Eminem’s surprise album 'Kamikaze' proves to be his best work in over 15 years
Like many of you, I woke up Friday morning to news that Eminem had dropped a surprise album entitled Kamikaze. Needless to say, I was skeptical about the quality. His 2017 release, Revival, was my least favorite of his discography, and I haven’t been a fan of any complete project since The Eminem Show in 2002.
Of course there’s the possibility of nostalgia playing a role in my opinion of his older albums, but I’m actually pretty fair with that sort of thing. Kanye’s College Dropout is a classic but I much prefer My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I wish I could come up with another example, but most mainstream rappers don’t have careers that span as long as Kanye’s or Em’s. Or I should say none with consistent album releases.
With that in mind, 2002 was a long time ago; six albums to be exact.
So imagine my surprise when I started working my way through Kamikaze for the first time and actually liked what I heard. Pretty remarkable considering the first headline I read was from Forbes, calling it ‘clunky’ and ‘a fitting end to rap’s underwhelming summer’.
Last time I checked, Forbes wasn’t exactly considered a taste maker in the hip hop industry, but given the history of Eminem’s recent releases, I didn’t need much convincing that they were right.
Still, Eminem is a living legend. If you can’t acknowledge his skill, you’re either willfully ignorant or simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Even on the subpar albums, his technical ability is unparalleled. So I owe it to him and myself to at least give every new album a once-over.
He’s a brilliant lyricist, bordering on obsessive. At his best, he could craft articulate and poignant stories about his life while employing wildly complicated rhyme schemes and making it all seem effortless. He had a raw edge that provided authenticity and a compelling – and more importantly, true – backstory to add depth to his persona.
But it’s hard to sell audiences on the angsty, murderous drug-addict schtick when you’re a rich, sober, middle-aged dad. The only option is to evolve and change, which he’s certainly done, but there’s a risk associated with uprooting your fanbase and throwing something new at them. Generally speaking, the evolution-experiment had failed.
While I’m sure there are people who love Eminem’s new stuff, I am not one of them. I personally detest most pop-rap and find it unbearably shallow. I don’t need Ed Sheeran on a hook or a perfectly polished 16-bar verse to keep me engaged. In fact, it does the opposite for me. I’ll take an unorthodox delivery with an extra-long flow a la Nas’s “N.Y. State of Mind” any day.
Kamikaze gave us that. For years, Eminem’s technical skill has almost been a hindrance. It’s as if he’s been too focused on finding rap’s perfect formula to remember what it’s all for in the first place. Entertainment. If you can’t fit that technique into a song that’s actually fun to listen to, then what’s the point?
Cover-to-cover, Kamikaze has found that balance and proves to be his best work in more than 15 years. I loved the Royce da 5’9” and Joyner Lucas features on “Not Alike” and “Lucky You,” respectively, standing as my early favorites from the album. But even the more well-rounded songs like “Nice Guy,” “Good Guy,” and “Normal” seemed to elevate above the Eminem singles of late.
People are making a big deal out of the Trump commentary, but I could care less. I got much more enjoyment out of the attacks on trap rap and keyboard warriors. And yes, I understand the irony of reviewing an album that takes so many shots at music critics. But as they say: if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?
Only time will tell if this one stays in my rotation after a few more listens, but it’s unquestionably a step in the right direction for the veteran emcee. I had a friend say “I refuse to get my hopes up,” and that still feels like the right approach moving forward. But give credit where it’s due. Kamikaze is a solid project. Good for Marshall.