Over-political or an LP of activism? The 9th release from renowned rapper Eminem has split critics and fans alike. ‘Revival’ was much anticipated following a 4-year hiatus since the 2013 ‘Marshall Mathers LP 2’ release which came with its own abundance of questions and criticism. The real question however is, was ‘The Real Slim Shady’ able to find his tone moving away from the tales of his troubled past to look at more worldly issues or is it too little too late?
Opening the album is ‘Walk on Water’, a self-loathing rhyme that arguably is only saved by the star-studded Beyoncé feature offering a periodic lighter tone. While we may critique, we must also respect the reflection Mathers takes upon his own career, expressing his thoughts on managing expectations and fears of the future.
‘The crowds are gone / And it’s time to wash out the blonde / Sales decline, the curtains drawn /They’re closing the set / I’m still poking my head out from behind,’ fears that are only validated by the evolution of the rap scene, with a plethora of artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Future, and Stormzy overcoming the previous oligopoly of the genre in previous decades by appearing in the 2017 top 100.
What I take from this album in its entirety however, is the feeling of disjointedness as you transition through the track list, causing me to more than often, queue my favorites and move on from the album once they conclude. Unlike most pop albums these days (although I am by no means confining Eminem into the pop genre, as his hip hop routed fans would ungracefully contest), the album has no flow to it. We have ballads and we have heavy beats, we have almost lyrically heavy raps with little production behind, and then we have a chart topping hit to throw in the mix. To exemplify this disjointedness, we have songs like ‘Chloraseptic (feat. PHRESHER)’ and 5 and a half minute long ‘Offended’ which are simply hard on the ears, both lyrically and in their production. Then we have moments of pure magic such as ‘Bad Husband (feat. X Ambassadors)’ and ‘Like Home (feat. Alicia Keys)’ which explore greater themes expressed through genius lyrics and catchy choruses.
To begin with ‘Bad Husband’, Eminem speaks vividly about his toxic family life, depicting actions he isn’t proud of and apologizing to his ex-wife Kim, and daughter Hailie both of whom have featured in songs heavily throughout his career – ‘Kim’ and ‘Mockingbird’ to name a few. The lyrics are blunt and the emotions expressed are raw – in plain sight for the audience to read– a great example of this being in the lyrics ‘But I’m sorry, Kim / More than you could ever comprehend / Leavin’’ you was fuckin’ harder than / Sawing off a fuckin’ body limb.’ It was this song that put the album in perspective for me. The album became more than just a new album release to reignite Eminem’s career but rather I noticed its role in acting as a diary with each song representing a different sector of his life. I imagine his writing of most tracks to be very scattered as he tried to pen his thoughts. Much of his previous work talks closely about his relationship with Kim, his daughter and his mother. As he reaches 45 however, this album appears to close the chapter of rapping about his personal life instead opening new conversation with raps about politics and the ever-so topical Donald Trump.
This leads on to the already mentioned ‘Like Home’ featuring Alicia Keys. An anti-establishment yet very much patriotic anthem, expressing thoughts which I can only expect (or in fact hope) mirror the views of masses across America along with the world. It’s a particular favourite of mine, (as anything with the inputted soul of Alicia Keys usually is), the song is not dominated by either artist, something that I feel has happened in some of the other features where Eminem has lost his own track to the impeccable vocals of P!nk and Kehlani. Returning to its political agenda however, Donald Trump is yet to respond to the blast -or more characteristically, tweet about the matter- but Eminem didn’t stop at the song to express his distasteful view of the powerful politician starting a ‘fuck Trump’ chant at Reading festival just last year. The song itself, is charged with comments of resistance “you aint ruining our country punk”, drags towards Trump himself “Cause he generally hates the black people, degrades Hispanics,” and words of empowerment for all those listening. The impact of the song also didn’t go unnoticed with fans taking to social media to post comments such as the following to express their own opinion on the song.
Political agendas and emotional rawness aside, the album is definitely carried by its name-dropping features further examples including Ed Sheeran in the track ‘River’, P!nk in ‘Need me’ and Kehlani in ‘Nowhere Fast’. Has Eminem lost his creative touch? Is this laziness? Or is it simply a necessity to move forward with the industry? An interesting article by Elias Leight for Vulture (http://www.vulture.com/2017/11/pop-musics-feature-problem.html) sheds more light on the reasons behind increases in music collaborations, one of which explores the division of genres in modern music. As the music industry diversifies and there are more fans, of more artists, in more genres, our methods of consumption have had to diversify and we now have tailored stations and playlists specific for genres. While we can begin a debate as to the placement of Eminem across the genre spectrum, his team know where the big bucks can be found and Eminem’s integrity and core fan base may be placed elsewhere. Thus, we may question Eminem’s choice to have 8 out of the 19 songs featuring another artist, but ultimately it was a tactical move for his return, pushing his music into different genres and across different playlists. A success in part as River (feat. Ed Sheeran) climbed straight to number 1 in the UK charts and the album while heavily critiqued by journalists faired equally as well across the globe.
The features were welcomed by music fans similar to myself, who’s previous interest in Eminem only really spanned to his collection of essential hits with strong hooks and easily memorable lyrics. Not a viewpoint shared by die-hard ‘stans’, with Brian Joseph (writing for Spin) suggesting that the features may have been inside jobs, even comparing them to a ‘vomitus sonic Crayola mess.’ Ouch.
So, what about the response of general music fans? To get an indicator I conducted my own collection of primary research in the form of a mini survey and the results speak for themselves. Probably not what the Eminem camp would hope to see. Evidently through the lyrical agenda, patriotic album artwork and pre-and post release interviews there was definitive themes through the album, not that the thought mattered as 67% didn’t know of any. My research into secondary sources, didn’t come off more favorably either with the majority of secondary source reviews from both journalists and fans only indicating disappointment, supported by my own survey.
Overall, Triumph or Try Hard? For me it would have to be the latter. The album abides by all the rules of the modern music album, a stand out single, big name features and a controversy to hit the headlines. After the hiatus and the slow down of his career, Eminem and his team appear to have tried way to hard to give the music industry what it wants from an legacy artist. But that was never Marshall Mathers in the 1999 LP, or Slim Shady throughout the noughties, or even Jimmy Smith Jr rise to popularity from the 8 Mile era. Eminem was always supposed to be the misfit of hip-hop who didn’t quite fit in, and this time he may have missed the mark by trying to do just this. “I’ll put out this last album, then I’m done with it” state the lyrics in Castle but as we close the chapter on Revival, is that what you want?
Copsey, R. (2017.) Eminem claims his ninth Number 1 with River on the Official Singles Chart. Article, [online.] Available at: http://www.officialcharts.com/chart-news/eminem-claims-his-ninth-number-1-with-river-on-the-official-singles-chart__21514/ [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Empire, K. (2017.) Eminem Revival Review: All Woke Up and Nowhere to Go. Article, [online.] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/dec/17/eminem-revival-review [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Guan, F. (2017) On ‘Like Home’ Eminem Still Thinks America Can Be Saved. Article, [online.] Available at: http://www.vulture.com/2017/12/review-eminem-and-alicia-keys-like-home.html [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Ismael Ruiz, M. (2017.) Eminem Revival. Article, [online.] Available at: https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/eminem-revival [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Josephs, B. (2017.) Review: Eminem is dead on Revival. Article, [online.] Available at: https://www.spin.com/2017/12/eminem-revival-review [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Katz, B. (2017.) Eminem Keeps Attacking Donald Trump. Article, [online.] Available at: http://observer.com/2017/12/eminem-slams-donald-trump-like-home-alicia-keys-listen [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Leight, E. (2017) Pop Music’s Feature Problem. Article, [online.] Available at: http://www.vulture.com/2017/11/pop-musics-feature-problem.html [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Official Charts, (2017). End of Year Singles Chart. Available at: http://www.officialcharts.com/charts/end-of-year-singles-chart/ [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Rolli, B. (2017.) Eminem’s ‘Revival’ Rollout May Signal The End Of His Undisputed Commercial Reign. Article, [online.] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrolli/2017/11/30/eminem-revival-rollout-commercial-reign/#12f3b8ad665e [Accessed: 28.05.18]
Rose, B. (2017.) Eminem Finally Apologized to Ex-Wife Kim Scott on His Track “Bad Husband.” Article, [online.] Available at: https://hellogiggles.com/reviews-coverage/music/eminem-apologized-ex-wife-kim-scott-bad-husband [Accessed: 28.05.18]