Eminem fired a veritable shot heard around the world on Friday, August 31, with Kamikaze. Some people love it, some hate it. People are genuinely divided over the album content and for a variety of reasons.
For one, Eminem may have reduced his usage of offensive slurs, when compared with his earlier work, but they’re still present. In his diss to Tyler the Creator, Eminem dropped a slur generally associated with homophobia and bigotry against gay men in particular.
On his single “Fall,” which just received a new music video, currently sitting at million views on YouTube, Eminem took Tyler the Creator and his labelmate, Earl Sweatshirt, to task in a manner that was anything but subtle.
Tyler create nothin’, I see why you called yourself a f*****, b****. It’s not just ’cause you lack attention. You better at least be as good or better get Earl the Hooded Sweater, whatever his name is to help you put together some words, more than just two letters”
The inclusion of such language, regardless of frequency, has a number of people calling for Eminem to be censored or disavowed by mainstream outlets.
Another reason people don’t like Kamikaze is an underlying theme present on the album, articulating Eminem’s distaste for the bulk of modern rappers or contemporary rap music in general. Trends like “mumble rap” and “trap” music are heavily criticized, song after song.
Then there’s the accusation that Eminem is just being bitter and petty. Taking aim at fellow rappers, young and old, the rapper has elicited a number of responses from critics, suggesting he could use his talents for something more.
Spin recently published an article titled “Eminem Is Still Wasting His Talents On Thin-Skinned Antagonism.” In it, the author states Kamikaze reflects a “lack of growth” on Eminem’s part, criticizing the rapper’s decision to attack other MCs as a means to draw attention.
The problem with Spin’s criticism is that Eminem has expressed growth in the past. Last year the rapper released an album called Revival that was a notable departure from his previous works. With a number of uncharacteristic cadences and instrumental choices, Eminem was clearly operating out of his comfort zone while recording his 2017 album. Furthermore, the rapper even took a moral left turn on the song “Bad Husband.” In which, Eminem directly addresses his shortcomings as a husband to Kim Mathers, blaming himself, accepting accountability, and expressing regret.
Revival was a genuine covering of unexplored terrain for Eminem, but he was critically blasted across a number of media outlets for the album. Consequence of Sound called the album “ugly, arthritic, and pleasureless” and “a disaster”.
Prior to Revival, Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP 2, nodding to his hugely successful album, The Marshall Mathers LP. While that album received more positive reviews, plenty of outlets panned it. Pitchfork awarded it 4.7 out of a possible 10. Much of the criticism among reviewers was that he was rehashing old themes and becoming stagnant.
The aftermath of Revival in 2017 appears to have been a sobering moment for Eminem, where he found himself face to face with a deeply discouraging career-future. Either try new things, attempt to grow as a person and artist, and disappoint his fans over and over, or keep trying to relive the glory days and be regarded as pathetic. For a person such as Eminem, who has publicly discussed issues of addiction, this could potentially be where the wagon hits a huge bump and its rider falls off. Instead of allowing such a thing, though, Eminem went dark, recorded an album in secret, and dropped it in the middle of the night to erupt like a nuclear bomb in a firestorm of media headlines.
A week later and Kamikaze’s effects seem as relevant, if not more so than they were the day of its release.
Every verbal attack on the album is being explored by just about every media outlet across the web, in print, and on television. Rappers are responding left and right, some via Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and others, like Machine Gun Kelly or Ninja of Die Antwoord, via the response diss tracks. Those clap-backs at Eminem are receiving a ton of press on their own, as hip-hop and eagerly await Eminem’s retaliation.
Historically, Eminem has eviscerated those challenging him to a public feud. Eminem’s song “Nail In The Coffin” was notably ruthless toward rapper Benzino during their feud in the late-’00s. YouTube comments for the song are currently lighting up with rap fans commenting that they’re rewatching these older diss-tracks to prepare for a veritable bloodbath awaiting MGK. He’s released equally vicious one-off tracks at Ja Rule, Everlast, Cannabis, and even Mariah Carey. All the aforementioned artists, perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps not, experienced a notable career decline after Eminem’s lyrical slayings.
While his ability to end a career may be debatable, his ability to win the hip-hop crowd in a battle may as well be carved in stone. It’s not a good idea to diss Eminem. Period.
That said, people are doing it anyway, and hip-hop audiences are excited.
Rappers have always been competitive. A large number of outlets unintentionally reveal their cards when criticizing Eminem for trash-talking contemporary rap artists. They either don’t know their rap history or they must really hate a large portion of rap’s most vital albums.
Trash-talking other rappers is a staple of hip-hop artists going back to the ’80s. Examples like the Roxanne Shante feud or Ice Cube’s career-launching, N.W.A.-dusting song “No Vaseline” show that rap has not only always had major rivalries, but also that such rivalries often bring out the best in rap artists. They also weed out rappers who weren’t particularly talented. Whether the media likes Eminem’s vitriol or not, this is what the people want. This keeps rappers sharp, forces them to hone their lyrical skills, and if kept within the confines of song lyrics, videos, and social media posts, are a non-violent way of solving disputes.
While the deaths of rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. have given rap feuds a bad name, it should be noted that their tragic deaths were extremely atypical when rappers go to war with one another. Rivalries come and go in the rap world fairly often without bullets being fired at anyone. Joe Budden made a career out of lyrically murdering rappers on a regular basis. He recently retired from rapping to host a podcast, on which he expressed notable frustration after Eminem also name-dropped Budden on Kamikaze. A visibly angry Joe Budden loudly exclaimed, “I live for this kind of s***!” in response to lyrics Eminem dropped about him on the song “Fall.” He added that any rapper wanting to battle him before retirement wouldn’t fare well.
Joe Budden is not leaving retirement to come back at Eminem, as he has recently clarified, however, his demeanor on the aforementioned episode of his podcast clearly shows a hunger to snap-back at Eminem. He even expresses his frustration that Eminem didn’t come at him years ago, prior to retirement. Budden would love to have this feud and would be a formidable opponent for Eminem. Why? Because rappers trading disses back and forth is ostensibly a treasured pastime in the world of hip-hop.
Eminem’s album Kamikaze was released alongside curiously designed merchandise for Eminem fans. Military-like apparel such as camouflage jackets and dark green t-shirts reading “I Will Die Unconquered,” and a camouflage vinyl version of the album clearly suggest a theme of the war Kamikaze was designed to ignite.
As rap continues to heat up, uninvolved rappers are even chiming in on social media sites like Twitter, throwing their respective hats into a new rap war intentionally started by Eminem. Ice Cube recently tweeted a stern correction to a Twitter user suggesting MGK’s “Rap Devil” was a better diss song than Ice Cube’s infamous “No Vaseline.” The tweet served as a reminder to fans that Ice Cube still considers his victories in rap battles to be trophies on display. “No Vaseline” is ruthless, extremely disrespectful, and most importantly, a great reference for those questioning Ice Cube’s capabilities as a lyricist and a major factor in establishing Ice Cube’s title of being one of hip-hop’s all-time greats.
His tweet also reminded us that Ice Cube is still pretty protective of that title, and probably still willing to defend his legacy, just in case anyone was wondering.
Subreddits like r/Hip-HopHeads are not full of sympathetic words for wounded rappers, they’re full of pleasantly surprised fans, eagerly awaiting the next response verse from Eminem or one of his foes. Ongoing rap wars as active as the one Eminem just started is like Christmas in the hip-hop community, each new song another gift.
Any rapper overly sensitive to being lyrically assaulted in a rap song was unfairly denied the pertinent information that just about every relevant rapper gets dissed at some point, and a whole lot of the irrelevant ones do too. Rap is competitive; it always has been and Eminem is currently doing all he can to ensure it always will be.
Whether fans of Eminem or not, rappers and rap fans are largely thankful for things to be heating up. So long as responses are kept on the microphone and don’t become physically violent, no matter how you slice it, this is good for hip-hop. It will result in stronger albums from lyricists who had gone unchallenged and gotten complacent, it will send the weak lyricists away from an overcrowded genre of music, and it will provide massive exposure to gutsy rappers who previously didn’t have it.
MGK was big before, now he’s the second most popular rapper in the United States.
Perhaps second place should probably be considered the “new number one,” though, as the title of most popular rap artist in America has been a fixed position for approximately 18 years.