Eminem Revival Aftermath Entertainment
The very first voice you’ll hear on Eminem’s new album is Beyoncé’s. Yet before uttering a word of his own, Marshall Mathers finds a way to undermine his distinguished guest, her semi-sacrilegious Walk On Water hook interrupted by crumpled pages and performative scribbling. Apparently burdened by outsized expectations of greatness, he spends the track narcissistically labouring over his ostensible conundrum. His vivid imagination sends the sometime Slim Shady down the path of doubting rap game doomsayer, a less seen yang to the genre’s far more common braggadocious yin.
Given that Eminem’s last album, 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, went quadruple-platinum in the States, that defense mechanism seems needlessly spring-trapped. Arriving in the same year as 4:44, with roughly as much time separating it from fellow renegade Jay-Z’s prior album Magna Carta Holy Grail, Revival chooses conservatism over comeback. His career in no danger of downfall, his self-concern manifests via popwise anteing up.
Despite revitalisation plans for Shady Records that include dealings with Boogie, Conway, and Westside Gunn, Mathers bypasses rebuilding his rap empire by leaving them off in favour of safer bets Alicia Keys, P!nk, and Ed Sheeran. Hardly a new strategy, he employed it twice previously with Rihanna for chart-toppers Love the Way You Lie and The Monster. He makes multiple assuredly cynical plays for the pop charts with millennials like Kehlani in tow, hoping their relevance will refurbish his own.
Over these 77 minutes, Mathers proves unsure of his place as one of the few rap veterans with a substantial audience. Like Shawn Carter he tries to use his platform for social commentary, lambasting Donald Trump and hailing Heather Heyer on Like Home while Keys’ chorus tosses off motivational pablum. A well-intentioned attempt, Untouchable engages directly with white privilege, a for-profit feat of elite mental gymnastics coming from the rapper who benefited – and continues to benefit – the most from it.
So he slinks back into the scatalogical for The River, rehashes well trod relationship drama with Bad Husband, and returns to T&A titillation on the Blackhearts interpolation Remind Me. Trotting out his handful of two-dimensional characters as he does on the regressive Framed will no doubt appeal to his base, even as he undoes all that anti-Trump work in seconds on Heat. Still, one can only upchuck Mom’s spaghetti so many times before it resembles puke more than pasta. In keeping with the thematic alliteration scheme of 2009’s Relapse and 2010’s Recovery, his latest might’ve more accurately gone by the title Regurgitation.
Even in mid-life, Mathers hasn’t outgrown vulgarity, the shock value tool that once endeared him to the suburban pre-teens who’ve since grown to regard him as a G.O.A.T. But at a time when hip-hop’s elder statesman Russell Simmons faces multiple rape accusations, the inherent grossness of hearing a 45-year-old man brag about getting a blowjob on Chloraseptic reflects a failure to read the room.
Presented with a new generation of SoundCloud sensations accused, and in some cases even convicted, of the sort of misogynistic behaviour glorified on his early full-lengths, Mathers squanders a prime opportunity to atone or at least to mature. It was perhaps foolish to expect otherwise, to expect rap’s most entitled brat to shed his lucrative problem child persona for any reason.