Eminem begins Kamikaze with a temper tantrum like that of a third-grader who just learned to swear. Apparently, as he says on “The Ringer,” he wants to “punch the world in the … face right now.” If only those punches would land.
Eminem’s 10th studio album finds him as angry as ever, aiming and taking fire at critics and peers with abandon — but to call the rappers he targets his “peers” would be inaccurate. Rap has evolved as a genre and surpassed Eminem since his peak. Most rappers today don’t traffic in the convoluted word soup verses on which Eminem built his career.
As a result, lines where Eminem takes aim at the likes of Lil Yachty and Lil Xan sound like the mutterings of an old man who’s bitter that the industry has left him behind. Even the beefs Eminem chooses feel behind the times. Lil Yachty, in particular, is a dated punchline.
Much of Kamikaze responds to critics of Eminem’s last album, the awful Revival. Eminem’s rebuttal, and this album’s central thesis, is that his critics are stupid. On “Em Calls Paul,” a skit track, Eminem throws another fit about a critic not understanding his enlightened rhyme schemes. On the opening track, “The Ringer,” he claims Revival was poorly received because some of his lines were going over listeners’ heads. Especially when websites such as Genius exist to explain the meaning of lyrics, such a claim is laughable.
On the same track, Eminem has the gall to critique listeners for having codeine in their cups, despite his best material having been produced while he was a drug addict. A little empathy would be nice.
The violence and depravity constituting Eminem’s material was once, in an era long past, boundary-pushing. Today, that level of toxicity permeates the internet. Hyperviolent tirades are far from original –– they’re the norm. Eminem sounds like an edgy YouTube commenter.
He calls Tyler, the Creator a homophobic slur on “Fall.” Though stans may defend it as “real rap,” saying homophobic slurs to insult someone crosses the line.
Eminem employs the same machine-gun flow that has characterized his music for most of his career. Variations in cadence and rhythm have never been his strong suit, and it shows, as many of the songs feel indistinguishable. Ironically, many of the best moments on Kamikaze are when Eminem mimics other rappers’ flows in order to dis them. He copies Migos’ flow from “Bad and Boujee” to make a point about how different he is from Migos. He borrows the recently incarcerated Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” flow while writing him off as a Lil Wayne clone. The irony is that these are the best moments on the album. In his misguided quest to prove flow isn’t everything, Eminem proves the contrary. In response to this attempted dis, Lil Pump wrote on Instagram, “Thank you I deserved that” –– showing how irrelevant an insult from Eminem is in the current age.
The best flows feel intrinsically tied to their beats. Despite a rockstar roster of producers, Eminem seems unable to interact with the beats of his songs to create anything memorable. A song produced by Tay Keith and Ronny J should be a contender for song of the year, but in Eminem’s hands is middled. Featured collaborator Royce da 5’9” does a stellar job brag-rapping on the track, however. And on “Greatest,” Mike WiLL Made-It makes one of his most adventurous beats, but Eminem’s hook makes it the worst song on the album.
Kamikaze shines when Eminem sounds like he’s having fun. “Nice Guy” and “Kamikaze” both exhibit the tongue-in-cheek humor that made the Slim Shady persona listenable. And “Stepping Stone” is a great introspective cut. But everywhere else, Eminem sounds insecure. Twice on the album he tells a girl he is dating, “You were supposed to correct me,” after saying something self-flagellatory. It’s sad to listen to. Consequently, his threats to take back rap’s throne lack credibility. He sounds washed-up and bitter.
And in turn, Kamikaze is simply pathetic.
Contact Seiji Sakiyama at [email protected].