Eminem first got a buzz in Hip Hop with the release of his underground 12″ singles and albums between the years of 1996 and 1997. His undeniable skill with words made him stand out during an era where lyrical content was king. His frantic (yet polished) delivery paired with raw subject matter caught the ear of west coast legend Dr Dre. The rest would be history. Eminem would go on to become the biggest selling artist of the 2000’s.
Eminem continued to deliver albums, receive awards, and break records. More than a decade into his career as he sobered up, many felt his music lacked its previous edge. With the evolution of the internet and social media, people around the world have access to the most bizarre (and appalling) stories, videos and events. The shock factor no longer was the driving force in Eminem’s music. It was almost as if he said every over the top similie that could be conjured up. A new generation of fans flocked to rappers who favored simple lyrics, catchy hooks and repetitive music. These sounds were shaped around a new culture, with new drugs. Music made for a pot head, is sure to sound different than music made for a pill head. After his 2017 album Revival was panned by critics, a chord inside of Em, was obviously struck.
Kamikaze is a “surprise” album that was released at the stroke of Midnight. The shock factor that drives Eminems music on this album is the daring approach of actually using lyrical skill to seduce the modern listener. The targets that Em’ chooses to unleash his rhythmic rage on are no longer the helpless i.e. Moby, Christina Aguilera. He decides to raise the stakes, and call out his contemporaries (Joe Budden, MGK, Tyler The Creator, D-12, Charlemagne and more) making himself fair game. His lyrical prowess on Kamikaze is enough to make half the rappers he called out not respond. This album wasn’t made for sales, it was made for skills. Maybe Eminem felt as though rappers were too comfortable? He quickly reminds us that most rappers aren’t on the mic, to be considered “The Second Best Rapper”.
From the first bars on “The Ringer” Eminem sets the tone for the album, where he hurls criticism at the same recording industry that wrote him off. He calls out Lil Yachty, and Mike Pence equally. “Turn Down For what? I’m not loud enough” sums up the feel for what’s to come. A variety of concepts keep the listeners interest and the guest appearances are limited to Joyner Lucas, Royce Da 5’9 and Jessie Reyes. On “Normal” Eminem addresses the issues that plague many dysfunctional relationships without having to get to go overboard to where it becomes “hokey”. Where as Eminem’s previous music could come across as “overthought” Kamikaze is driven by emotion and feelings. This is most apparent on “Nice Guy” and “Venom”. On “Nice Guy” he makes a hook out of a cadence you would expect from a kid on a playground who just discovered cuss words. Somehow Eminem makes it work.
Kamikaze is refreshing. Hip Hop has always been about balance. During a time where a beat can hypnotize fans and a team of ghostwriters can formulate the perfect hook, Eminem takes it back to spazzing out in the vocal booth. Remember the days where it took more than one listen to consume and digest an album? Those days might very well be back.