Eminem Unleashes His Fury Full Force on ‘Kamikaze’
In 1999, when Eminem showed up on MTV with peroxide hair and a white t-shirt, taking jabs at celebrities in a voice that didn’t beg for street cred through affectations, the world reacted with a moment of confusion, then a fanatical embrace. Soon, he was the biggest rapper around, making fanboys out of suburban kids in hoodies, and drawing disapproving sidelong glances from hip-hop authorities. Most of his fanbase was clueless about his previous output, in which he sounded a bit too much like Nas, hence the reinvention. Anyone familiar would know that Eminem is something of a shapeshifter. On “The Marshall Mathers LP,” things grew deeper and darker, and the rapping craft evolved to a point where few could deny Eminem’s skill. Fast forward to 2017, the rapper is a shadow of his former self, an aging man out of step with the scene around him. His last record, “Revival” was trashed collectively by critics and fans alike, with such vitriol that it seemed the final nail in the coffin. Or so we thought. Em has just dropped a surprise album, “Kamikaze,” in which he takes the world by storm, firing at all his critics with all the venom of the Mathers LP days, amplified tenfold.
“The Ringer” starts things off with Em issuing a blunt statement of intent, saying, “I feel like I wanna punch the world in the fuckin’ face right now.” From there on, he sets out with a hitlist, and runs rampant for forty-five minutes of ruthless vitriol. From the onset, it’s clear that you’re listening to no one but Eminem, as he bounces around over a minimal beat with his famous multisyllabic rhymes, lining up entire sentences with the peaks and troughs of vowel sounds perfectly aligned, veering off into whimsical rhythmic detours, then exploding into torrents of rage. In anticipation of the shooting spree to come, Em claims, “I mention you, lose lose for me, win win for you.” No such thing as bad publicity, right?
Eminem is not too impressed with the current state of rap. In his words, “I can see why people like Lil Yachty, but not me though.” He expands, “Maybe ‘Stan’ just isn’t your cup of tea / Maybe your cup’s full of syrup and lean.” Any long term Eminem fans surely remember his classic track “Stan,” in which he captured the experience of dealing with deranged fans. The back-and-forth between him and fans is still an issue. Just a few bars later, he reveals, “Last week, an ex-fan mailed me a copy of the Mathers LP to tell me to study” continuing, “I mailed the bitch back and said if I did that I’d just be like everyone else.” To Eminem, rappers are just rehashing the same fare year after year, and he takes the chance here to call out a few, charging, “Lil Pump, Lil Xan imitate Lil Wayne / I should aim at everybody in the game, pick a name.” He picks the next name himself: radio personality Charlamagne, who criticized his 2017 BET cypher for such foolish reasons as the rhymes being “reaches.” It seems Charlemagne, self-appointed hip-hop pundit that he is, somehow hasn’t realized that the whole art of rapping is largely about stretching words to make rhymes work.
On “The Greatest,” Eminem claims, “I’m turning back to a madman.” He has a new level of intensity, and raps with breakneck speed in many tracks, rampant, furious machinegun fare. It reaches its apex on “Lucky You,” in which he seems to defy physics with his stretches of vocal gymnastics. Em calls out “all the lean rappin’, face tats,” but qualifies, “I don’t hate trap,” and even demonstrates this, as this is basically a trap song, with the usual stuttering hi-hats and all. Em even raps in the typical triplet trap style, showing that he can play this game too. Guest rapper Joyner Lucas matches him in both trap flows and speedy outbursts, making for an exceptionally impressive feature. “Not Alike” finds Eminem parodying Migos’ flow from their track “Bad and Boujee,” in a hook of hilariously nonsensical rhymes like, “K-Fed, iHop / Playtex, ice spots.” In the titular line, he parodies Drake’s verse on BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive.” There’s also a heated diss aimed at Machine Gun Kelly, who called Em’s daughter Hailie “hot as fuck” when she was sixteen. With his usual clever wordplay, Em charges, “I’m talkin’ to you, but you already know who the fuck you are (R), Kelly.”
“Fall” might be the most merciless diss track of all. Em takes on another critic, former “Everyday Struggle” host Joe Budden, alluding to Budden’s domestic abuse allegations with the line, “The closest thing he’s had to hits is smackin’ bitches.” He then promptly turns his attention to Budden’s co-host DJ Akademics, who once accused him of being “caught with a thot,” upon finding a video of Em and a younger girl. The video turned out to be no more than a promotional video for the single “River” from “Revival.” Needless to say, Em gets the last laugh, declaring, “Even when I’m gettin’ brain, you’ll never catch me with a thot.” See what he did there? Hip-hop wordplay at its finest. Next on the hit list is Tyler the Creator, who has basically come out of the closet in tracks like “Flower Boy.” In his diss, Em rhymes “___ bitch” with “sacrilege.” Such was the backlash online that the first word has been bleeped out on the recording, although it doesn’t take much imagination to figure it out. Em has already dealt with this controversy back in the early aughts, when he found himself obliged to explain his use of the word. It seemed the matter was resolved when Elton John joined him onstage for a rendition of “Stan.” Apparently it’s still in issue. Finally, Em fires back at producer Lord Jamar, who called him a guest in the house of hip-hop because he’s white, and therefore not part of the culture. To this charge, Em dishes out a litany of rappers that have been influenced by him, and reminds us that it’s he who brought 50 Cent to the public eye.
Along with all the disses, there are a few other topics explored on the album. “Stepping Stone” looks back at Eminem’s history with his former group D12 and his struggles to carry the band’s weight on his own, expressing hope that there’s no love lost. Em tries his hand at singing here, as on former hits like “Cleaning Out My Closet,” but more forcefully, and ends up sounding a bit goofy. Then, there are three songs that deal with relationship drama, with the same passion and vivid detail as Em’s old songs about his old wife Kim. “Normal” is sure to resonate with frustrated boyfriends worldwide, with its chorus line, “Why can’t you bitches be normal?” Em weaves a tale of jealousy and intrigues, and after outbursts like, “I love you but I hope you fucking die, “ ends with the bittersweet, conciliatory conclusion, “Let’s sleep on it like they did ‘Revival.’” The back-to-back tracks “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy,” both featuring Jessie Reyez also explore strained relationship dynamics with plenty lyrics that stand out for their unabashed directness. In the former song, Reyez sings an outlandishly saccharine few lines of “You’re such a nice guy,” before calling “Sike!” Like every other featured guest, Reyez contributes in a way that effectively meshes with Eminem’s madcap lunacy.
Overall, the album is an absolute overload. Eminem is clearly not one to take criticism lightly, and “Kamikaze” is the sound of him lashing out at the world with no restraint. Fortunately, the tantrum is executed with a skill set that will leave listeners gawking, and surely win back lost fans. The scathing criticism of “Revival” could have driven someone faint of heart to throw in the towel, accept designation as a hasbeen, and go suicidal. Eminem turns this idea around with his Kamikaze metaphor, raging, “smash into everyone / crash into everything.” This is indeed what he’s doing, calling out all the haters mercilessly. Ironically, it’s by doing this that he rebounds, making this album the true “Revival.”
“Kamikaze” is available Aug. 31 on Apple Music.