The Rickety Old Shack

Eminem — Kamikaze

album cover

After last year's critically panned Revival album, Eminem is back already with a new record — almost like an attempted mulligan. Eschewing a formal album launch, Kamikaze was released just as suddenly as it was announced. Initial reception was mixed, but my curiosity was piqued although my expectations have been tempered significantly throughout the years. To be honest, if this wasn't such a quick follow-up to his worst record, I don't even know if I would have given Kamikaze a second thought without significant prodding from others. It's been a long time since I've found myself motivated to listen to Eminem.

I have not been a fan of Eminem's work for a decade-and-a-half, since the release of The Eminem Show to be exact. It was around that time that Eminem had started to get overexposed, essentially becoming more famous and wealthy while the quality of his music declined steeply. Recovery was a serviceable comeback record, but also revealed the blueprint of every effort to follow: dense blocks of technical rapping for the sake of being technical, uneven production, anger, the occasional hamfisted pop star guest feature and more anger. Later period Eminem albums have been hugely mixed bags, typically featuring a decent single and a whole host of forgettable material.

Kamikaze opens with "The Ringer," a typically angry tune that runs five-and-a-half mninutes, taking aim at a number of subjects like cloud rap and various other rappers. It's a passable track, but like all recent Eminem material it feels empty and cold, a technically proficient paint by numbers. "Greatest" comes next and is quite bad, with an annoying beat and terrible hook. The third track "Lucky You" — which, in my estimation is the peak of the record — featuring Joyner Lucas is absolute fire, and set false expectations for the rest of the album when I found this single.

There are two skit tracks on Kamikaze which is exactly two more than an album released in 2018 should have. The production does sound fairly modern, albeit uneven in some cases; "Stepping Stone" is an absolute abortion on all levels. What was ostensibly meant to narrate Eminem's falling out with D12 ends up being the worst cut on the album, packed full of a trite narrative, terrible lines and an incredibly obnoxious instrumental. "Normal" is a lament on failed relationships that falls flat and feels like a completely unncessary rehash of so many prior tracks of this nature. "Not Alike" is decent, but forgettable despite a respectable appearance by Royce Da 5'9.

Rounding out the rest of the album is the title track, which is three-and-a-half minutes of terrible 'window pain'-esque lines, "Fall," a regrettable include that features cringey auto-croon, the atrocious "Nice Guy," which is just yelling basically, "Good Guy" which feels like an incomplete track and the laughable "Venom." The last track is hilariously bad, with Eminem saying the title in an absurd borderline offensive Carribean parody style, and spitting some superfluous lines about the Marvel comic character. The forthcoming Venom film already looked bad, hearing this cut from the soundtrack does little to change that initial assessment.

Ultimately Kamikaze is a better album than Revival, but that still leaves a lot of room to be bad and terrible and not good. This is hardly a return to form; I don't think it's even possible for that to happen — and expecting it is just asking to be let down. Eminem does employ a lot of modern production aesthetics on this album, and seems to intentionally dabble in the flows and techniques used by the very SoundCloud rappers he lashes out at on the record — as if to say "I can do this too, kids" — but still suffers from the same flaw as all of his more recent material, a lack of reason to exist. These call-outs feel contrived or, at the very least, hardly impassioned: like he felt he had to throw some rocks and just went with whoever came to mind.

Aside from "Lucky You," and portions of "The Ringer," Kamikaze is yet another sub-par batch of tunes from the most commercially successful rapper in history. It's easy to see why Eminem has fallen into this pattern, it's difficult to summon up the same hunger and worldview after almost two decades of living a life of extreme financial and creative success. It's also why picking beefs with his contemporaries is moot, he's already 'won' the game — nothing he does or says will cost him the success he has already attained. So instead we keep getting these regular doses of virtuoso-level rapping and nothing worth hearing; like many things on Kamikaze later period Eminem is living proof of the addage that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

Don't buy the hype, there is nothing new here. Go stream the Hell out of "Lucky You" and spare yourself the rest.

Summary

A quick follow-up to the universally maligned Revival still falls largely flat. Kamikaze attempts to be a controversial shot across the bow of the modern rap world, and instead comes off as an immensely skilled emcee punching a clock more than anything. This record feels like its creator felt an obligation to keep doing this, to keep "going to work," as it were. Eminem can still rap fast and contort sentences into the most awkward slices in his never-ending quest to turn everything into a series of compound rhymes. Kamikaze feels like a slightly modern update to what has otherwise been the stock Eminem record we've been getting every few years since he got clean. There is a single stand-out track on this album, "Lucky You," and everything else ranges from forgettable — like the second half of the album entirely — and actively bad on cuts like "Stepping Stone" and the title-track.

This is not a good album. If you're the sort of person who enjoys modern Eminem material then Kamikaze is 11 more songs of the exact same material you've been getting for years now. For everyone else, go find something else to do — literally anything else — and skip this album entirely. You don't need to do this to yourself.

Album Information

Release date: August 31st, 2018
Record label: Aftermath Records

Eminem — vocals, production
Joyner Lucas — vocals (track 3)
Royce Da 5'9 — vocals (track 8)
Justin Vernon — vocals (track 10)
Jessie Reyez — vocal (tracks 11, 12)
Illa Da Producer — production (tracks 1, 5, 12)
Jeremy Miller — production (track 2)
Mike Will Made-It — production (tracks 2, 10)
Ronny J — production (tracks 1, 8)
Boi-Ida — production (track 3)
Jahaan Sweet — productiopn (track 3)
SI — production (tracks 5, 11)
LoneStarr Muzik — production (track 5)
Louis Resto — production (tracks 7, 13)
Tay Keith — production (track 8)
Tim Suby — production (track 9)
Fred Ball — production (track 11)

Track Listing

  1. The Ringer
  2. Greatest
  3. Lucky You
  4. Paul (Skit)
  5. Normal
  6. Em Calls Paul (Skit)
  7. Stepping Stone
  8. Not Alike
  9. Kamikaze
  10. Fall
  11. Nice Guy
  12. Good Guy
  13. Venom - Music From The Motion Picture

Link: shop.eminem.com

—by Derek

Published: September 6th, 2018.