The month of September has been very busy for Marshall Mathers. From MGK’s up-tempo diss track, to Joe Budden’s scathing words during his increasingly popular podcast; the artist better known as Eminem has become the center of attention in the hip-hop world. This recent wave of publicity is the aftermath from the release of his tenth studio album, Kamikaze.
On August 31, 2018, with no promotion or lead single, Eminem surprised the world with his second project in just as many years. 2017’s Revival was not received positively by critics, or his core fan base. Many of the listeners were disappointed with the album’s lack of cohesion, its manic production, and the oversaturation of pop artists for guest features. For many years the common perception was that Em became detached from the modern music industry and was unable to adapt – a problem that many musicians face at one point in their careers. Kamikaze was a refreshing return to the Shady of old, with a much-needed contemporary feel.
At its surface, this album is a response to all the criticism he’s received during this past calendar year; dispelling the notion that Eminem is so far removed from the real world that he never sees, nor hears, anything about him. 13 tracks deep, this project only contains appearances from three artists, that of Royce da 5’9, Joyner Lucas and Jessie Reyez. Eminem’s manager and long-time business partner, Paul Rosenberg, also adds a bit of humor to the project on a short skit.
Throughout his career, Eminem always let his lyrical ability speak for itself. He seldom was the one to boast or brag about his achievements, Kamikaze a break from his norm. Setting the tone for the overall theme of this album, its introductory track “The Ringer”, Eminem raps “And I’m harder on myself than you could ever be regardless/ What I’ll never be is flawless, all I’ll ever be is honest/ Even when I’m gone they’re gonna say I brought/ Even when I hit my forties like a fuckin’ alcoholic…” Although he’s experienced many ups and downs during his 20+ years in the music industry, he’s still here, and there’s a lot to be said about that type of longevity in any genre.
Handling the majority of the production on this album, Slim Shady also received assistance from Mike WiLL Made it, Boi-1da, S1, and Illa da Producer, just to name a few. The album’s breakout track, “Lucky You,” features the Massachusetts-bred Joyner Lucas; where the two emcees trade bars over a catchy, bass-heavy beat. This is a sound that has eluded Eminem for many years, and quite frankly, many people feel that this was when he was at his best on this particular project. On “Not Alike,” Eminem teams up with frequent-collaborator and close friend, Royce da 5’9. Although the concept is something that we’ve heard from them on several occasions, it is always a great listen when these two engage in high-level lyricism.
Throughout the album, Eminem criticizes many musicians, politicians and members of the media. For a number of years, that has been his method of operation. From time to time however, he shows normal human emotions, such as vulnerability. On “Stepping Stone,” Eminem address the situation with D-12, and his admittance that he failed to keep the group intact after the death of DeShaun “Proof” Holston, his best friend and former group member. “Thought we was runnin’ shit ‘til we lost the sole of our shoe/ The death of Doody broke us in two/ We were thrown for a loop, ain’t none of us know what to do/ And at the time I was goin’ through my own struggles too…”
In order to survive in most things that involve competition, self-awareness is a pivotal trait to possess. The best way to improve on your strengths is to first assess your weaknesses. For the latter part of this decade, Eminem failed to adapt to the climate of music at the time. He continued to follow the formula that worked for him (i.e. ballad-like production, female pop star chorus, insert verse here); and while his contemporary, Jay-Z, solidified his position on the Mt. Rushmore of hip-hop, Eminem slowly began to fade away. While Kamikaze may not be Marshall’s best work to date, it is a testament to a newfound hunger towards making music; his true revival.