Eminem is back with a new album, Kamikaze. It’s been less than a year since his previous album, which was critically considered a disappointment. He quickly responds to that criticism with his best album in over a decade (since The Eminem Show1).
Kamikaze is full of precision, with a cadence that fills every pocket of rapid production. No matter how fast the song is moving, he’s in complete control of his tone and wordplay. It’s as if everything is moving in slow motion for him. This is Eminem’s response to a music industry that’s moving on from his style of music. His back’s against the ropes, and similar to the old Slim Shady, whoever happens to be on his radar is now a target. Kamikaze has one single purpose: kill everything.
The album starts off with a plane crash, before an eerie beat starts up, and then Eminem starts talking,
“I’m just gonna write down, my first thoughts, and see where this takes me.” It feels like the entire album was written out this way: whatever came to mind, he immediately used. It works for him, especially on this opening track.
"Paul wants me to chill. Ya’ll want me to ill. I should eat a pill. Probably I will. Old me killed the new me. Watched him bleed to death. I breathe on a mirror. I don’t see my breath. Possibly I’m dead. I must be possessed. Like an evil spell. I’m E-V-I-L. (evil, spell)."
He’s finally found his groove again, it just took a couple bad albums to get us here. The biggest difference between Kamikaze and the albums prior is how effortless he sounds throughout these songs. His skills have always been there, but the forceful constructed verses (re-recorded too many times—making it lose its authentic tone, overdubs, screaming, and accents) always got in the way of the actual music. An artist that’s as much of a perfectionist as Eminem, for many years, flew too close to the sun with his attention to detail. It just wasn’t fun to listen to. (It also didn’t help that he was attempting to be friends with the music industry and rarely directly dissing anyone like his past self.) All of those problems are fixed on Kamikaze.
"Common sense, I’m a dollar short and day late. James Holmes at the Saturday Batman matinee. Must’ve missed my cat-scan that day. I just threw a Tampax at Dre."
There’s only two rap features on Kamikaze: Joyner Lucas and Royce da 5’9, two artist that Eminem not only respects, but also shares a similar lyrical style with. These features compliment and create pivotal moments on the album. On Lucky You, there’s a cinematic buildup that Joyner starts the song off with, and then the beat drops, and then he sets the tone for the entire track. Eminem shows up midway and delivers a special verse, explaining how bad the current state of Hip-hop is.2
On Stepping Stone, Eminem delivers an apology/farewell letter to D12, his group from his early years. It’s sentimental and heartfelt. It’s the one song that doesn’t fit the craziness that’s Kamikaze—but yet it’s the highlight of the album, especially on the last verse, when he doubles his vocals and sings along with the verse,
“I will always be here, but that spark isn’t there, and I don’t know how to recapture that time and that air. I’ve tried hearkening back to, but I’m fighting for air. I'm barely charting myself.” I would’ve ended the album with this song (and removed Nice Guy and Good Guy), but it’s still nice to hear this song this early in the album. It sounds like a song that’ll have a music video with old footage and flashbacks of the band’s glory days.
”It was never the same, and it’s bothered me since, and the farther we drift apart, the more awkward it gets. The more time goes by, the more life happens, and we gotta be men. We got responsibilities, plus we don’t say how we feel, and I feel like this is what got us in the debacle we’re in. Been with you guys thick and thin, but it’s almost as if sometimes we’re not even friends.”
When thinking about the big picture and what this means for Eminem’s legacy, Kamikaze reminds me of Jay-Z’s 4:44. After hearing that album, I knew that he still had a long career ahead of him if he wanted to. A breakthrough, in a sense, discovering a new direction to take. With a career as long as Jay and Eminem’s, they’ve done it all, so at this point, if they find a new path to take, their longevity increases—like an athlete, understanding that their approach should adjust as they get older. This is a much more nimble Eminem, as he recorded all of these songs recently—in response to the criticism he received about Revival—so it shows that he doesn’t need years to make a complete project.
“Kamikaze pilot, I wrote my suicide note. Here comes the guys in white coats trying to stop me before I jump behind the controls and try to fly into foes. Because I'm taking y'all with me when I go cyclone. I don't think this typhoon's letting up any time soon. Here I go: eyes closed, blindfolded, I'm about to smash into everyone, crash into everything.”
This is also the first time he doesn’t use a traditional launch, a refreshing turn for an artist that seemed to be attached to a machine that wasn’t agile or swift enough to release something without a big promotional campaign. The old way, the slow-moving process of announce, release a single, and then crawl to the arrival date is dead, and Eminem has finally caught up with the industry on this front. Expectations and pressure are removed here, and the art of surprise is in his favor again.
"I guess it comes with the territory. My ex-girl, she just declared war, therefore, I better prepare for it. I guess being weird’s normal."
Kamikaze isn’t a perfect album (The two relationship songs at the end, despite their flawless rhyme patterns, are weird and out of place on a hyper-focused album), but this is the best version of Eminem we’ve seen in over a decade. From the production, to the effortless skill in constructing such technical verses, to the pockets he’s able to fit words inside of, each verse has moments that I can’t stop replaying. And most importantly—no matter how much technique is displayed—the songs are a pleasure to listen to. As his tweet 3 said, he tried not to overthink this album (which brought something that wasn’t constantly edited, and “fixed”), and yet it’s more thought-out than 99% of the albums that are coming out in Hip-hop. If you like lyrics, this album is definitely for you.
2004’s Encore suffered from a leak issue, where a bunch of his best songs leaked online before he was done with the album (Bully), and those songs didn’t make the album after, but Big Weenie did.
2009’s Relapse, though one of my favorite Eminem’s album, suffered from an accent problem, and an out-of-touch Eminem that was gone for so long and trying to figure things out again.
2010’s Recovery and 2013’s MMLP2 (Bad Guy, Rap God, Headlights) both suffered from the overdub and screaming verses.
2017’s Revival was a greatest-hits-accumulation of all of his biggest artistic problems. (The last three songs, though—In Your Head, Castle, and Arose—could’ve been it’s own EP and got more respect than the entire album did. It’s three of Eminem’s best songs.)↩︎
They’re asking me, ‘what the f**k happened to Hip-hop?’ I said, ‘I don’t have any answers’[...] Nothing is feeling like anyone has f***ing ability to even to stick to a subject, it’s killing me. The inability to pin humility. [...] ‘Why don’t we make a bunch of f***ing songs about nothing and mumble them?’ F**k it. I’m going for the jugular. It’s a circus. You clowns that are coming up don’t give an ounce of mother-f**k about the ones that were here before you that made rap. It’s a recap. Way back, MC’s that wreak havoc on tape decks. [...] We need Three Stacks ASAP [...] Because half of these rappers have brain damage. All the lean rapping, face tats, syruped out like tree sap. I don’t hate trap, and I don’t wanna seem mad, but in fact, where’s the old me at? The same cat that would take that feedback and aim back. I need that.↩︎