Eminem surprised us all this week with the unexpected release of his tenth studio album ‘Kamikaze’, a follow-up to December 2017’s ‘Revival’. Executive-produced by Dr. Dre & Em himself, Slim takes aim at ‘Revival’s critics as well as a multitude of current rappers including Drake, Lil Xan, Tyler The Creator, Migos and Lil Pump. With a hell of a lot to unpack, let Province writer Zachary Mahabir take you through the album track by track.
True to Slim Shady form, Eminem’s new album ‘Kamikaze’ starts off with some of his strongest and most masterful output in recent years, only to end the album on some rather questionable and, frankly, repetitive notes. Notes that may prove to be the lasting taste in the mouth despite such a progressive, explosive start.
First track ‘The Ringer’ places the state of Hip Hop and Eminem’s place within it at centre stage, with stripped-down production from Ronny J and Illa giving him plenty of room to really deliver; allowing him switch his flow a few times over, even parodying the oft-debated triplet that has been re-popularised by the likes of Migos. Overall it’s a heavy-hitting opener and a great taste of things to come. As we move to ‘Greatest,’ Em turns the dial up a notch with even more biting lyrics. Bars fly in from left and right as he calls upon a lot of his more notable motifs; violent lyrics referencing mass shootings, mentions of sex products, and calling out critics by name, leaving nothing to the imagination. It’s what Eminem fans want, and he delivers in spades. The track also features a great combo in production from Mike WiLL Made-It and Backpack, who have worked with the likes of Rae Sremmurd and Ayo & Teo (most notably, being the lead producer on the latter group’s double-platinum single ‘Rolex’).
Third track ‘Lucky You’ features a show-stopping 38 line [!!!] first verse by viral rapper Joyner Lucas, for whom it’s been an undeniably big year, on which he shares Eminem’s ruthless approach with fast-paced, creative lines like “You play your cards, I reverse on you all / And I might just drop 4 like a Uno]. His presence here is compelling, and sincerely intimidating presence on the track.
After a brief skit featuring a voicemail from Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg, we get to ‘Normal,’ the beginning of what could be seen as a drop-off, as our protagonist begins musing on his potential to have a normal relationship while rapping in a very… normal fashion. His almost Drake-like cadence feels jarring in terms of the album’s natural progression. ‘Kamikaze’ begins scaldingly hot, vicious even. With so much momentum, the switch to introspection seems a little mis-placed.
Next comes another skit, which sees Eminem call out a 2017 Shawn Cee review of ‘Revival’, after which comes emotional ballad to former group D12, ‘Stepping Stone’. The track is an appropriately somber opportunity to reflect on some of Eminem’s past beefs and misgivings with the group after Proof’s death in 2006, which Em references directly. However, the track prolongs a continued slip away from that sensational start, and returning to the kind of production that was so criticised on ‘Revival’; over-inclusion of piano backings and those odd multi-layered vocals.
Which leads us to ‘Not Alike’; another “state of Hip Hop” track, with insufficient Trap stylings and heavy bass to distract from Eminem’s preaching. Who exactly is he trying to convince with lines like “You say you’re affiliated with murderers” and “I respond rarely, but this time Shady ’bout to sound off,” and of what? Machine Gun Kelly certainly comes under fire [no pun intended], but in the main the whole track feels like a reaching statement about the fabrications of ‘clout culture’ within Hip Hop, but what else is new? At least this smooth slow-down of Tay Keith’s ‘Look Alive’ and a ghastly bass set from Ronny J make for a welcome change in production, and long-time Eminem collaborator Royce Da 5’9″s provides an excellent counterpoint.
‘Kamikaze’s title track begins as a nice throwback to some of Slim Shady’s goofier, more upbeat work. It’s quickly followed however by another booming Mike WiLL Made-It beat on ‘Fall’, where Eminem goes returns to kicking and screaming at the current state of the genre; taking shots at Drake, Migos, Joe Budden, DJ Akademiks, Tyler, The Creator. Just what is it that’s compelled Eminem to try and validate himself among a new generation of rappers? These bars over the exact kind of modern Hip Hop beats favoured by those against which he rails feels ill-advised and, at its worst and most critical, desperate.
The album draws to a close with love-inspired two-parter ‘Nice Guy’ / ‘Good Guy’, which capitalises on Jessie Reyez’ melodic, yet slightly grating range, delivering both harshly abusive and serenely optimistic lyrics to complement similar tonal switches from Eminem himself, before closing with ‘Venom – Music From the Motion Picture’. As the track opens up with rumbling bass, not soon after do we hear the introduction of gaudy synths, lousy pacing by Eminem on the beat itself and the return of those multi-layered Eminem vocals. It’s almost the perfect, self-contained summary of ‘Kamikaze’ in one track. Eminem is now, and forever, one of the most lyrically gifted rappers of all-time. Between his flow and his themes, he has built the platform to say whatever he wants, however he wants, to whomever he wants. But, Eminem has rarely been as selective as many would hope; his production choices are so often artistically questionable, his posturing and call-outs unnecessary. All that anger and energy, instead of being harnessed, seems to dissipate into a disappointingly inconsistent 14 track album. ‘Kamikaze’ may very well contain glimpses of Eminem at his brilliant best, but equally at his worst. Then again, polarising his audience has long been the name of the game.
Words: Zachary Mahabir