Eminem, Marshall Mathers, Slim Shady, or whatever you want to call him, is one of the most fascinating public figures I have ever encountered. I was undoubtedly late to the party in regards to his work as I have only discovered it a few years ago. I have heard bits and pieces of his songs from my brother who I assume, like many others, was a fan of his in the early 2000s but lost interest afterwards. The first song of his I actually listened to was “When I’m Gone,” one of three original songs (and the only good one at that) included on his Greatest Hits album “Curtain Call.”
I tend to be drawn to any works of arts with strong emotional power to them much more so than the usual over the top edgy shit Em is known for (although I do still enjoy that stuff) so his singles like “Mockingbird”, “Like Toy Soldiers”, “Cleanin Out My Closet”, “Stan”, “Beautiful”, “Not Afraid”, “The Way I Am” and “Space Bound” were the ones that that I noticed first, but I also was quite fond of the hilarious and clever stuff like “My Name Is”, “The Real Slim Shady”, “Without Me,” “Rap God”, “Berserk”, “Guilty Conscious,” etc. However, it is hardly just the singles that I liked, as I have heard every song from his main albums at least once.
I say this just to clarify that there is an obvious disconnect between myself and the diehard Stans that have supported him since Infinite or one of those even more obscure basement tapes of his, and also that I’m not the average hip hop fan either. In fact, I was very much one of those who thought Hip Hop was mostly garbage until I listened to his stuff and I realized that it was merely mainstream Hip Hop that I disliked. Since then I have been meaning to look into more underground shit but of course there is so much out there that I don’t even know where to begin and a lot of these artists have discographies spread out across several decades. Considering that I only listened to Em’s entire discography out of boredom at the time, not much else has happened in that regard.
Nonetheless I do feel as though I at least have a general awareness of how he stands in comparison to most other rappers (he’s a hell of a lot better than most rappers on the charts even in some of his weaker stuff) and what his individual strengths and weaknesses are. What has always drawn me to Em so strongly was seeing how he has grown and changed as an individual through his music and how well they reflect his mindset at the time.
No two albums of his are the same, and each have their own individual strengths and weaknesses. Infinite has amazing flow, lyrical structure, and wordplay, but the lyrical content is bland and lacks serious emotion. The Slim Shady LP is has amazing flow, lyrical structure and wordplay in addition to the hilarious subject matter and that iconic voice, but a lot of the songs seem to follow the same gimmick and lack the same type of personal emotion and energy as his later stuff. The Marshall Mathers LP had all of the same good stuff but his flow was slightly more stilted and had a higher emphasis on anger and rage rather than shock humor (not that that’s a bad thing). The Eminem Show was notably less offensive and more personal and political, but still had the same wit, flow, and structure as always.
After that, there is a lot of debate about whether or not Em jumped the shark as the rest of his stuff has not been quite the same. Encore was my personal least favorite of his output despite having its fair share of good songs. Even ignoring what I call “the deadly six” (that referring to the songs “Puke,” “My 1st Single”, “Rain Man,” “Big Weenie,” “Just Lose It,” and “Ass Like That,” each being among the most poorly written, produced, or delivered songs in his discography, and they are all in consecutive order), there were lower quality lyrics, stilted and monotone delivery, and unnecessary and intrusive toilet humor forced in at every opportunity.
Due to the death of his best friend Proof and his ongoing sleeping pill addiction, it took him 5 years to put out another album with Relapse, which was well received at the time but was considered a let down by fans. Initially I agreed with them due to the repetitive serial killer themes and the overly thick accents, but I later went back and realized how well it fits someone in such a depressing state for five years and the amount of jadedness and cynicism that came from it. The flow and lyrical talent was amazing and the lyrical content is overly horrific to the point that it represents the unstable mind perfectly. Unfortunately Em himself was not a fan because he felt he was merely conforming to what his fans wanted and trying to imitate his older work rather than making what he really wanted to make.
I’m pretty sure the guy was getting close to his 40s at that time, it wouldn’t exactly be fitting for him to STILL be rapping about murdering his girlfriend after that long. That’s why his next album Recovery had significantly less of the edgy shit than his previous ones and there were a lot more elements of pop involved. As a very strong hater of pop music, I enjoyed it (although it took me a long time to warm up to Love the Way You Lie) and felt it was an improvement at expressing genuine emotion over most of Relapse. However I can kinda see why older fans would be turned off and despite the fact that his lyrical abilities were still as great as ever, the flow was a lot more stilted and choppy. The same can be mostly applied to The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and the subject of this article; Revival.
The current narrative put forth is that Revival is an absolute failure and is being trounced by critics and fans alike. It’s also failing to move units, clearly he’s washed up and just needs to mo…
I seem to be in the minority in that I think Em’s current stuff is on the same level as or even better than his older work. I consider “Bad Guy” and “Guts Over Fear” to be the two best songs in his entire discography, or at least I did until listening to this album that is. And yes, I say that despite the vast array of exceptional tracks from both a lyrical and an artistic standpoint, and let me be clear that I hold a higher emphasis on the latter when it comes to any form of work or entertainment.
I strongly value any form of art that is a true expression of self in an industry that only values profit. Hip Hop was never meant to be mainstream and was strictly limited to the underground before becoming mainstream. As a result there is something missing by principal in the majority of mainstream hip hop, or at least today. Apparently there was a point where it was actually very good but I was barely even alive at the time. The common reason given for Eminem’s success can pretty much be summed up as “white privilege” even Em himself had an entire song about it. I think there is a bit more to it than JUST that, although it likely played a big role.
When I listened to most major hip hop music prior to the 21st century I notice that a lot of it tends to naturally pertain to black culture and politics, something that usually only relates to those familiar with or involved in the culture. Em was white so his stuff was mostly on a more personal level and not relating specifically to black culture or politics. His content instead mostly told an underdog story of a white guy in a black dominated profession who overcame his own disadvantages and became one of the few people to truly “start from the bottom” and make it to the top. The subject matter of his work was mostly about the jarring shift from having nothing to becoming a household name, in addition to the trauma left from his abusive childhood, his failed relationship, his drug addiction, the death of his best friend, and most recently his fading relevance.
THIS is the reason why I still like his newer stuff just as much as his older stuff; he put a piece of his soul into most of his work and all of his newer songs are made to build upon his older ones. The key problem with a lot of negative reviews of Em’s work is that they try to invoke a “death of the author” rule, but that only serves as valid criticism if it lends itself more to what a form of art is trying to accomplish. Em is pretty far past his peak popularity, so the majority of sales are going to be from long time fans and a vast majority of Em’s music is about him as a person. To completely dismiss this appeal shows a complete lack of understanding of what Revival is attempting to accomplish in the first place. The problem isn’t that the style of Em’s music changed. Em has always had a strong emphasis on putting his very soul into his work. What changed was Eminem himself.
So anyway, I should probably get to the part where I talk about each song individually. Starting with the album’s lead single “Walk on Water.”
I mentioned earlier that it took me a while to come around to “Love the Way you Lie” due to its more pop oriented style. The reason for this was because I’m not a fan of Rihanna and it was quite a bit different from most of Em’s stuff even when at the time. What I should note is that while I am not fond of Rihanna, I absolutely LOATHE Beyonce. I cannot stand her obnoxious brand of pop feminism and most of her music is shallow garbage. Guess who does the chorus for this song? And you know what, I STILL love this track!
Critics have mainly went after the beat of this song because rap beats are not supposed to be dynamic or some shit like that; I don’t speak hipster. The beat is perhaps what works so well about this track. The entire theme of this song is the crushing expectations that come with being a master of your craft and feeling the need to constantly top yourself time and time again. On top of that, Em is very well aware of his dwindling fame and relevance, and the ability to admit to his own insecurity on one of his own studio albums in the age where internet trolls will use anything they can to get to someone shows a great deal of maturity and growth.
The piano starts out with steady soft notes and a light sound to simulate the feeling of walking over frozen water and trying to tread lightly to not fall through the ice. IIRC, the music video showed a bunch of people frozen beneath the ice similar to how many artists have never been able to retain relevance and quality throughout their entire careers. The violin notes represent the occasional crack in the ice in addition to the increasing anxiety present.
The lyrics are very well structured and the rhymes are fantastic as usual. The imagery and word play are both clever and evoke a lot of emotion, and Em’s stilted “robot flow” actually fits with this song because the theme is that Em isn’t perfect. The thing to note about Em’s older more smooth flow is that it may sound easier on the listener, but it is naturally a lot harder on the artist. Em’s more recent material is a result of him no longer focused on trying to impress the traditional hip hop fans and instead just create the kind of work he wants to create. As a result, he is given more room to focus on the lyrics themselves and draws greater attention to the actual words as opposed to just the rhythm. Such an approach much more greatly benefits a track like “Walk on Water” because it not only demonstrates that Em is not perfect, but because it also gives the song a much more poetic feeling. 5/5
Next there “Believe” which takes a more confident and determined feeling than the previous track. Lyrics are solid but the flow could have been better. That chorus is what really makes this track though. Thematically it is directed at those that have turned their back on Em when he needs them the most, and it does so quite well. Don’t expect me to say as much about each track as I did about “Walk on Water.” I wrote that weeks ago and I don’t even know how I managed that, but doing so would just be too much. Anyway, “Believe” is also a 5/5
“Chloraseptic” is a fairly solid track, but it isn’t one of my favorites. There is not much that really stands out with, but I don’t feel it doesn’t do anything seriously wrong aside from recent Em’s more stilted flow, which is still not terrible. 4/5
“Untouchable” has caused some controversy, mainly because it is a song about politics and Trumpkins get really pissed off when they are told they are wrong. I think it is pretty spot on in regards to its message about police being racist. It is nothing new by any means but there is a strong passion that comes with the way it is expressed. Additionally, the fact that it is Eminem of all people saying this despite being known for an attitude that inspired all these reactionary shitheels. Almost as if some of them take it as a betrayal… even though the guy was always pro democrat and even some of his older songs made it clear that it is mostly for show (“Stan” for instance). The ironic thing is that Em is one of the few people who has truly suffered earlier in his life due to being white in a black neighborhood, yet he doesn’t start making songs trashing Black Lives Matter for being “anti white.” The guy clearly cares a lot about his friends, a lot of whom are black, which is why it’s easy to see that this song was a very passionate endeavor. 5/5
“River” Is a solid track lyrically in which Em apologizes to a girl he knocked up while cheating on someone else. While the meaning expressed in the lyrics and their structure is great, the sound of the song is a bit on the bland side. 4/5
“Remind Me” I don’t have strong thoughts on but it’s not bad. It’s what I said about the last one except that subject matter has less substance. Lyrics are still cleverly written, structured, delivered, and the sample was appropriate. 3/5
Next there is “Like Home” which plays a similar role to “Mosh” back on Encore. It’s pretty much an entire track about telling Trump to go fuck himself, and more importantly, to not give up on the country just because this doofus got elected. While MAGAtards were too busy getting outraged over Em besmirching the name of their precious God Emperor, what they missed was an important theme present in this song other than “fuck Trump.”
It’s easy to assume that most of America supports Trump and his irrationality given the ever increasing prominence of white nationalism and the very vocal presence of his supporters online, but the truth is that even a good portion of the right hates him. Despite this, there has been an increasing presence of people who have grown to resent America as a whole when Trump was elected and even outright hate it. Instead of taking that usual route and trying to say “fuck you America for putting this douchebag in the White House,” he instead tries to unite the country against him while specifically decrying his white nationalist pandering. Just look at how many people wanted to move to Canada after he won.
Yes many have said this stuff before, but when Em is known for being offensive and politically incorrect it just makes this track all the more impactful. It may not mean much when a social justice blogger on Tumblr calls Trump a Nazi, but when Em does it cuts deep. Yes people probably have heard enough “Trump is a Nazi” remarks but keep in mind that Em was never much of a political commentator. This is a diss track, not an essay. His attempt was to instead convince all non Trumpkins to not lose faith in their country while also trying as hard as he can to piss Trump off to provoke a response in his usual fashion. As a trans activist, I felt seriously touched to hear him call out Trump’s military ban on trans people, enough so that I didn’t even mind him using the word “transgender” as a noun. And hearing him invoke Heather Heyer’s name legitimately brought a tear to my eyes. 5/5
“Bad Husband” is a solid track that is touching on Em’s relationship with his ex Kim… again. Specifically it is meant to reflect on all the shit that happened in their relationship and for him to apologize (he does that a lot in this album). Once again, lyrics and instrumentation are solid but his flow is stilted and the subject matter is repetitive. 4/5
“Tragic Endings” Is another relationship song, although it may not be about Kim directly given the track that preceded it. Some have theorized it could be like Recovery’s “25 to Life” and be a metaphor for hip hop only with actual subtlety involved. Regardless of the repetitiveness of the subject matter, this one still stands on its own very well and nails just about everything, especially the hook. 5/5
“Framed” is in direct contrast to the rest of the tracks on this album. Most have stilted flow but highly deep and personal lyrics while this one has excellent flow but the subject matter is basically “Em kills a bunch of people due to his new meds and says he’s framed.” Yeah, this track was definitely a nod to Relapse even though he says he doesn’t like Relapse… if that’s the case then this track is pretty much just meant to appeal to his older fans who don’t like his newer post Relapse stuff.
The issue with Relapse as a whole is that while most of the individual tracks were great, they tend to get repetitive when you listen to serial killer track after serial killer track. In Revival though, it is the only straight up horrocore track and it’s a pretty damn good one. Granted when compared to most of the songs on Relapse this song doesn’t really stand out aside from the lack of accents, but it HAS been almost 10 years since then so I can let that slide 5/5
“Nowhere Fast” sounds upbeat and positive but has much darker subtext. It’s touches on the previous insecurity expressed in “Walk on Water” but similarly concludes with “the world’s already fucked and I’m on top so I win.” The strong point is that this track does get me choked up and poses some touching lyrics. The down side is that half the song is made up of chorus repeats and the country-esque tone is a bit out of place, in addition to the usual stilted flow. I still quite like this one though. 4/5
“Heat” doesn’t really do much for me. It has a catchy chorus and some decent wordplay but the subject matter and general sound are just kinda bland 3/5
“Offended” is easily the worst track on the album, and it’s not cause of the immature or crass subject matter either. The lyrics are solid in terms of rhymes and punchlines but the flow is abysmal. There are frequent abrupt pauses and oftentimes the way lines are delivered make it sound like this is a freestyle where he’s just trying to cram as many rhymes in as possible. The beat is practically non existent half the time and the hook is set to the nursery rhyme “Nobody Likes Me” without any sort of lead in. I would have let this one off with 2/5 but given that the chorus just had to invoke disgusting imagery of eating worms and shit this one gets a 1/5.
I likely would not have felt so strongly about “Need Me” as I do had I not just came off of a heart rending breakup that occurred cause of my own careless actions. One could criticize Em for focusing way too much on his failed relationship, but I was so devastated by mine that I ended up in the ER and this relationship only lasted two months. When Em spent so much of his life with Kim I honestly cannot blame him for dwelling on it so much, and I didn’t understand this until only recently.
This song paints a vivid picture of a mutually destructive relationship that both participants actively contribute to, one symbolized by P!nk and the other by Em with the two of them converging partway through the second verse. The picture painted is of how neither of them want to be alone and become codependent on the other regardless of how much they fuck up. Both are convinced the other person needs them in order to function in real life. P!nk’s verses are sang with some serious emotion and Em’s are delivered flawlessly. 5/5
“In Your Head” is another great track capturing the depression and regret of many choices he made throughout his career, such as publicizing his failed relationship with Kim and his daughter Hailey. What I’ve always been so drawn to regarding Em’s music is how he paints such a vivid picture of his struggles and thoughts. While the track is a bit on the short side and the flow is kinda stilted, I do think it makes an excellent prelude to the next two tracks that are among the best Em has ever put out. 4/5
The next two tracks are “Castle” and “Arose” and I’m just going to say right away they both get a 5/5. I feel that my critique of them is going to need to be handled a bit differently than the rest. The recurring theme of Revival has been that of personal growth. That of overcoming your past trauma and owning up to your mistakes. “Walk on Water” and “Believe” were about maintaining confidence and the drive to continue among immense pressure and scrutiny. All of the references to Relapse and the reflection on past relationships and failings were meant to set the stage for these two tracks.
The first of these is “Castle” where the first two verses take place before Em grew to fame. The first is before his daughter Hallie is born and the second is about a year later. The third verse is in the late 2000s where he comes to realize that his fame has made Hallie’s life all the more difficult and he comes to regret having become famous to begin with. The lyrics flow excellently and the hook is beautiful but the main event is the next track.
I’m not going to mince words here: “Arose” is the best song Em has ever put out. I am fully aware this is a bold claim, but nothing else Em has made has been this emotionally intense. This song takes place during Em’s overdose in 2007 and is sung from his point of view as he is on his deathbed where he says his final goodbyes. Throughout the four minutes that this song plays, it captures the feeling of oncoming death and all the feelings of grief and regret that come with it. When it looks like it’s finally over, Em miraculously recovers and the beat for “Castle” starts up again only now with a more optimistic ending. I guess you could say that this is his “Revival.”
This album came out in December of last year and I have been working on this review since then. I’ve listened to each of these tracks plenty of times and have had enough time to make my decision, and yes I do think that “Arose” is the best song Em has ever created. Similarly to “need me” this is largely because being in the ER and having lost all hope like I did… hitting the absolute low point in my life and being inches from death. Not only is this song emotional from Em’s own perspective, but it mirrors that of my own. Over the last month, I’ve thought a lot about if I didn’t call 911 that day. If I instead just died. How much would have been left undone, how many things left unsaid, so many goodbyes I would have never been able to say.
The truth is that I DID die that day. To be more precise, the old me died. The key theme of “Revival” is of rising from the ashes after you have hit the absolute depths of emotional despair. This album captures Em’s struggle to reinvent himself following a series of immense tragedy such as the death of Proof and his addiction. The struggle to better oneself never truly ends and the past will always haunt you. It takes a serious amount of resilience to continue on despite all this.
I’ve already been in the minority for preferring Em’s new shit to the stuff that got him famous, but as anyone who has read my work should know, I often tend to value artistic works that put artistic vision before profit. Many of Em’s older fans just aren’t into him cause he’s not as edgy or offensive as he used to be, but hip hop is supposed to be more than just edge and swearing. It is because of this that I consider Revival to be Em’s best work yet. You don’t see any other media that grows up and changes along with its target audience, and it is THIS that those who panned this album do not realize.
Anyway the final score is 72/85, which is roughly around 85%. Unfortunately this was the first time I reviewed an album so I don’t know how it stacks up compared to his previous releases, but when going based on a grading system this is quite an accomplishment. This took multiple months to put together so I am unsure if I plan to do more album reviews in the future, but I will definitely consider it. Be sure to let me know what your thoughts are. Anyway see you all next time.
If you are interested in checking out this album yourself it can be bought here.
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