Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Eminem – Kamikaze – 13 songs / 45 minutes
This may not be a front-to-back classic like some of his earlier work, but there are more flashes of his genius here then we’ve heard in years. Marshall is angry, holding nothing back, and frequently showing off his obscenely fast (and gratuitously obscene) flow.
After inviting Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, and other superstars to appear on last year’s “flop” that was Revival, Eminem goes mostly solo on his 10th record. I put quotes around “flop” because I actually thought that album was underappreciated. I admit to being a bit of an Eminem apologist, perhaps because he hit me at exactly the right age but more likely because I just love to hear the man rap, regardless of what he has to say. Regardless, Revival was by no means a masterpiece, but it was not the train wreck many critics labeled it as. Nonetheless, the artists invited on Kamikaze are less known and tend to be more of the up and coming variety.
Leadoff track “The Ringer” starts with sound of a crashing plane upon which Em immediately goes into his trademark angry attack dog mode, mentioning his readiness to rape the alphabet while discussing how terrible hip hop is today. He disses auto-tune, the members of his audience who can’t catch up with his rhymes and their meanings, Joe Budden and other rappers who copy his style of chopping up his words, and rips into “mumble” rappers like Lil’ Yachty (full disclosure: I have no Earthly idea who that is).
When he rips into Mike Pence’s history supporting conversion therapy for homosexuality, it is genius while also being immature and profane – exactly what you would expect. Seriously, listen to this song – dude is in pure Slim Shady fuck the world mode, and I am obviously not going to do it justice by typing it out. His twenty-five second rhyme frenzy that starts at ~3:20 is about as good as it gets. The song features a pseudo ending followed by another minute of the man doing his thing; namely talking about penises, the media, and boasting about taking the beat to the cleaners.
Part of this album is a conscious return to the no-holds barred and no shits given scorched Earth (and hate speech, to be frank) lyrics that were ubiquitous in his older records. His undeniable talent mixed with a persona that was just marketable enough while being overtly offensive to everyone is why he soared to the stratosphere nearly twenty years ago. When he mellowed out a bit, he lost some fans. As Eminem put it in a recent interview, “I’ve noticed over the past few years people saying they miss the old Eminem. So… I’ll give them the old Eminem. Then when I do, they say ‘He’s too old to be rapping about that kind of shit. He needs to mature with his content’”. Ah the lament of the aging shock-artist… Marilyn knows how you feel. Just do you, I say.
“Lucky You” is Em and Joyner Lucas trading verses about fame and recognition over a stellar beat, and once again Marshall lets us know how much he hates rap today and all of the mumbling “songs about nothing”. In fact, the only love he gives to anyone in hip hop today is Kendrick Lamar, who he references a few times and name drops in “The Ringer”.
Per usual the album features a voicemail from Eminem’s long-time manager Paul Rosenberg, telling Marshall that he has heard the new material, and he doesn’t think it is a good idea. This is a tired shtick, to be sure, but when Paul mocks Marshall for making a record that is basically just responses to what other people said about his last album and how that tactic is a slippery slope, it is actually an interesting take. Mr. Mathers’ response voicemail is also featured, in which he loses his shit over a review he read by someone who missed the point on a song from Revival. The voicemail ends with the declaration that Em figured out the guy’s address and is on his way to pay him a visit, followed by him calmly saying “I’ll hit you back later”.
Royce Da 5’9”, another old favorite, shows up on “Not Alike”, another contemporary rap dis track. Some of you old enough may remember his appearance on the fantastic “Bad Meets Evil” from the debut record, way the hell back in 1999. “Fall” is simply badass. Eminem tells us as the song starts that “You know, everybody has been tellin’ me what they think about me for the last few months. Maybe it’s time I tell ‘em what I think about them”. Look the fuck out Tyler the Creator, the aforementioned Joe Budden, Drake, Lord Jamar, and Migos, and several others that I am just not hip enough to know.
If you enjoy Eminem at all, give this redemption record a shot. If you don’t, well, ok then, I get it. Really, I do.
Key Tracks: “The Ringer”, “Lucky You”, “Fall”
Also released (and not strong enough to recommend):
Dispatch – Location 13
This uneven sequel to last year’s America, Location 12 finds the group at their best on tracks that channel their inner reggae, most notably on “Cross the World” which tells the story of starting a band with not much more than a van, good friends and advice, and a $40 bass. Also, check out the protest-ish social ballad “Letter to Lady J” which asks us “how long has it been since you’ve been outside, how long’s it been since you opened your eyes?” and “does it always have to get worse before it gets better?” One other highlight is the super-catchy chorus of “Don Juan Tango”, a song that also sneaks in mentions of the GOP, NRA, NFL, shock and awe, and Johnny Law in an interesting sing-along almost rap verse.
Aaron Lee Tasjan – Karma For Cheap
Always interesting, Aaron still hasn’t decided if he is rock, country, or simply an Elton worshipper – but “The Rest is Yet to Come” is pretty catchy.
Passenger – Runaway
This music is incredibly popular, but I just can’t get into it.
Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine
Debut from supergroup consisting of members of Bon Iver and The National. Terrific band name, but this power-pop didn’t do anything for me.