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Eminem Kamikaze Album Review – There’s a Reason Eminem Is So Sensitive About His Legacy on Kamikaze
Fourteen years ago, Eminem was the king of provocation. He was still trying to prove himself to critics, to other rappers, to conservatives turning him into a pariah. He could do things like throw himself his own national convention—which aired on MTV and drew endorsements from Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Ludacris, P. Diddy, and, yes, Donald Trump. That was a time when Eminem knew how to control the media and the narrative better than any other musician. He’d say something controversial, and he’d be the lead story for a week. That was a time when he backed it up with what arguably remains the best flow and lyricism in rap music. He created conversations. He was a daily household name among kids and parents, alike.
As a rapper, few artists have ever come close to him. But, he remained imperfect, thanks in-part to his scattered ideas and problematic content. He was rightfully attacked for his overt homophobia, which was supposedly behind him in 2001 when he performed at the Grammys with Elton John.
Over the years, Eminem’s music has tried to resist maturity. Though he’s a wealthy, 45-year-old dad, he’s has still attempted to play the role of the aggressive outsider; his music, meanwhile, has settled into the familiar rhythms of pop-rap. Eminem’s place in American culture seemed even more uncertain in 2016, as this country saw a shift in pushback against PC culture. Suddenly, the agitators were conservative commenters, stirring the pot with blatant racism, homophobia, and outrage. Compared to Donald Trump, Eminem seemed safe and tame.
Last year, however, Eminem seemed to briefly find his voice. He channeled his outrage and his mastery of words toward the establishment once again, attacking Donald Trump at live shows and in a now-unforgettable BET cypher. Eminem had the momentum to be relevant again. Unfortunately, months later, Eminem followed it up with Revival. Best described as a dad-rap album, Revival was filled with forced scolding of Trump and embarrassing posturing within hip-hop. He wasted the political moment, critics trashed him, and we all moved on fairly quickly.
But Eminem hasn’t stopped thinking about it. He’s been brooding over what people said about him—and he’s hurt. Which might be why he came back with Kamikaze, an album that does precisely what the title suggests: Eminem takes everyone—and everything—down with him.
Kamikaze does precisely what its title suggests: Eminem takes everyone—and everything—down with him.
His beats on this album are the strongest he’s had in a decade. And his flow has never been more unbelievable. That’s not debatable. The problem here is that Eminem’s ideas remain stale at a time when there’s no shortage of material in this country.
The bulk of the album is dedicated to leveling insults at his enemies in hip-hop. He takes on Lil Yachty, Lil Xan, Lil Pump, Machine Gun Kelly, Chance the Rapper, Drake, Charlamagne Tha God, Migos, and mumble rap as a whole. His critiques have moments of brilliance, like when he imitates the heavily copied trap flow or quotes the style of Migos and Drake as he does on “Not Alike.” When he gets introspective on “Stepping Stone” and “Normal,” it feels like an interesting glimpse into the life and psyche of a mad genius.
But his issue is more with critics at a time when we have enough people mad at the media at the highest reaches in the American government. On “The Ringer,” Eminem has an interesting response to his BET cypher:
I’m watchin’ my fan base shrink to thirds And I was just tryin’ to do the right thing, but word Has the court of public opinion reached a verdict Or still yet to be determined? ‘Cause I’m determined to be me, critique the worship But if I could go back I’d at least reword it And say I empathize with the people this evil serpent Sold the dream to that he’s deserted But I think it’s workin’ These verses are makin’ him a wee bit nervous And he’s too scurred to answer me with words ‘Cause he knows that he will lyrically get murdered But I know at least he’s heard it ‘Cause Agent Orange just sent the Secret Service To meet in person to see if I really think of hurtin’ him Or ask if I’m linked to terrorists
He certainly sounds quite a bit like his enemy, Donald Trump (with whom he was friendly 14 years ago). But that’s the most in-depth look he gives into American politics. While Eminem’s politics on Revival were lacking in nuance, and perspective, and clarity—and largely uninteresting—it’s nearly non-existent on Kamikaze.
The biggest problem, though, is Eminem’s return to homophobic language. This comes on “Fall,” on which he takes aim at Tyler, the Creator. In recent years, Tyler has been flippant about his own fluid sexuality. Though Tyler’s as guilty as anyone for homophobic language in his music, the rapper recently claimed to be bisexual on his latest album, Flower Boy. In response, Eminem raps:
Tyler create nothin’, I see why you called yourself a fa—, bitchIt’s not just ’cause you lack attentionIt’s ’cause you worship D12’s balls, you’re sack-rilegiousIf you’re gonna critique me, you better at least be as good or better, get Earl the Hooded SweaterWhatever his name is to help you put togetherSome words, more than just two lettersThe fans waited for this moment like that feature when I stole this show, sorry if I took forever
Eminem edits himself in this lyric—the presumed homophobic slur is bleeped out—but the message is still there. Eminem still doesn’t understand the progress hip-hop has made in recent years. He doesn’t understand—or even care—about the plight of the LGBTQ community. He is the same man who freely used that word as an insult as recently as 2013. And it’s Eminem’s complete blindness to the larger world—whether it be politics or social issues or hip-hop—that explains why he’s so sensitive about his legacy in 2018.
There are exactly three people he respects, as he makes clear in Kamikaze: “If you ain’t Kendrick or Cole or Sean, then you’re a goner,” he raps on “The Ringer.” And specifically—when it comes to Lamar and Cole—they’ve been outspoken critics of homophobic language, which the latter has openly addressed in his music. And on a bigger scale, these rappers exempt of Eminem’s criticism are involved in the nuanced conversations of their communities, along with what’s happening in America and the world. Maybe Eminem should take note.