By Micah Walker
When Eminem made an unexpected appearance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards last October, he made the headlines he was once known for with his freestyle rap, “The Storm.” The pre-taped video was simplistic, featuring the rapper in a parking garage. However, Eminem had a lot to say, critiquing President Donald Trump on his policies and being a master of distraction, such as steering the media’s conversations from Hurricane Maria and gun reform to the NFL controversy where players refused to stand for the National Anthem. At the end of the four minute song, the rapper demands the fans that voted for Trump to choose a side.
The acapella rap was a whirlwind of frustration, fury, and passion; a fire that hasn’t been seen in Eminem in recent years. I thought more of that creative spark would show up in his latest album, Revival, but only a few of the 19 tracks offer a glimpse at how great Eminem was at the peak of his career.
The rapper even brings up the pressures of living up to his late 90s-early 2000s success in the album opener and first single, “Walk On Water.”
“It’s the curse of the standard, that the first of the Mathers disc set,” he raps. “Always in search of the verse that I haven’t spent yet. Will this step be just another misstep?” He also talks about his disdain of being labeled a God, saying, “It’s a facade, and it’s exhaustive.” Even with Beyonce singing the chorus, she cannot save this dull piano ballad. Though, it is interesting to hear how Eminem hopes to live up to his legacy. It is a subject that has been brought up time and time again since his first comeback with 2009’s Relapse.
The rapper revisits many subjects from past albums on Revival, such as his tumultuous relationship with ex-wife, Kim Scott. This is apparent in the second single, “River.” Featuring vocals from Ed Sheeran, he sings about being “a liar and a cheat” with Eminem talking about his Internet chats and one night stands while being in a relationship.
Like “Walk on Water,” “River” isn’t an outstanding song that should be added to Eminem’s catalog of great singles. Production-wise, the song is bland as well with an acoustic sound that Sheeran is known for. Without Eminem’s verses, this could have easily been a solo single for the singer-songwriter.
Scott is also on the topic of forgettable ballads such as the X Ambassadors-assisted “Bad Husband” and “Need Me,” which features pop singer Pink. Both are about the dynamics of a dysfunctional relationship. The couple is crazy in love, but they know they are not good for each other. With both songs produced by frequent Eminem collaborator, Alex da Kid, it seems like the rapper is trying to recreate the success he had with “Love the Way You Lie.”
The rapper shares his thoughts on fatherhood in two of the strongest songs on the album, “Castle” and “Arose.” In “Castle,” Eminem uses each verse to read from three letters he wrote to his daughter, Hailie.
The first one was written shortly before she was born in 1995, the second following a year after her birth, and the third on the eve of her twelfth birthday. The rapper talks about how his first album “Infinite” flopped, and his hopes to be successful in order to give Hailie a better life.
“Trying to build these castles out of sand, baby girl,” he says. “For you to sit on the throne, I got plans, baby girl.” The third verse grows dark, as Eminem was battling drugs at the time. He tells her to not look at the letter as a “goodbye note, ‘cause your dad’s at the end of his rope.”
Where “Castle” left off, Eminem continues the conversation in “Arose,” talking candidly about his 2007 overdose and apologizing to the people he let down such as his daughter and Scott. By the song’s end, the rapper reveals that his near death was a wake-up call for him, declaring, “I’m pledging to throw this methadone in the toilet.”
Following the popularity of “The Storm,” Eminem gets political with the songs “Like Home” and “Untouchable.” The former, another piano ballad featuring another female singer (this time Alicia Keys), the rapper again bashes Trump, comparing his looks to a canary and how all he does is watch Fox News and tweet all day. However, he is confident that the country can overcome this dark time and unite together.
While it is refreshing Eminem is optimistic about the current landscape of our country, his attempts to unite the country come off as cheesy and cliche-ridden. With clunky lyrics such as “This type of pickle that we’re in is hard to deal,” and “Like a dictionary, things are looking up,” the track is the opposite of what it is trying to be–uninspired.
“Untouchable” explores racism in America with the first half of the song told from the perspective of a racist police officer as envisioned by Eminem. Over a loud guitar riff, the “officer” talks about intentionally going into black neighborhoods to harass people, not caring what the laws say about racial profiling. The second half sees the production move to a mid-tempo, hip-hop beat. Meanwhile, the rapper is now looking into the point of view of an African-American man, bringing up topics such Black Lives Matter, housing segregation, and poor education in black neighborhoods. While the idea to tell “Untouchable” from two different perspectives is interesting, Eminem does not have the right to discuss racism from a African-American man’s point of view. He could have featured a black rapper for that particular part, or talk about racism from his own perspective.
Revival further proves Eminem is unable to match the charisma and clever wordplay that he once showcased in “The Slim Shady LP,” “The Marshall Mathers LP,” and “The Eminem Show.” His recent releases have tried to recapture the rapper’s glory days, but most of the time, they just fall short. It seems like Eminem doesn’t have much to say now that he is no longer an outsider in the rap game. Maybe next time he will find his creative spark again and plan a real revival.