He’s relapsed, he’s recovered, he’s been revived – and now he’s back, back again (and again). His second album in less than a year, Kamikaze is the latest and most disappointing entry to Eminem’s never-ending encore, a boot camp of knotty, joyless, lumbering ragers aimed largely at a rap game that’s passing him by.
Perfunctorily, he loads reams of names and multisyllabic filler into his random rhyme generator and sets the timer for 46 minutes. The rhymes have more grace and torque than the scream-raps of his last LP, 2017’s Revival, but that doesn’t make them much more enjoyable. Words are relentlessly contorted, stretched, chewed and spat just for sport. Eminem styles himself as a neglected virtuoso, but everything here — his intensity, his low-voltage shock raps, his crusade against “mumble rappers” — feels forced.
Eminem has no insights or ideas about the state of rap, nor does he have meaningful thoughts about his place within the genre. He probably doesn’t even have a Spotify account. He raps only for the sheer thrill of hearing himself rap. The ego trip lets up briefly on “Stepping Stone,” an apology to his old Detroit crew D12 for being a flawed leader. His voice is quaking and resonant as he admits to poorly navigating the group through the aftermath of D12 member MC Proof’s death. The touchy subject matter introduces some introspection and dimension into his writing, traits that are sorely missed on every other song here.
But even that moment doesn’t last long. By the song’s third verse, Em is again rappity-rapping about his legacy, and is even vain enough to suggest that listeners have turned away from him because he turned away from D12. Ultimately, Kamikaze’s length and curtailed guest list make it less grueling than Revival, but Eminem’s indignant grandstanding has no discernible relation to the rap world he complains about. Whether you seek bars, added sugar, or vitamins, hip-hop is thriving in 2018: Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer; Pusha-T elevated petty beef into investigative journalism; Quelle Chris and Jean Grae penned absurdist, urgent satire; Maxo Kream turned family pride into dark underworld grit; Cardi B spun stripping into stunning statements of self-worth and steez. The list goes on. And so does Eminem.