Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem) surprise-dropped a 13-track album on Aug. 31, to the tune of a surprised but happy fanbase.
The veteran MC and well-known industry figure’s “Kamikaze” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, started a beef with Machine Gun Kelly, and sold a ridiculous amount of copies (251,692 pure album sales in the first week alone). But was it good?
The short answer is no. I don’t really consider the project to be “good” in any overall sense. However, it does have its high points—some of the tracks are comprised of the best rap material put out in years. That seems like a contradictory duo of statements, so allow me to explain.
Eminem, undoubtedly, is one of the greatest rappers of all time. He fully displays his abilities on this album with his impeccable flow. The lyrics are layered and clever; his rhyme schemes are multi-faceted and complex. This all makes for an incredibly satisfying listen at times, when he is simply rapping over an aggressive beat. Even when the topics aren’t savory or even justifiable, I can let it go to an extent purely based on how he delivers said topics. It’s all laced with a sharp kick of attitude and vulgarity that comes standard on an Eminem album. If you tend to enjoy pointed disses and enjoy aggressive music, you will like tracks like “The Ringer,” “Greatest,” and “Lucky You.”
“The Ringer,” the opening track to the album, starts off with a bold and angry opening statement before launching into nearly five minutes of perfect and pointed bars. A dark and sharp beat serves as a nice backdrop for this, and the instrumental is simple enough to let Eminem’s vocal track serve as the focus (which is a positive, in this case). This specific lyric serves as a highlight on the track, “I’m east side never be caught slippin – now you see why I don’t sleep, not a wink, I don’t blink. I don’t doze off, I don’t even nod to the beats.” The entire segment that I pulled that lyric from is incredible. It’s complex, aggressive, and motivating. Not to mention, it’s a smooth transition out of a breathless double time flow that runs for nearly 40 seconds straight.
That was just one of a dozen perfect verses that are delivered on the album. Another highlight is a strong featured verse from Joyner Lucas, a Massachusetts based rapper signed to Atlantic, who matches Eminem’s vocal dexterity on the track “Lucky You.” His double time flow is something to behold, and his punchlines carry an almost Lil Wayne esque effect, they are bordering on corny but manage to remain firmly in the clever category.
With that all being said, my previous statement about the project being not so good might be starting to contradict itself, given all this praise. That’s where the second half of this project comes into play. It’s not good, like, at all. The song “Nice Guy,” which features vocals from singer Jessie Reyez, is ear-grating and generally unpleasant. Some very questionable bars are the most memorable from the track “Fall,” where Eminem mentions Tyler the Creator (popular fashion designer, musician, rapper, and creator) by using a homophobic slur. I don’t have a huge issue with swearing in music, but this particular case seemed like a forced edge and it strikes me as particularly in poor taste. “Normal” features a really ugly beat that ruins any potential the song could have had. “Stepping Stone” has an interesting story to tell, but ultimately, lacks replayability and comes off as a really mediocre cut. Generally, these songs are messy with an unfocused feeling, and the instrumentals don’t feel as tailored to his style.
My thoughts on the project thus culminate in this statement: it’s like a mountain range, with some really high peaks and some really low dips. It has tracks that are certainly worth a listen, but going through with it from start to finish isn’t exactly a smooth hike through the range. For that reason, I can’t really justify giving it a positive seal of approval. Eminem’s last two albums definitely weren’t his best, but hopefully one day he can bring back the real Slim Shady.