By Shad Reed
(AllHipHop Features) After over twenty years in the game, including an unprecedented run from 1999 to 2002, Eminem’s name is forever etched in the annals of Hip-Hop history. Now, in 2017, the man born Marshall Mathers is 45 years old standing alongside a generation of artists he influenced. And while his latest offering, Revival, has a few moments of brilliance, it is more so an overstuffed album which relies too heavily on old tricks and tactics.
Whereas Em's "Renegade" collaborator Jay-Z pushed Hip-Hop forward with rap's version of an adult contemporary album this past summer, Eminem's mostly stuck in the past. Unlike Jay's 4:44, which addressed an artist at middle-age with a great deal of wisdom, Marshall's 19-track collection of songs finds him rehashing subjects listeners have already heard about and making another attempt for shock value when, at a time when both beheading and hardcore porn videos can be witnessed at the click of a button, the mere idea of such a thing may be outdated.
One thing which fortunately hasn’t changed though is that Eminem still has the instinct of a battle rapper, and, while he has dissed everyone from LFO to his own mom during his time on the mic, the current targets are Donald Trump and the Make America Great Again agenda. Conceptually, “Untouchable” finds Mr. Mathers rapping from the perspective of a Caucasian male and an African-American one; it’s him demonstrating and acknowledging the privilege that his skin color provides. It’s a very commendable act. Between this and his famous cypher at this year’s BET Hip-Hop Awards, the politically charged and Alicia Keys-assisted “Like Home” is a bit of letdown. Em’s lyrical shots at 45 are solid. “Everybody on your feet / This is where terrorism and heroism meet, square off in the streets / This chump barely even sleeps / All he does is watch Fox News like a parrot and repeats / While he looks like a canary with a beak / Why you think he banned transgenders from the military with a tweet?” However, they lose some of their strength when he says, “You don’t have to agree” before the rapping even starts. This not only undermines the “line in the sand” that he drew in the aforementioned awards show rhyme, but takes some of the sting out of the song as a whole.
The olive branch he extends to his ex-wife, Kim Scott, in “Bad Husband” is not unlike the one he extended to his mother on his last album’s “Headlights” song. Powerful and compelling stuff, but a little too late. Eminem is still an emcee very attached to the people and events in his personal life when it comes to his art, and while the public was once fascinated by it, not nearly as much of it care as would’ve 10 years ago. Even if reboots are currently in style, nothing new is being discussed here. Before he killed Kim on track 16 of The Marshall Mathers LP, he screamed, “I love you” and so the fact he expresses the same sentiment rationally seventeen years later on "Bad Husband" isn’t mind-blowing. That being said, Eminem has a way with words, so the last verse is still touching. “This is so tough, I’m gettin’ choked up / Oh f*** it, we both suck / We broke up, got back together / We both thought we had forever / Not bad people, just bad together.”
Elsewhere, the Rick Rubin-produced records “Remind Me” and “Heat” find Eminem rapping over rock music. The former, with its Joan Jett and The Blackhearts sample, misses the mark completely and the latter doesn’t fare much better. Thankfully, in addition to Revival’s lead single “Walk on Water” with Beyonce, Rubin makes up for the few missteps with the album closer, “Arose.” “Arose” and “Castle" (the song which precedes it) is Eminem doing what he does best. The two songs sequenced together find Em recounting his days trying to make it as a rapper and then rising to international superstardom through a series of love letters to his daughter, and finally revisiting some of the darkest points in his life with haunting despair. A tape is then heard rewinding and he goes back to “Castle” and raps with a sense of optimism rather than defeat. It is truly inspiring and serves as a metaphor for both his life and career.
Revival is one of the weakest releases in Eminem’s discography, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is one of the greatest rappers ever. Why? Because this album is being compared to his own body of work as opposed to the competition. In terms of skills, the percentage of people whose talent rivals Eminem’s on this LP is astronomically small. On the second song he asks, “But how do you keep up the pace / And the hunger pains once you’ve won the race?” It’s a great question, and one that few people ever get to ask. Slim Shady’s ninth album attempts to answer it, and, because the response is unclear, the project suffers. Even with respectable contributions from guests (eight songs have features), those records still feel kinda manufactured and that’s the last thing you’d expect from someone who said “I just don’t give a f***” even before “Hi, my name is.”
In the final two minutes of the 77-minute release, Em raps, “I’ll put out this last album, then I’m done with it / One hundred percent finished, fed up with it / I’m hanging it up, f*** it!” If so, okay. But based on this album, hopefully not. Even if he is over the hill, the last person to count out is Eminem. He came into Hip-Hop with the ability to get the last word better than anyone; it’s only fitting he leave the same way. And with Revival, it's as if he's still trying to figure out the best approach to do so. It’ll be exciting to see what happens if and when he does.