It’s a daunting task for a newbie music writer to review an Eminem album, or, as Em puts it in surprise album Kamikaze’s first track, “The Ringer,” to “skim through the music to give shit reviews / To get clicks.” What if I don’t like the album? Should I say so? Will Eminem come for me on Twitter? Will he come for me with a chainsaw?
Luckily, Kamikaze is pretty damn good. There are two main themes going on here: the first one is Em’s anger and shame over his last album, 2017’s Revival, which met with mixed reviews. In “The Ringer,” which serves somewhat as a statement of intent for this album, Em snaps, “I'll bet a hundred thousand bucks / You'll turn around and just be like, ‘Man, how the fuck / Sourpuss gonna get mad just 'cause his album sucks? / And now he wants to take it out on us.’"
It’s hard to tell who he hates more right now: his critics, or himself for caring about what his critics think. In lead single “Fall,” he confirms that he’s ready to unleash his anger on the naysayers: “I've had as much as I can tolerate / I'm sick and tired of waitin', I done lost my patience / I can take all of you motherfuckers on at once / You wanted Shady? You got him!”
The Shady we’ve got on this album is mad at his critics; he’s also mad at the younger generation. This is the album’s second main theme. He grumbles about how no one appreciates him anymore. He grouses that he taught this new generation of rappers everything they know, and they still manage to suck. Music these days is terrible, he says: it was so much better when he was young. He’s basically your average 45-year-old guy, saying the same stuff most middle-aged people say.
Except that, of course, he is the Rap God, so he says all this stuff in his usual lightning-fast, intricately rhymed flow that still blows away 90 percent of today’s rappers. “Lucky You,” is Em at his absolute blistering best. “Hatata batata, why don't we make a bunch of / Fuckin' songs about nothin' and mumble 'em!” he snarls, blasting Migos and all of the other triplet-flow junkies in the rap game. Em may hate today’s style of music, but even when he’s imitating it, he does it 1000 times better than Lil Xan and Yachty.
Em feels like he’s been left out of the current hip-hop landscape: “Flyin' to a party I am not invited to, feelin' like the streets need me,” he raps on “Not Alike.” He’s anything but obsolete, though—there are only a few moments on this album that feel dated. Even the samples he uses are just a few years old: “Greatest” samples Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” and current indie darlings Little Dragon make their way into “Normal.”
Despite Em’s awareness that the rap game has changed—and his having adapted to that change with fresh beats, cadences, and samples—he’s also not afraid to keep being who he is. It’s almost comforting to hear him spitting twisted lyrics like “While I take my ball sack and flick it like a light switch / Like Vice President Mike Pence / Back up on my shit in a sidekick as I lay it on a spike strip / These are things that I'd rather do than hear you on a mic.” This is the Shady we know and love: when he’s rapping like this, you can hear that he’s enjoying himself.
The only time Em really shows his age is when he uses tired tropes that he already knows are offensive. In “Fall,” he attempts to insult Tyler the Creator by saying, “Tyler create nothin', I see why you called yourself a f****t, bitch.” He knows better than to be dropping this particular F-bomb yet again. In “The Ringer,” he says, “You're too stupid to get it / 'Cause you're mentally retarded.” We’ve been here before, and very recently: Em was called out for using the R-word on his and Beyoncé’s track “Walk on Water,” from Revival. This is outdated, offensive slang, yet inexplicably, he keeps using it.
“Normal” finds Em making fun of his old misogynistic persona as he describes a dysfunctional relationship. His level of self-awareness makes this song less offensive than his many previous forays into this subject matter, but still, this space would be better filled with more honest introspection, like the kind he displays on the heartfelt “Stepping Stone.”
Eminem is right: we wanted Shady, and we got him, mostly. Is Kamikaze a masterpiece? Not quite. But it’s an encouraging return to form, and a reminder that this self-described “fucking invincible, indefensible, despicable, difficult prick” is still in the game. After this review, I doubt there’s much chance of Em haunting my mentions. Maybe next time.
Notable Tracks: “Greatest” | “Lucky You” | “Not Alike”