Album Review: Eminem's Kamikaze
Detroit Rapper Falls Flat On Tenth Studio Record
There are very few names in the realm of contemporary music that are as polarizing as Eminem. Some view the rapper as one of the most talented and versatile artists alive, while others view him as nothing more than a cringy musician, whose performative “edginess” consistently prevents him from creating work worth listening to. Over the past decade many hip-hop fans have crossed over into the latter group, as Eminem subjected listeners to five albums of stale material. Unfortunately for his fans, this album is no different.
On Kamikaze, Eminem adopts a moralistic and preachy attitude, commenting on the state of the music industry and his relationship to the media. His lines paint him as a sort of tragic hero, a drowning figure, constantly grasping and flailing, struggling to stay afloat in a music industry he doesn’t understand, surrounded by criticism he doesn’t agree with. This approach doesn’t work in his favor, as the quality of his music declines because of his choice to spend thirteen tracks exploring the music industry’s current state from his moral high ground. The trope of the rapper who lashes out against the industry and other rappers due to a lack of praise is tired. The rappers that people most frequently criticize and mock — J.Cole, Logic, Hopsin, Joyner Lucas, Russ, and most recently Nicki Minaj, who, in her attempts to cope with her newest album Queen’s lack of praise came across as childish and desperate — all share this same quality, and it is because of this holier-than-thou attitude that fans are quickly turning on Eminem.
Kamikaze plays like every other Eminem album from the past twenty years: Eminem attempts to use fast rapping, homophobic slurs, and needless examples of violence to distract the listener from his mediocre writing, dad jokes, and corny lines. On the album’s opening track “The Ringer,” Eminem looks down on his younger contemporaries’ use of autotune and rhythmic patterns consisting of only triplets. The rapper’s critique of modern music is almost comical, given the lackluster quality of his last five albums, including the song “River,” which features none other than king-of-cringe Ed Sheeran. The irony in Eminem’s attempt to stay relevant while condemning those he works alongside is palpable, but “The Ringer” reaches its true peak when Eminem addresses the criticism he received after his last album Revival: Eminem (with a lyric that forced me to put my phone down and pause the song) tries to claim that opponents of his last release were “too stupid to get it,” all of his lines flying over their heads. There is something so petty and insecure about a rapper who in one moment delivers sarcastic lines about him being mad at those who don’t like his album, but in the next immaturely raps about how the music industry and anybody who hates him is stupid.
The remaining tracks on Kamikaze are essentially more of the same, though credit is due to the team of producers who worked on the album. The instrumentals are nowhere near as bland or boring as the ones found on the last few Eminem albums, and this is partially due to Eminem’s team ushering in more modern sound engineers and producers like Ronny J, Mike Will Made It, Boi-1da, and Kanye West collaborator Symbolyc One. Tay Keith even lends his talents on the song “Not Alike” featuring Royce da 5’9”, providing the rappers with an instrumental that is intentionally eerily similar to his hit “Look Alive” with Blocboy JB and Drake. While many of the instrumentals on this album are just as uninspired as before, Kamikaze is definitely an improvement on earlier Eminem albums in this regard, trading the overblown pop-anthems for more minimal percussion-focused songs.
It is the writing on this album that suffers the most, as Eminem addresses those who criticize his music with the most childish and desperate of insults, telling his haters to “eat a f-cking dick” and “kiss my disrespectful ass.” I can only imagine Eminem walking back into the studio after recording these songs, chugging a Monster Energy Drink while his camp tells him how he just “totally owned those haters.” Eminem has no reason to be upset that people associate him with XBox-wielding 14-year-old boys when the extent of his modern lyrical prowess consists only of petty insults. These juvenile insults culminate on the track “Fall,” where Eminem uses a homophobic slur against Tyler the Creator, a choice that reads as pathetically vapid and desperate for attention. When online publications condemned Eminem’s use of the word, many of his fans came to his side to say that being offensive is just who Eminem is, and that he’s just playing a character who raps about far more horrific things. To those fans I offer only a single question: is your taste in music so depraved that you think that listening to a 45-year-old white man rap about domestic violence and rape is a good use of your time? Do you enjoy it?
Twitter user @JoshuaBleich made an interesting comparison between Eminem and Old Yeller. In 2018, Eminem is a modern-day Old Yeller, a character that many people grew up with and now are having trouble coping with his fall into irrelevance. Just like dealing with an old rabid dog, despite how much some may have enjoyed Eminem’s music over a decade ago, eventually one has to accept reality and admit that the period era where Eminem stood tall has passed. Gone are the days of drinking Mountain Dew at 2:00 a.m., playing “Call of Duty,” and listening to Relapse. Although those who experienced those days may look back at them fondly, we have all grown and matured since then, and Eminem should too.