It’s no secret that the hip hop landscape has changed, particularly when you look at the Billboard charts. When a new Eminem album was announced many doubted how he was going to fit into the grid (even though Eminem has never fitted in) as an ‘old rapper’ in a young man’s rap game. But if Jay can do it successfully, why not the most successful rapper in history? Devoted rap fans hold the popular opinion that Eminem hasn’t had a great album since 2002’s The Eminem Show. That depends on who you ask and how they define ‘great’, yet even according to Eminem he has strove to bounce back from 2009’s Relapse. The criticisms are fair as we expect more from one of rap’s most technical MCs.
The build-up to the release of Revival – such as the viral BET freestyle – led to many predictions for what contextual approach Eminem was going to take. Recovery focused on personal growth, while The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (loosely) aimed to emulate themes from his earliest era. The promotional fake drug campaign was brilliant up till it was spoiled by revealing itself as an Eminem album (which we already knew). Was Revival going to be a sociopolitical commentary on America in 2017 with a refreshing perspective? Turns out, not really.
In fact, the analysis of Em’s ninth solo album is quite simple. Revival is dominated by tedious rap rock production, poor hooks and lyrical concepts we’ve already heard Em touch on in better ways. As expected, the pop features result into Eminem’s signature stadium-styled songs with anthemic choruses, which is all kicked off by the lead single “Walk on Water” – a ballad that sheds light on Eminem’s insecurities as an MC. Without any drums or progression, the song falls flat on creating an impression, aside of Beyoncé’s impressive vocals. By being the first track to the album, it feels like Eminem is forcing the mediocre song down our throats in response to the weak reception it received.
From start to finish, Revival feels like a rehash of all of Eminem’s past albums, fluctuating between his usual ‘balance’ of maturity and immaturity. Many tracks come across as leftovers of the Recovery era, particularly “Tragic Endings” (which sounds like an inferior draft of “Love the Way You Lie”) and “In Your Head”. Others follow the rap rock approach of MMLP2 such as “Remind Me” and “Heat”, the worst of which is the aforementioned “Untouchable”, alongside the horrorcore concept from Relapse in “Framed”. There’s barely any difference in the production or in Eminem’s delivery. What possesses Eminem to be attracted to these beats is a puzzle to me, easily making it the biggest downfall of the album.
Thematically, the entire album is incredibly scattered, though the cover would make you believe otherwise. In fact, Eminem only conceptualises America in three songs, firstly in the obnoxious “Untouchable”, which takes a basic approach to racism in America where Eminem states the obvious verse after verse. “Like Home” with Alicia Keys comes across as a new American national anthem taking a victory lap that hasn’t even crossed the finish line. It’s confusing how the focus of the album was lost during the song-making – if there even was a focus to begin with.
A few tracks sprinkle more lines directed at Donald Trump, all of which never amount to anything as they are too loose to create any purpose or narrative.
An abundance of previous lyrical topics are revisited as well. Whether it’s recounting meeting his ex-wife and apologising to her (“Remind Me”, “Bad Husband”) or addressing his daughter (“Castle”), the verses try a slightly new perspective but are simply weak when put together as a full-fledged song.
Question is, why are there zero rap features on Revival? (Not including Phresher, who is only on a hook). The pre-release announcement of a 2 Chainz and Eminem song was exciting, who was expected to feature on “Chloraseptic”. It gave an indication that Eminem was experimenting with something new. A slight experimentation is evident on “Chloraseptic” and “Believe” where we hear Em rapping over trap production for the first time while imitating ‘mumble rap’ flows, although there’s not enough shots towards mumble rap taken to cause an impact. These songs are nothing special but they stand out from the gust of rap rock that follows.
Is it possible that Eminem doesn’t want any lyrical competition on his own songs? If it is an ego problem, he is failing to realise this brings out the best in any rapper. That’s clear in past songs like “No Love” and “Forever” which contain some of Eminem’s best verses of his career. For once, we’re just getting too much Eminem on a single project.
Even the lyricism isn’t enough to save Revival from being tolerable. To no surprise, Eminem continues to use the same irritating, stuttering flow, or lets the sentence of a bar continue into the next bar. It seems like Em has used all the good punchlines in the book, because there’s a bunch of unbearable lines (“Your booty is heavy duty, like diarrhea”). Outside of a few verses, Eminem struggles to wow the listener with his rhymes, frequently going off on a tangent for the sake of rhyming. “Offended” tries to be the album’s “Rap God”, except it is over the worst beat of the whole project, accompanied by the worst hook of the project. The rhyming can be great, but accompanying it with stale lyrical content means you’ve only done half the job.
To Eminem fans still holding on, their hero is still providing listenable tracks that will be interpreted differently due to their fandom. However, something which cannot be denied is that Revival attempts to be too many things at once. The album’s shift from artistic insecurities and racial profiling to Kim Mathers, Donald Trump and his daughter is all ended with another tangent – two alternatives where he dies from his drug addiction compared to surviving. This is the most puzzling tangent of them all; why is the album ending with this sudden concept when the others have barely been explored? As a listener with high expectations, Revival asks a lot of questions but provides no answers.
If Eminem feels insecure about his criticisms, this was the time to realise he needs to switch up his artistic approach. The public was demanding a pop-free, hip hop album with a new angle. Revival is a reflection of an artist living in the past who refuses to find his way to present day. At this stage of his career, he didn’t need the pop hits. Instead, Eminem has added another body of work to his discography that continues to tarnish his legacy as rap’s most beloved MC.