Fact: Kamikaze is Eminem’s most consistent and energetic effort since 2009’s Relapse. There’s still the seething protest of all things Trump (“But I know at least he’s heard it/’Cause Agent Orange just sent the Secret Service/To meet in person/To see if I really think of hurting him/Or ask if I’m linked to terrorists”), which fueled his last album, Revival, a project that was arguably the most negatively received work of his 20-plus year career.
It’s clear that’s the reason why Eminem sounds like a man out for revenge on everyone that doubted him the last go around. The production here is much livelier (Ronny J, Mike WiLL Made-It, Boi-1da, Tay Keith, etc). The lyricist is more focused and as wildly brazen as ever. And there may be even more to come, given that Mr. Mathers' brief lyrical bullying of mid-tier rapper and actor Machine Gun Kelly inspired the Cleveland rhymer to answer back with a serious clapback that has everyone on social media screaming white-on-white crime. And podcast star, emcee, and former Slaughterhouse member Joe Budden wants all the smoke as well.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Here is every Kamikaze track ranked. (No skits. Sorry, Paul).
This is the kind of tedious dreck that has been the hallmark of “sleepwalking Eminem.” From its nauseating chorus (“Knock knock, let the devil in!”) to its just-add-water, beyond cheesy corporate production, this soundtrack number is as needless as a hole in the head and the upcoming Venom movie itself. Thank you, Uncle Ben up high, that it gets better from here.
If you go beyond the cheesiness of “Kamikaze’s” cartoonish hook, you will hear a lyrical master craftsman at work. While in the past, Eminem has admitted that his race played a pivotal role in his crossover success as the biggest-selling solo rapper of all time, he still wants his props. “But if the only reason I blow is 'cause I'm white though/Why don't every other white rapper sell what I sold?” he snips. Somebody check on Macklemore.
Eminem has done the jilted, deranged, jealous, violent lover shtick ever since he freaked out politicians, parent groups, and small dogs with “’97 Bonnie & Clyde.” Here, however, he projects himself in the role of the “Nice Guy” who is actually the phony prototypical f**k boy. Add in a little humorous dragging by the charismatic Jessie Reyez and you have the type of deep album cut that embraces all the weird.
Eminem truly thrives when he has worthy emcees around to raise the stakes. And like Slim Shady, Joyner Lucas takes a witty everyman approach to the mic (“Some chains and some blades and a couple of knives/Choppers and jammies, a partridge, a pear tree/My 12 days of Christmas was nothin’ but lies…”) Indeed, the pairing works. But this is the first song in our ranking where Mathers truly blacks out on his second verse: “Way back, MC's that recap and tape decks/ADAT's with the G. Raps and Kane's hat/We need 3 Stacks ASAP, and bring Ma-sta Ace back… All the lean rappin’, face tats, syruped out like tree sap…” Check, please.
Again, this is well-worn I’m-the-greatest-emcee-in-the-world hip-hop territory. But a hungry Eminem sounds revitalized, as he stays in pocket and never leaves while flying at a multi-syllable breakneck speed that would leave most lyricists in the dust. “I hear you talkin’ sh*t, I’m just too big to respond to it,” he sniffs. “God forbid I forget, go and jump out the window/Somebody better childproof it/’Cause if I lose it we can rewind to some old Ja Rule sh*t.”
Part 2 of Slim Shady’s dark relationship saga continues, as things get very real. An introspective Em outlines just how a union can go down in flames. “And there's a new guy, you're being replaced by him/Got your tubes tied for him, got that boob job for him/Hurts me to my core, but the pain I’m in/After you, I swore to make the gray skies end.” It swings, but stays grounded.
Will he ever find love again? In these #MeToo times, it’s quite jarring to listen to Mathers toss out such misogynistic terms as “h*e” like it’s small change. The challenge with “Normal” is you don’t know where Slim Shady ends and where he begins. But Eminem offers himself some much-needed, self-deprecating cover when the beat switches up. “And then pull up at 5 a.m. in the drive-in a stretched white limo/Stumble in the side door and hit me head with Milo's demo/But like a drunk bum, what do I know?” Apparently nothing.
Eminem is having fun again. And he brings his longtime Bad Meets Evil partner, Royce Da 5’9, along for the ride. When the rhyme monster hilariously strings a series of words together that are literally not alike (“Trainwrecks, sidewalks/payless, high tops/K-Fed, IHOP/Playtex, ice spots…”) you can almost imagine the rhyme vet not being able to keep a straight face as he flips the cadence to Migos’ “Bad and Boujee.” But there’s no humor involved when Eminem makes light work of Cleveland’s Machine Gun Kelly: “You’re not ready, fool/Break yourself like Rocksteady Crew.” Sheesh.
You ever wonder why the thick-as-thieves D12 imploded? Eminem goes on record for the first time about everything, from how the tragic murder of the beloved Proof decimated the group and survivor’s guilt to his Detroit brethren not getting what he now sees as deserving respect. This is cathartic stuff handled with the brilliance of the same meticulous storyteller that made 2000’s “STAN” a rap landmark.
There are already some folks comparing this headline-grabbing rhyme bomb to Kendrick Lamar’s infamous, calling-names verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” But the Compton kid was simply flexing for sport; a respectful call-out to his peers to let them know he takes the art of emceeing pretty damn seriously. Eminem? He’s taking a page out of the book of Tupac with much “Hit ‘Em Up” rage.
There’s one subliminal. (Is Em getting at Drake with the line, “You got some views, but you’re still below me/Mine are higher, so when you compare our views, you get overlooked/And I don’t say the hook unless I wrote the hook…”)? Yet the rest are quite clear and savage. On the list: New York radio personality Charlamagne tha God; rapper turned irreverent podcast host Joe Budden; hip-hop taste maker DJ Akademiks; and former Brand Nubian member and actor Lord Jamar.
But Eminem truly turns the heat up on the outspoken Tyler The Creator, who dismissed his previous “Walk on Water” single as “horrible.” “Tyler create nothing,” he spits at the Odd Future founder. “It’s not just ’cause you lack attention/It’s ’cause you worship D12’s balls, you’re sac-rilegious/If you’re gonna critique me, you better at least be as good or better.” Even the great Earl Sweatshirt catches a stray. It’s on.
“Do you have any idea how much I hate this choppy flow everyone copies though?/Probably no…” And with that we open with a legit back-to-form Eminem challenging the new generation rappers, more specifically, the mumble contingent. And yes, it’s glorious. “All I am simply is just an MC/Maybe ‘Stan’ just isn’t your cup of tea/Maybe your cup’s full of syrup and lean…” Still, the old man never goes full blown you-kids-get-off-my-lawn as he admits that while he’s not the biggest Lil Yachty fan, he gets the appeal to rap fans that worship internet swag. Em, however, is not as easy on the rash of gimmick rappers and tattoo-faced headliners who have seemingly taken over the hip-hop landscape. “So finger-b*ng, chicken wang, MGK, Iggy ‘zae/Lil Pump, Lil Xan imitate Lil Wayne,” he connects the dots, giving love to Young Money stalwart Weezy. There are no lies here.