At 45, Eminem is the world’s oldest teenager. May he never grow up.
Less than a year after the release of Revival, Eminem dropped a surprise new album, Kamikaze, on Thursday night. The tight turnaround is somewhat surprising for Em, given that, until Revival’s release late last year, he had only released two albums this decade. But the lackluster notices for Revival have clearly been weighing on Marshall Mathers’ mind (he explicitly mentions this in the Kamikaze opener “The Ringer”) and from the jump, Em positions his new album as a response record to Revival.
If its self-destructive title wasn’t enough of a clue, Kamikaze is a Slim Shady album, not an Eminem album. Eminem is the guy who kicked pills and makes radio hits with Rihanna; Slim Shady is the inveterate prick who talks shit with a panache perhaps unmatched in hip-hop history.
Revival was an Eminem album, and not a very good one. While it was refreshing to see him get explicitly political on songs like “Untouchable” and “Like Home,” treacly pop moves like “Walk On Water” and “River” were a bad look for one of rap music’s most transgressive figures.
Kamikaze blows all that up. There are no Ed Sheeran’s or Pink’s on the hooks, no feints toward growth and maturity. It’s Slim Shady shitting on competition, flexing his greatness, and issuing reminder after reminder that he is one of the most technically gifted rappers ever to touch a mic.
The opening trio of songs is arguably Em’s best three-song run in over a decade. “The Ringer” is five-and-a-half minutes of non-stop rapping as Shady takes shots at the younger generation of rappers, music bloggers and Donald Trump. It’s crabby as hell but damn if it doesn’t work.
“Greatest” makes a convincing case for his GOAT status over a Mike WiLL Made-It beat tailored made for Em’s flow.
With his double-time flows on the first verse of “Lucky You,” Joyner Lucas sets a bar that few rappers outside of Eminem could clear.
From there, the album gets a little less consistent (inconsistency has been a hallmark of every Eminem album since The Eminem Show) but the highlights (“Not Alike,” “Fall” and the title track) are among the best songs Em has made in years. At his best, Eminem commands your attention like few other rappers; his mix of scatological humor and technical wizardry holds the listener hostage, unsure of where the flow will go next or what target will end up in his crosshairs.
And Eminem takes a TON of shots on Kamikaze. Joe Budden and Machine Gun Kelly catch smoke but the most notable diss is directed at Tyler, The Creator: “Tyler create nothin’, 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.”
Eminem’s use of a homophobic slur (again) has already elicited predictable finger-wagging from certain corners of the Twittersphere. That’s understandable, but their anger is misdirected, and not just because Tyler himself has used that particular epithet prolifically. Eminem is to controversy and outrageousness what cream filling and sponge cake are to a Twinkie; essential ingredients.
So yes, Kamikaze is juvenile and frequently distasteful. But at a time when artists are being actively policed for their words and jokes, it’s genuinely thrilling to hear someone rap with reckless abandon. Even after all these years, Eminem still doesn’t give a fuck. Here’s hoping he never does.