Revival and Kamikaze
Not everyone likes rap, but every person I’ve talked to has at least heard of Eminem. It’s not that surprising, however. As a 15-time Grammy winner, Eminem has reached legendary status in the music industry. His road to greatness was full of obstacles - a poor background, an absent father, an abusive mother - making his success even more uplifting and inspirational.
I first heard Eminem (and hip-hop in general) when I was in middle school in China. My friends blasted “Love the Way You Lie” from Eminem’s 7th album Recovery as we played video games, and I was hooked not by Rihanna’s catchy hook, but by Eminem’s thumping rap verses. After that, I started looking him up myself and streaming his older songs, like “Without Me,” “Lose Yourself,” “Mockingbird,” “’Till I Collapse,” and so on. The things I love about Eminem, and what I think distinguishes him from most other rappers, are the emotions and energy he puts into his delivery. Words spew from his mouth like a fast-flowing river, as I the listener sit on a raft, barely able to keep my balance but enjoying every moment of the ride.
Maybe it was because of my high expectations that I was disappointed by Revival, his ninth studio album, which came out in 2017. First of all, just by briefly skimming through the tracklist, one can see that it was filled with features. Of course, there is nothing wrong with features - this formula has worked out really well for Eminem, evident in the success of “Love the Way You Lie” and “The Monster.” His previous album The Marshall Mathers LP 2, also included lots of features. On Revival, however, he had really gone over the top. Additionally, his rap verses had become more monotone and lacking in flow. Moreover, his bars on some of the tracks, such as “Heat”, or the single “River” featuring Ed Sheeran, sound very awkward. Other songs, like “Framed”, have decent rap verses, but then the hook kicks in and ruins the whole feel of the song. Overall, the production was lazy, badly planned, and the three singles from the album (“Walk on Water”, “River”, “Nowhere Fast”) were all very questionable.
Critics’ responses were polarized, but most people can agree on one thing: Revival is the worst Eminem album. Eminem, of course, had been hearing these criticisms since the album’s release. In a remix of the song “Chloraseptic” released in January, he threw in extra verses in response, with lyrics such as “‘Walk on Water’ sucked? B****, suck my d***.”
Maybe that’s why when Eminem dropped Kamikaze on Aug. 31, some of his fans weren’t so surprised. Eminem has dropped many diss tracks in his career, so why not a whole diss album? In 12 out of the 13 tracks on Kamikaze's tracklist, Eminem takes shots at people he either dislikes, or who have criticized him in the past, ranging from rap artists and singers to music critics and government officials.
All of these tracks were written, recorded, mixed, and produced in less than a year, and yet this album to me is a truer album than Revival. His inflated ego and flamboyant hostility make a comeback in many of the tracks such as “The Greatest” (not hard to see from the title), “Not Alike”, where he called his alter-ego Slim Shady a “demi-god” and rapper Machine Gun Kelly a “blond fairy cornball”; and “Fall”, one of my personal favorites, where he again emphasizes his greatness and his legendary status. The production is also much cleaner, and his flow reminds me more of some of his old albums.
The release of Kamikaze has caused an uproar in the music industry. Many of the people Eminem dissed on the album have given their responses. The most famous of these is probably Machine Gun Kelly’s diss track “Rap Devil,” a name chosen to mirror Eminem’s self-proclaimed “Rap God” title. These responses, however, are exactly what Eminem welcomes. The purpose of Kamikaze is equivalent to the WWII Kamikaze planes, with Eminem as the pilot. He’s throwing himself at those he sees as “enemies”, resulting in a powerful explosion. To me, music is just a tool for artists to channel their inner thoughts and emotions, which in Kamikaze is anger. Revival did not revive Eminem’s career: Kamikaze does, in his signature way.