By Shad Reed
(AllHipHop Features) From 1999 to 2004, Eminem dominated the rap game while breaking countless records in the process. His place in both Hip-Hop and music history were firmly established. The following decade and change saw him continue to release commercially successful projects, but personal issues, most notably a drug addiction and the death of his best friend Proof, caused Eminem’s once seemingly invincible armor to crack. Then in December of 2017, he released his ninth studio album, Revival, and everything reached a breaking point. Even with a blistering take down of President Trump two months earlier on the 2017 BET Hip-Hop Awards, Eminem's latest album had some questioning his relevancy to today’s audience in a field where he was once in a class by himself. Rap’s biggest stars were all now from a newer generation and Hip-Hop’s landscape was a vastly different place from where it was when he introduced himself and his alter-ego Slim Shady to everyone on “My Name Is” at the end of the 90s.
And so, a mere eight months after Revival, Eminem has returned with Kamikaze to do what he does best. In fact, Slim Shady, not Eminem, is even named as one of the album’s executive producers alongside Dr. Dre. And rightfully so. It is 11 songs (13 tracks in total) of masterfully executed complex rhymes that take no prisoners. On the album opener “The Ringer,” Em raps with a sense of urgency that the fast-flying jet on the cover art implies (as well as pays homage to the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill) and he expresses his disdain for some of today’s rap artists like Lil Pump, Lil Xan, and Lil Yachty the same way that he used to diss NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears almost 20 years ago. He also reworks hooks from Playboi Carti and Migos records on “The Greatest” and the Royce Da 5’9”-assisted “Not Alike” respectively as a way of taking shots at mumble rap in addition to all but calling it out on “Lucky You” with Joyner Lucas. “*Hatata batata, why don’t we make a bunch of f**kin’ songs about nothin’ and mumble ‘em.”*
He also spends a lot of time attacking everyone who didn’t like Revival. In addition to telling media journalists to eat a d**k, he specifically mentions radio personality Charlamagne tha God, former affiliate Joe Budden, and DJ Akademiks for their unfavorable opinions. It is very commendable too how in the age of social media and a time when everyone is always under heavy scrutiny that Eminem stands by Revival more than some might expect: “But saying I no longer got it / Cause you missed the line and never caught it / Cause it went over your head, because your too stupid to get it / Cause you’re mentally retarded, but pretend to be the smartest.” Eminem has always prided himself as a lyricist and Revival is no exception. In an interview with Billboard magazine earlier this year, Eminem said that he spends a lot of time writing sh*t that he thinks no one ever gets.
He never apologized for it though and it’s that’s kind of integrity that has given Marshall Mathers a level of authenticity rarely ever seen in commercial Hip-Hop and it also makes his response to criticism that much more inspired. And while there are moments that touch on relationships (“Normal,” the two songs with Jesse Reyez, and the powerful “Stepping Stone” about the end of D12), they are merely footnotes in the context of an album largely based around Eminem throwing up the middle finger to those who are wanting to write him off as a premier emcee. The album closer “Venom” is not only the centerpiece of the soundtrack to the upcoming film of the same name, but also a fitting conclusion to an album where he spits it better than he has in a long while.
Kamikaze is confirmation that Eminem won’t go down without a fight, even if it means bringing a lot down with him in the process. Not unlike how his 2010 album Recovery was seen as a recovery from 2009’s Relapse, Kamikaze will be perceived the same way in relationship to Revival. And where Revival’s first song “Walk on Water” started with him asking, “Why are expectations so high?”, the first track on Kamikaze begins with him saying that he wants to “punch the world in the f**kin’ face right now.” It's a refreshing 180-degree turn. Eminem got his start as a battle rapper and this album is him fighting for his legacy, instead of sounding insecure, and demanding the respect he rightfully deserves with a passion in his raps unseen since his heyday. The jury is still out on whether or not audiences will accept what Em has to say on this 46-minute set, but, perhaps even more importantly, it’s proof that he accepts it and that in and of itself is a victory that deserves to be celebrated.