Kamikaze review: Eminem's new album is an uneven but stark reminder that the rapper's still got it
When it hits the mark, Kamikaze is one of Eminem's better, arguably the best, work in recent years.
“Tried not 2 overthink this 1... enjoy.”
And with a tweet as simple — yet telling — as that, Eminem dropped his latest album, Kamikaze. No fanfare, no countdowns, no social media teases. Just a 45-minute long record popping up on the streaming services. And even with those seven words, the rapper undersells, because the album is anything but not well thought out.
Last year wasn’t too kind to the Detroit MC. Revival, his first album in four years was drubbed (to put it mildly) by critics and fans alike, some going far as to suggest that the once ‘rap god’ had lost his prowess for good and his latest efforts were best forgotten. Marshall Mathers III was a middle-aged man out of his depth and time.
This, along with an absolute loathing for SoundCloud mumble rappers, lies at the heart of the new LP. Kamikaze, produced by Eminem and Dr Dre, is by no stretch a perfect album. What it is, is a reminder that the spark is still there. That the 45-year-old rapper can still spit fire.
“I feel like I wanna punch the world in the f--kin' face right now,” opens the album. Eminem is angry and no one is escaping his wrath. The first three tracks on the record — 'The Ringer', 'Greatest', and 'Lucky You' — are a breathless, unrelenting affair. With targets spread out in front of him, the rapper digs in.
Eminem does not mince his words, neither does he shy away from taking names. First in the line of fire are the critics (and the media, in general) who he thinks unfairly didn’t take too kindly to his last album. He complains about how negative reviews of his work are often rewarded, and any form of retaliation on his part would only make things worse for him. But there is also a kind of self-awareness to the whole act, like when he jokingly compares Revival to Fack later on the title track.
The rapper also resumes his fever-pitch criticism of the current state of the genre and the popularity of mumble rap. Lil Yachty, Lil Pump, Lil Xan, Migos, everyone gets called out. Over the course of the album, Eminem also trains his guns (for a variety of reasons, ranging from working with ghostwriters to tweeting about his daughter) at Drake, Tyler, The Creator, Charlamagne tha God, Machine Gun Kelly, Joe Budden, DJ Akademiks, Lord Jamar, and Die Antwoord, among others. Anyone who has irked him in recent years. And of course, Donald Trump and Mike Pence are also spared a moment.
The constant name-calling, complaining, and thoughtfulness wrapped up in narcissism can and does get a bit repetitive and tiresome. But what could easily have been a corny and self-indulgent affair through and through, is saved by Eminem’s clever, and at times hard to hard argue with, no-holds-barred verses, impeccable flow, and old-school energy. There is also an element of wit and outright crazy — including him mimicking the styles of other rappers — quite reminiscent of the rapper’s earlier work, a welcome development.
The album also features a number of artists, including Joyner Lucas, Royce Da 5'9", Justin Vernon and Jessie Reyez, most of whom work really well on their given tracks, something which hasn't been the case in the rapper's last few albums.
The album does have it misses. The tracks 'Normal', 'Nice Guy' and 'Good Guy' feel out of place, both lyrically and performance-wise, among the previously mentioned opening tracks and the likes of 'Not Alike' and 'Fall'. And lest we forget, the album closes with the track 'Venom', the title track for the upcoming Marvel movie of the same name, something the album could have done without. Perhaps a Kanye West-inspired tighter production might have helped to keep things from straying too far.
When it hits the mark though, the album is one of his better, arguably the best, work in recent years. It makes a genuine case for Eminem’s ability to get back on the top, a place he’s quite familiar with. There is plenty of fuel still left in the tank, all he needs to do is to floor it at the right moments.
The album has already courted its fair share of controversies, and with every passing day, one can expect certain individuals, mentioned throughout the record, trying to get back at the rapper. But one also expects none of them quite do it like the Slim Shady.
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