Who is Eminem in 2018?

BLOG, HIP-HOP

In December 2017, Eminem dropped his 9th studio album, “Revival” to a mostly negative reception. The constant debate around the quality of that project, where Em fits in today’s hip-hop landscape, and if he’s lost “it” is how Slim Shady brought in the new year.

Whether “Revival” was good or not, improperly promoted, or just ahead of its time is irrelevant today. People didn’t like it at the time of its release so it’ll go down as a failure, even if it ages OK. Eminem seemed to realize as much, immediately getting back in the booth to record “Kamikaze” which came out in August.

A complete 180-degree turn from the introspective and more vulnerable lyrics found on its predecessor, “Kamikaze” displayed a more competitive Eminem, albeit combative and defensive. That brought us back to the questions of the “Rap God” lyricist we started the year with. But the questions now are less about Eminem’s abilities, and more about what we expect of someone with his abilities – and track record. The only way to draw those expectations is to have a clear picture of who Eminem is in 2018.

Several tracks from “Kamikaze” find Eminem either mimicking the sound and flow of contemporary hip-hop, or completely conforming to it. Either way, he unsurprisingly executes the songs with superior lyricism to the artists creating the wave, even if he fails to capture the same “vibe” they seek; it’s doubtful Em was ever chasing that vibe. He approached this project with clear goals: to make-up for the miss that Revival was and prove he can still be a successful rapper, and to send warning shots to anyone whose publicly taken a swipe at him recently. Both goals were accomplished, but the latter may be what defines him in this era.

Of the rappers Eminem dissed, Machine Gun Kelly was the only to respond musically. MGK put out the song and accompanying video Rap Devil, which prompted the Killshot response from Eminem.

This back-and-forth is surprising yet predictable all at once. Surprising because Eminem is too big an artist to concern himself with someone like MGK, whose music likely wasn’t on the radar of 3/4 of Eminem’s fan base, maybe more. Jay-Z went through a similar phase just before this decade where rappers like Cam’ron and The Game constantly took shots at him, and while those were bigger names at the time than MGK is now, they weren’t close to the level of a Jay-Z. Thus, Hov never dedicated a full songs’ worth of energy to them and they never got a chance to knock him off his pedestal. Sure, there were people that wanted see Jay-Z engaged in all out warfare, but he opted against giving those rappers a larger platform.

Eminem’s lyrical engagement with MGK was predictable, however, because he’s a different kind of MC. Em has always been considered a confrontational battle-rapper, concerned with the art of rap more than any business matters or personal brand. Any bars directed at him, and especially his daughter Hailie, is an invitation for him to display his skills in the form of shots fired. But that can be detrimental for an artist as big as Eminem, who had nothing to gain in this particular battle. He’s expected to slaughter MGK, who conversely has everything to gain. When the all-out slaughtering doesn’t happen, the perception is that Em lost the battle – or at the very least, he didn’t win it.

Suddenly, we view Eminem through the prism of the old rapper whose skills may be diminishing a little, when actually he may be as lyrically sharp as ever. Some will look at him as the old rapper name dropping younger rappers to cling on to relevancy, in a similar vein as Kanye West making music with younger rappers. One thing clear from Eminem’s last two albums, and maybe further back, is that his musical content isn’t as appealing, even if he still had the lyrical delivery to enhance it. The backlash he received from Revival is the only thing that made Kamikaze interesting.

Eminem in 2018 is a legend losing a fight against a new era’s demand to conform. He’s being dragged into this new era of social media, click bait and sensationalism whether he likes it or not. The only two directions he can go in this era is over to the sandbox with the kids, or to the big table with the grownups. I expect Eminem to play with the kids for a little longer because it’s always been where he’s most comfortable. Eventually he’ll have to join the big boys in making GOOD grown-up music, however, because it’s what fans expect of a 45-year-old lyrical rapper.

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My expectations for “Tha Carter V”

BLOG, HIP-HOP

Young Money may finally be putting the rollout for Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter V” in motion.

The group’s official Twitter account tweeted a picture of what may be the album’s cover, and Hot 97 is reporting September 21 as the release date.

If the album does drop in 2018, as expected, it’ll come a little more than 7 years since “Tha Carter IV” was released – easily the longest time in between projects in the series. Weezy reached a settlement in court with Cash Money Records in June, allowing for this moment to come.

We haven’t been without music from Wayne since the last Carter album, however. He’s released about 10 projects in that time, providing his core fan base with plenty of music to whet their appetites, including the release of his most recent mixtapes, “Dedication 6” in December and “D6: Reloaded” in January.

What we haven’t really gotten from Wayne in that time is a deep dive into some of the personal drama he’s dealt with in the last seven years. He’s spit clever one-liners to at least address some of things that have happened to him, like the TMZ report of him being in critical condition in 2013, but he doesn’t dwell on those topics long. True to form, Wayne usually bounces back to a line about bitches, pussy, lean or any of the other vices we’ve heard him flip into an incredible quotable.

That’s the inspiration behind this post. It’d be foolish to doubt Lil Wayne’s ability to captivate a mass audience once again without ever really giving us a glimpse into his personal life, but here are a few things I expect Wayne to address to take the “Tha Carter V” to another level.

Circumstances that delayed the project

We know the overarching reason is because of bad business. Baby a.k.a. Birdman, head of Cash Money Records, has a reported track record of not paying artists what they’re due, but Lil Wayne was always thought to be family – not just an artist. There’s definitely more to the story we don’t know.

Maybe Wayne doesn’t want us to know everything, but are there any lessons from this experience he can share with younger artists? What’s his current relationship with Birdman, if any? What emotions did Wayne experience going through this entire ordeal?

Health status

Wayne acknowledged that he’s epileptic in 2013, explaining why he’s dealt with so may seizures. This was surprising news to all of his fans, considering we’ve been listening to his music since he was teenager and just finding out.

In no way is Weezy obligated to talk about something as personal in his music but if he has a positive message about the condition, that message coming from an icon like him could possibly serve as a coping mechanism for others who silently deal with the disorder. How is he managing and limiting his seizures? How has his overall health, including mental health, been lately? Is he still drinking too much lean?

Women

It may seem like all Wayne raps about is women, but it’s only ever about how much he loves ‘them’ and not a specific ‘her,’ or it’s about how they can physically pleasure him and how he can return the favor. I can’t think of a time Wayne has acknowledged feelings about a specific special lady, or addressed his feelings about marriage or settling down. I guess he’s indirectly let us know exactly how he feels, but it’d be nice to know how he arrived to that way of thinking.

New Rappers

A lot of rappers boast about the clones they birthed, but none may have ownership to that claim more than Wayne. He has absolutely inspired an entire generation of rappers, most openly admitting his influence. DJ Drama, not Wayne, was the one heavily emphasizing that point on the sixth installments of the Dedication mixtapes. Wayne has touched on it a little, but we don’t really have a clue as to his feelings about this new wave of rappers and if he’s satisfied with the direction he’s had a large hand in pushing the game to.

Social Issues

Wayne isn’t a stranger to speaking on social issues that directly impact him, such as the time he called out George W. Bush for the country’s lackadaisical response to Hurricane Katrina in his hometown of New Orleans. But the last time we heard Wayne dip his toe into those waters was when he said racism didn’t exist, and then followed that by dismissing the Black Lives Matter movement. His friend, T.I., called him out on the matter, and he eventually apologized.

After the public backlash he received, Wayne should’ve educated himself on these matters and developed a more formal opinion. It’d also be nice to hear how he feels about Donald Trump.

Maybe we shouldn’t expect the 35-year-old rapper to have his 4:44 moment 12 years younger than Jay-Z, but we can’t expect Wayne to enamor us simply with punchlines and charisma forever, can we? Can he?

Caps’ title reflects working-class D.C.

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There’s a large segment of the DMV sports population that I would consider bigger Washington Capitals fans than myself, and a large percentage of that group is white people. So I know several people see me pull for the only hockey team I’ve ever been able to name more than five players from, and think I’m a bandwagon fan riding this recent success to the joy of a championship season. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I’m a first generation Capitals fan. Like many African-Americans, I didn’t grow up in a household that cared for hockey. As anyone with vision can see, people who look like me aren’t well-represented in the sport. And unlike basketball, which started white before diversifying – therefore attracting viewers of all backgrounds – hockey has always been white. So drawing black fans can prove to be somewhat of a challenge. But I chose from a young age to root for all D.C.-area teams (aside from the pro football team), so over the years I’ve watched plenty of Capitals hockey games, playoffs or not.

That being said, hockey is my fourth favorite sport, and I’m more a Capitals fan than a hockey fan. So in the pecking order of my sports interests, hockey always came after the Wizards, Nationals, New York Giants, and the NBA and NFL in general. So no, I don’t remember the Caps’ 1997-98 playoff run and eventual sweep in the Stanley Cup Final the way I do the Bulls’ win over the Jazz that same year, when I was going on 11 years old. And although I do remember Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig being my favorite players at that time, my knowledge of what held those teams back isn’t up to snuff. But I do remember the recent Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams, and this year’s squad gave me a feeling they didn’t, a feeling best described through the city the Capitals play for.

Before this year, the Capitals reminded me of the white collar professionals and politicians of Washington, D.C. Somehow they eleveated to the status of something akin to blue blood without ever actually earning it through postseason success. They were often the favorites entering each season, and their style of play matched; it was rich, finesse, preventative, soft. This year’s team more resembled the working class folks of chocolate city however, the generational families of D.C. fighting tooth and nail to make a living and remain in the city. These Caps scrapped to keep pucks inside the blue line. They put shots on goal from anywhere on the ice and out-skated, if not out-willed, their opponents to rebounds. They seemed to hit more often and with more aggression than teams’ past, and they put their bodies on the line – like Devante Smith-Pelly in Game 7 of the Conference Finals – the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good of the team. And this was all done in a more disciplined manner, taking minimal penalties and capitalizing on power plays.

 

This Capitals’ championship means the world to the thousands of Capitals fans around the world who have been waiting for this moment since 1974. It also means a lot to the thousands more D.C. sports fans that have been waiting for a championship since the Redskins brought one home in 1991. But the meaning of this championship goes even deeper because this team wasn’t as favored to be here this year. And against another team that exceeded expectations but quickly ascended to become the Golden Knights child of the NHL world, the Caps played the role of underdog and kept winning. And in doing so, they represented a class of the city that can relate to and appreciate the story line of struggle more than the one any previous team could’ve provided.