Eminem has an identity crisis on Revival, his most disappointing offering to date
Eminem has lost his damn mind.
Maybe it’s a case of too many cooks. Maybe Eminem has too many ‘yes men’ in his circle. Maybe all those years of popping pills has finally caught up with him. Whatever the case may be, there’s absolutely no excuse for his latest album’s blatant disregard for quality control.
After listening to Revival a friend of mine said to me that Eminem can no longer be considered a Top 5 rapper, that he’s removed himself from the conversation. While I think that’s a little excessive because of the sheer quality and superiority of the music he made during his prime, as well as his overall impact on Hip Hop culture, he raises an interesting question. However, I’m pretty certain that if Jay-Z or Nas released a dud they’d still be considered Top 5. Am I wrong?
Eminem’s output has been questionable for quite some time. Inconsistent and often a huge let down, it’s hard being a fan of Marshall Mathers these days. I’m constantly going out on a limb to protect someone I deem a Hip Hop institution, but it’s getting harder.
Not since 2011’s Hell: The Sequel - a joint album he put out with longtime collaborator and friend Royce Da 5’9” - has Em put out a project worth anything more than a single spin and a quick tap of the delete button. And don’t get me started on him having the nerve to name his last album The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Nothing on that album touched it’s predecessor. It was sheer blasphemy insinuating it was even in the same lane by referring to it as a sequel.
As for Revival, where do I start? Well, the album starts with that God awful “Walk on Water” Beyoncé collaboration - I use this word loosely as I’m not entirely sure Beyoncé even knew it was a collaboration - so I’ll start there. Sounding like someone copy and pasted an Eminem acappella onto an Emeli Sandé song, it’s so far removed from good music that I’d rather listen to Honey G at this point.
I believe Eminem to be sincere with regards to his stance on police brutality and racial injustice, which are both reoccurring subjects broached on Revival, but the way in which he delivers his beliefs and opinions on this particular album play like a false start in a race - he just doesn’t manage to get out of the starting blocks.
Take “Untouchable” for example. Continuing to bring awareness to police brutality, which is important, the problem here is Em’s delivery sounds forced and like he’s trying too hard to magnify his intricate flow. There’s a lack of compassion in his tone. Music is mostly about feeling and there's no feeling here. The idea was a good one - it’s an idea that pays homage to Masta Ace’s “Jeep Ass N**uh” - but the beat, and the beat switch up, fall way too short of even marrying the lyrics a little bit.
Referencing the rest of the album, the production on Revival is, for a lack of a better word, terrible! Who is picking Em’s beats? Alex Da Kid, Mr. Porter and Rick Rubin seem to be the producers with the most input on this go round but something's not clicking. Eminem may perform in stadiums but he’s not a stadium artist. So why on earth are beats that sound like they’re made for the Foo Fighters (“Need Me”), Ellie Golding (“Tragic Endings”) and Linkin Park (“Bad Husband”) splattered all across this thing?
Also, what’s with Em’s obsession with rap/rock hybrids? Like a Hip Hop hick, he’s promoting himself as a new age Kid Rock. Whoever thought it would be a good idea for Em to spit over The Cranberries’ “Zombie” needs to be fired. Produced by Scram Jones - who is an exceptional producer - I just cant fathom how the conversation went when the beat for “In Your Head” was presented to him. “Oh, I know, I’ll write a really deep and meaningful record about my battle with my most devilish inner thoughts, that in turn manifested themselves into my alter ego, Slim Shady, over a whiny pop track laced with grunge from 1994.” No thanks.
And using a chunk of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” for “Remind Me”? Come on now, you already know what tragicness to expect before even pushing play. How the great minds of both Eminem and Rick Rubin came up with this is beyond me.
“There must be some good moments,” I hear you ask. And there might be one, perhaps two at a push. The first being “Framed” - although Cypress Hill might have sounded better on it - and the second is the DJ Khalil produced “Castle”. Penning a heartfelt letter to his daughter Hailie on the latter, Eminem revisits the thoughts he was having when his ex-wife was pregnant with his darling daughter. Taking his time in delivering his self doubt about being a father and apologising for shoving Hailie into the spotlight via his music, the mid-tempo backdrop sits perfectly behind Revival's most profound offering.
Even a deaf man can hear that Revival is a mess. The terrible beat choice that overpowers a lot of the impactful lyrical content coupled with Em’s unnecessary need to experiment with his delivery is a recipe for disaster. It’s a crime against music. It can’t even be considered a Hip Hop album, it’s pop. But in saying that I’m not even sure it’s pop because it might be offensive to pop music to say so. The Ed Sheeran assisted “River” is destined to be a commercial success but there’s a creative disconnect. It sounds forced. It sounds heartless. It sounds manufactured - this is something I never thought I’d ever say referring to Eminem.
I keep hoping that this is all just some big elaborate joke, an epic marketing ploy whereby the label are going to jump out from the bushes and say, “We were just joking!” and actually put out another album that ends up being a classic. Then I realise I’m giving Interscope way too much credit.
Becoming everything he despised early on in his career - do you remember all the times Em fired off diss lines at the likes of NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears? - he’s an emo rapper struggling to find an identity in a time when emo rappers are flourishing. The cover of Revival says it all. Em with his face in his hand is the perfect representation of how we feel listening to this confused collection of unfinished ideas.
Eminem is one of the most gifted MCs to ever pick up a microphone and a personal favourite of mine who helped me through some of my darkest times, and it's because of this that it hurts. It feels like he’s suffering from a serious lack of self confidence. He’s Eminem. He doesn’t need to worry about selling records. He will forever sell records as he has one of the biggest core fan bases in music history. So why not do what Jay-Z did earlier this year with 4:44? Put aside all the worry about making a radio record, or a record that MTV might play - not that they play music videos anymore - and go back to the basics. Make an album that promotes the groundbreaking wordplay and lyrical content over a bed of intense instrumentals that made you famous in the first place. I’d love to see that Eminem one more time, and I’m pretty sure his fans would too.
Eminem's Revival is out now on Aftermath/Shady/Interscope Records.