It’s nearly impossible to keep up with the never-ending stream of pop culture, particularly at the rate that the youths are producing it now. Between Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Azealia Banks’ Instagram story, inevitably you will stumble on a picture of a boy you have never seen before, with multiple tattoos on his face, whose rap name is derived from a popular benzodiazepine. No matter how hip you think you are, or how many times a day you check Just Jared Jr., it’s only a matter of time until you resemble that Lil Xan meme from the VMAs, face smushed against the glass of a zeitgeist that’s only intelligible to extremely online fifth graders. Eminem, the 45-year-old rapper whose popularity peaked in the early 2000s, is determined to beat back irrelevancy the only way he knows how: by pressing his face right up against that glass and pointedly misremembering Earl Sweatshirt’s name. That’ll show him!
Eminem’s new surprise album, Kamikaze, is targeted and explosive from the very start, opening on an ambitious track that takes aim at everything from mumble rappers to the media to Vice President Mike Pence. Marshall Mathers is disillusioned with the rap world, and pissed off at the critics who panned his 2017 Revival—an album that Forbes describes as “a 77-minute cringe compilation of lousy punchlines, antiquated beats and bloated pop-rap crossover bids.” With his trademark mix of shock-tactics, rapid-fire rhymes and lyrical knots, Eminem runs circles around SoundCloud rappers. “I can see why people like Lil Yachty, but not me though,” he revs up. “Maybe ‘Stan’ just isn't your cup of tea / Maybe your cup’s full of syrup and lean.” Later on, he dares you to “pick a name,” rapping, “Lil Pump, Lil Xan imitate Lil Wayne / I should aim at everybody in the game.”
On “Not Alike,” Eminem takes his old-man-sitting-on-a-lawn-shaking-his-fist-at-kids-these-days routine a step further, parodying Migos’ “Bad and Boujee.” Or as the masterful Rap Genius annotation puts it, “He mocks mumble and trap rappers like Migos, by naming random objects that have no connection to each other.” But the rapper’s curmudgeon act sours on “Fall,” when he falls back on needlessly offensive insults. Eminem clearly knows that homophobic slurs aren’t as acceptable as they used to be, which is why he censors the curse when calling out Tyler, The Creator, saying, “I see why you called yourself a f****t, bitch / It's not just ‘cause you lack attention / It’s ‘cause you worship D12’s balls, you’re sack-religious.”
It seems like Eminem still thinks it’s brave and cool to bust out that f word—so he must not be as clever as he insists. Say what you will about the next generation, but at least they apologize for homophobic content and presumably try to do better. Meanwhile, Eminem has been insulting gay people for years, while swearing that he’s no homophobe—just too lazy to find a new insult and too stubborn to retire his favorite slur.
Sure, Kamikaze also labels Trump an “evil serpent” and “Agent Orange”—but is this really your #Resistance rapper?
While Eminem makes motions towards attacking the current administration, Kamikaze is far more preoccupied with its Trumpian crusade against journalists and critics. Riffs like: “But my beef is more media journalists / I said my beef is more meaty, a journalist / Can get a mouthful of flesh / And yes, I mean eating a penis / ‘Cause they been pannin’ my album to death / So I been givin’ the media fingers” need no annotation.
When he’s not telling critics to eat dicks, Eminem is more than happy to point out the haters’ many failings—like not being smart enough to recognize Eminem’s extreme talent and unparalleled prose. Bitter over Revival’s commercial and critical reception, the rapper muses, “Maybe the vocals should have been auto-tuned / And you would have bought it,” continuing, “But sayin’ I no longer got it / ‘Cause you missed the line and never caught it / ‘Cause it went over your head, because you’re too stupid to get it / ‘Cause you're mentally retarded, but pretend to be the smartest.”
During a classic Paul Rosenberg voicemail skit, Eminem’s manager brings up some issues with the new material, warning him, “Umm, are you really gonna just reply to everybody who you don’t like what they have to say, uh, about you or the stuff you’re working on? I mean, I don’t know if that's really a great idea; it’s—it’s like, what's next?”
Given the lukewarm stream of reviews that have already started to come in—a general consensus that, while Eminem can clearly still produce some incredible work, the album is hit or miss—it seems like Eminem will have a lot of new material and fresh anger to work with. As The Guardian concluded in a less than glowing write-up, “Kamikaze is a variable, flawed album. The hooks are nothing special—in the case of Nice Guy, a lumbering bass-heavy grind bedecked with a racked vocal from Jessie Reyez, it’s actively painful. The beats are of noticeably spotty quality, ranging from the clean, cool electronics of Fall at one extreme, to the distinctly ho-hum Venom, a pallid contribution to the soundtrack of the forthcoming Marvel movie tacked awkwardly to the end of the album.”
At least when the rapper is going after critics and up-and-comers, he sounds halfway human. On “Stepping Stone,” there’s some real vulnerability in the way that Eminem talks about his waning influence, bemoaning, “Bacardi in hand, never thought the party would end / One minute you're bodyin’ shit, but then your audience splits / You can already sense the climate is startin’ to shift / To these kids you no longer exist.” These fresh meditations on being pushed out of the business stand in sharp contrast to Eminem’s musings on infidelity and exes, which are just rotted at this point. “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy” are two bad songs. Read through the lyrics and they get even worse, as the rapper reinforces his worldview that all women are liars, cheaters, “bitches” and “whores,” and entertains fantasies of bringing “my fuckin’ bat and just swing by!”
He picks up where he left off on “Normal,” rapping, “Heartless, no wonder we’re partners / Both got hundreds of charges / Domestic disputes but we’ve always / Swept it under the carpet / Even when 911 gets the call that / I slipped up and busted her jaw with / A Louisville Slugger 'cause all’s it / Really does is make our love / For each other grow stronger.” Eminem really must be out of commission if he doesn’t know that baseball bats belong to Beyoncé now—also, that whole “I hurt her because I love her so much” narrative has only gotten worse with age.
Other attempts at edginess, including a Harvey Weinstein riff and a Gabby Giffords reference, are just gross. Clearly, when Eminem said that he tried not to overthink this mixed bag of a tenth album, he meant it.