rock loops? Thankfully, on “Greatest”, Eminem teams up with respected producer Mike Will Made It to give us one of the coolest beats on this record, and on any Eminem record since Dr. Dre.
Eminem, for all his aggression and vulgarity, always had a self-deprecating sense of humor to him, especially in his “Slim Shady” persona. This is something that’s been missing from his more recent records, and it’s nice to see it make a return. In true 8 Mile fashion, Slim hilariously takes shots at himself before anyone else can; chanting “Revival didn’t go VI-RAL!!!” in the last verse of the song, appropriately paying homage to Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 hit “Humble” (also produced by Mike Will Made It).
Choice lyric: “…Let me get this out the way: I know there’s people that are pissed about the way I mispronounced the name – “DiE AnTwOoRd!!!!!!” – f**k, I still can’t say this sh*t…”
Lucky You (feat. Joyner Lucas)
Say what you will about Joyner Lucas (because believe me, there’s a lot to say), but he’s actually a really good fit for a collaboration with Eminem. “Lucky You” is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s still a little bit weird to hear Eminem’s voice over a trap beat, but I can’t help but vibe with this. Eminem once again does the triplet migos flow, and it opened my eyes to how much I have been conditioned to enjoy hearing it. Because even when he’s using the flow to make fun of it, I find myself really digging it. It’s a weird paradox.
Eventually however, both Joyner and Em break out of the trap flow and spit a barrage of lyrics with a dizzying speed. It’s crazy impressive the syllables that get strung together by both parties on this track. And while the fast-rapping style of Busta Rhymes might not be what’s “in” these days, I don’t think anybody can listen to this track and not feel a little bit blown away by the rapid fire rounds of lyrical ammunition that put even Eminem’s own “Rap God” to shame at some points.
Choice lyric: “…You can never say to me I’m not a f**king record breaker. I sound like a broken record every time I break a record.”
Paul / Em Calls Paul (skits)
I won’t spend too much time on these, but I just want to point out how happy I am they were included. Hearing a phone call of Eminem threatening to murder someone made me nostalgic for old times. It also shows that he is perfectly aware of how petty he sounds making a whole album just to diss everybody who didn’t like his last album. Does that stop him? Sure doesn’t. But it at least makes me laugh.
This track makes me laugh a lot too. Stepping away from responding to critics for a second, Eminem takes on a very Drake-like demeanor and sings about a failing relationship. Eminem is no stranger to toxic relationships, often discussing this very same topic on past records, but this time he does so from a pointedly comedic angle.
Choice lyric: “She won me over the second she tried to run me over.”
Stepping Stone is an interesting addition to the record, and I’m not actually sure whether it really fits cohesively with the other songs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty solid song (aside from sounding a little bit like a retread of “Like Toy Soldiers” and its less-than-stellar chorus that I could do without). But the subject here is Eminem reflecting on his relationship with his rap group D12, how they’ve drifted apart over the years, and how the death of Proof – rapper and fellow D12 member – essentially tore them apart.
The reason it feels out of place though, is because Kamikaze so far has been a complete unapologetic onslaught. It’s Eminem no-holds-barred, claiming to be the greatest, proving his skill, and taking shots at the competition. A song where he laments his guilt and insecurities, while enjoyable, slows the momentum of the record as a whole. Ultimately, “Stepping Stone” would have made more sense on a record like Recovery which was already more self-reflective by nature.
Choice lyric: “I don’t want to open up wounds, I just noticed that oomph was gone when we go in the booth. ‘Cause the truth is, the moment that Proof died, so did the group.”
Not Alike (feat. Royce Da 5’9)
Aaaaand, we’re back on track. Eminem and Royce Da 5’9 reunite Bad Meets Evil for “Not Alike”, and get back to the point of Kamikaze on this song, with a beat that sounds eerily similar to “Look Alive” by BlocBoy JB and Drake. But perhaps, that’s exactly the point (considering both songs were produced by Tay Keith). “Not Alike” is a scathing satire of modern rap. Em flows with a “Rain drop. Drop top.” cadence, complete with all the ad libs you expect from 2018 rap: “Gang!” “Trap!” “Yah!”
Essentially the point is, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” I couldn’t help but think of a line off of 1999’s The Slim Shady LP, “I'll bite your motherf**king style, just to make it fresher!”, so I guess he warned us 20 years ago that he was going to do this. But can he actually do this whole style better than Migos or Drake? No, definitely not. But his point about it has been made.
Choice lyric: “Sold Dre my soul and then told him the moment he signed me that I'll be the most hated, though made it so that there's no shame, it's okay to own it.”
Kamikaze’s title track is pretty much classic Eminem. This is exactly what you would expect out of Slim Shady on an album like Encore, all the way down to the silly beat, and ridiculous overuse of the word “fack”. If you’re a fan of Eminem and his outrageousness, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this song, complete with lyrics that include phrases like “rectal crack” (okay, I admit it did get a smirk out of me). But it’s definitely not his most palatable song.
Personally, it actually turns out to be my least favorite track on the record for that very reason. It’s just too much of a dated sound and feels like a step backwards when the rest of the album is a lot more accessible. That being said, the last minute of the song completely switches up and sounds like an entirely different song with a whole new beat. It goes from silly to haunting, and I actually really dig it. If you can get through the first two and a half minutes of this song, the final verse is worth it.
Choice lyric: “And you know I’ve always spoke the truth. You lyin’ through your teeth so much, you broke a tooth. And it ain’t something I need a phone to do, when I say I can’t wait till I get a hold of you.”
This song makes up for “Kamikaze”, and I completely get why it was chosen to be the lead single. This time Eminem spends less time going after rappers, and more time going after the critics of Revival. But the real selling point of this song is the really cool and ethereal beat, once again produced by Mike Will Made It, and the guest vocals from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. This is not the type of instrumental you’re used to hearing Eminem rap over, and it creates a really cool effect where the mellow music serves as a nice contrast to Eminem’s aggressive vocals. There’s not a whole lot to say about this song other than it’s pretty solid, and totally worth a listen.
Choice lyric: “All I know is I wrote every single word of everything I ever murdered. Time to separate the sheep from goats. And I got no faith in your writers. I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Nice Guy / Good Guy (feat. Jessie Reyez)
This is where the album kind of falls apart for me. And it’s not because these songs are bad, per say. They just have no reason to be here. So far, every song has served the purpose of doing what Kamikaze set out to do. Take shots at everybody in the game, prove Eminem is still dope, and make fun of mumble rap. These two songs do none of these things. Instead they’re once again about a failing relationship, which is a topic he already explored on “Normal” anyway.
Again, these songs aren’t bad—in fact, I really, really enjoyed Good Guy. And Jessie Reyez’s guest vocals are enjoyable, especially on the latter of the two songs. But narratively, they don’t offer anything that supports the point of Kamikaze as a complete work.
Okay. This song is really dumb. But it’s also kind of a guilty pleasure. Hearing Eminem rap about Spider-Man villains as an analogy for himself? It’s so dumb and I love it. I totally get why people don’t like this song, and really, I shouldn’t too, but come on. That chorus??? “Venommmmmmm. Adrenalinnnnninimmmmm. Inimmmmmm. They ain’t gonna know what hitimmmmm!!!” It’s so stupid, and I can’t get enough of it.
This is a fun song. But like the previous two, it doesn’t need to be on this album. Especially because it just feels like a contractual obligation. Yes, we know a Venom movie is coming out. Yes, we get it, they paid you to make this song. I just wish it had been released as a single, and didn’t serve as the finale to this otherwise very focused album.
Choice lyric: “I latch onto you like a parasite. And I probably ruined your parents’ life, and your childhood too, ‘cause if I’m the music that y’all grew up on, I’m responsible for you ******** fools.”
Kamikaze is Eminem’s best work in a while, and it’s cool to see people hyped about it. I do wish the last three songs just weren’t included at all, and “Fall” was the final track. It would have been a nice and concise ten-track album that makes its point, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. But that being said, there’s still a lot to like here. I’d go so far as to say this is his most listenable album since 2002’s The Eminem Show. I never feel like I have to skip a track, and the transitions from song to song are actually surprisingly smooth.
Is it a little bit weird that a 45-year-old dude is mercilessly lampooning young rappers these days? Yeah, a little. But it’s done well, and reminds me of when he used to take shots at the likes of Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and whatever other pop stars he mocked. Lil Pump and Lil Xan are just the pop stars of our time, I guess. All in all, Kamikaze probably won’t gain Eminem any new fans, but it just might win back some ex-fans.