By the time the beat pulls it’s parachute and glides onto the track, Kamikaze‘s first offering is anxious and the bars are anticipating the flow. Having just survived what I assumed to be the sound of a committed suicide pilot with a self fulfilling prophecy, the basic and understated production barely has a pulse and it’s melody is weary of melodrama. But without wasting a beat, intense rhymes come jerking out of Slim Shady‘s gullet like an electric current flowing though a lyrical heart palpitation. Switches in the flow throw off an expected balance like an unexpected pull of inertia on a subway train. Seemingly just there for the paycheck, but working nonetheless, the drowsy instrumental lets the star shine bright as it accompanies “The Ringer’s” one long opening verse, which feels like the line of coke that stopped a heroin overdose. It’s a shock to the system letting us know this isn’t the song we thought it would be. And as our expectations dive bomb into thoughts of a decade plus of disappointment, the realization that this might not be the album we thought it would be transcends indifference, and becomes elation.
I’m knee deep into Kamikaze‘s fifth track, “Normal”, when I realize I have a smile on my face and have yet to roll my eyes. Not even once. I’m sold. Meanwhile, I can’t shake the feeling that it may sound a lot like the album that should have followed Eminem Show and came prior to Encore. Or at least that’s where it would land on an evolutionary chart representing Eminem’s rap style. Encore was the album that first made everyone question what was in store for Slim’s future as rap’s heavyweight title holder. Sure, it got video play and produced a few relatively popular singles, but nothing nearly as memorable as what preceded it. And at that time if you were a money printing machine, like the Shady brand was, record labels were still in a position to go all in and fail a few times on a proven entity before showing you what the business is really about. And relying on the kids to come around wasn’t much of a risk when it came to artists with a knack for controversy and self marketing. These days, that sort of thing gets you dropped from your label and your Twitter account suspended. But in the end, the whole of Encore felt too far removed from what we had come to know and love about Eminem. Kamikaze, on the other hand, feels like what making the right move at that time might have sounded like.
I think it was inevitable that Eminem would eventually make an album that finally quenched the unforgiving thirst of OG fans who want nothing more than to have their memories wiped so they can listen to the Eminem Show for the first time all over again. Stan grew up and forgot to bring his youthful sensibilities with him so the later outings like Rehab, Relapse and “Higher Power Doorknob God: Addiction is a Disease 2- Diarrhea Month” didn’t strike much of a cord with the die hards who are still hopelessly devoted to the Holy Trinity: Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers, and Eminem Show. I just hope they have come to the realization I have that the emotional tie-ups with music one can feel in their youth begin to dull with age and only remain true for the music of that time (Cue Don Henly). Eminem’s career, which dropped off post-high school for me, (Eminem Show came out end of my senior year) only offered a smattering of likable songs but would never offer the album experience. It did, however, help wrangle a new generation of fans. Younger listeners who weren’t put off by the change in direction and the strange sounds new Eminem music was making. To them that’s just Eminem. It’s nice knowing that due to Kamikaze, they get to hear him in a fuller context that showcases much of what they missed out on the first time around. So fuck you Tyler!
With the exception of a few tracks containing elements more contemporary to now than to the instrumentals of the early 2000’s, Kamikaze‘s style, in regards to it’s MC, feel right at home in 2003. Before the speed rap would just be what Eminem does now. Before the flow experimentation started to feel like calculus homework. When it wouldn’t be surprising to hear Em start going chopper on a verse, but it wasnt being treated like a newly adopted kitten you use to make the other kids play at your house. The irreverent subject matter not as abstract and cartoonlsh as the Slim Shady EP, but not as self serving or utterly lacking as on Revival. It feels pre-Rick Ruben through and through, and in the context of Eminem that’s a blessing. Between the disses, one-liners, and middle fingers, rhyme skill still shines the brightest. Emotional torment, whether played for laughs (“Normal”) or not meant to be playful (“Stepping Stones”), found a comfortable place to inhabit. It didn’t have to crowbar it’s way into an overstayed welcome like some of the newer previous efforts. And if you can’t find the joy in getting to hear Slim Shady fire off a clip’s worth of head-shots at the current state of rap, then I’m taking my joy and I’m staying right here. Because this is a party, And you can fuck right off because I’m not missing a thing.
And yet, I feel ashamed, I feel ashamed for allowing myself to get so indifferent and then allowing myself this joy. Truly undeserved. Because the truth is I feel like a traitor for having given up so easily and for writing off one of the rappers most significant to my hip-hop fandom. I feel a fool when the drunken wobble of “Greatest” kicks Kamikaze up a notch and that excitement intensifies. I get embarrassed when a track like “Normal” forces me to take a hard look in the mirror and admit that I too wish for these bitches to just be normal. (Look at Marshall with his thumb still firmly on the pulse! Can you believe it? I feel alive!) But then I feel shitty. I feel down right loathsome when a song like “Stepping Stones” can be so far from a cheap emotionally charged injection of nostalgia and yet still make me yearn for the days when Big Proof, armed with nothing but determination and a hot 16, prepared to straight up set fire to a mic that still sat glowing red, still smoking, having just endured Em’s turn in the booth. And it’s hard not to imagine Marshall having thoughts like this while writing and recording the song. Because how many times must we bury the dead? Whether it be the memory of the music that you made that in turn made you, or the 15 years spent trying to remember the recipe. But me? I’m born again. A true believer once more. So long as from here on out, he doesn’t ever take anything too seriously again. I promise I won’t.
I’m just playin’ Eminem. You know I love you.
Listen to Kamikaze here:
- Nice Guy