Who is Eminem in 2018?

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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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Takeaways: J. Cole x Angie Martinez

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  • Angie Martinez has always possessed a conversational style of interviewing that allows her guests to feel comfortable and open up in ways you don’t always see them open up in other interviews. And while J. Cole is usually forthcoming, it’s really a work of art how Martinez shares her own experiences to carefully, yet effortlessly and almost imperceptibly peel back his layers to get him to spill some really insightful stuff.

 

  • Meditation & Prayer (4:15): These things are synonymous to Martinez, but Cole mentioned his need to do both, separately. In my experience, there’s no right or wrong way as long as you’re purging outside forces from your mind in the process. Cole said he meditates to deal with anxiety, but expressed his urge to do it more frequently, even in absence of anxiety. I don’t deal with much anxiety in my life, but I know people who do and thought this could be impactful for anyone looking for a way to cope. I meditate when I’m in desperate need of answers or direction in life. And like Cole, I don’t see it as the same as prayer, but they’re usually hand in hand. I can pray without meditating, but I usually don’t meditate without praying before or after.

 

  • Staying Present (6:42): Cole said meditation for him is a mechanism for staying present, which in my opinion, is one of the most important but most difficult things for us to do. Especially in this age of social media, with people rapidly spreading and digesting ideas, thoughts, expectations and fears, it’s hard to ground yourself to the now. Those outside forces are compounded with your own worries with bills, family, significant others, work, etc. Living in the moment is something I constantly try to remind myself to do.

 

  • Self Awareness/Improvement (15:36): Anyone close to me will tell you about the many self-improvement “tests” I regularly put myself through, whether temporarily or permanently. In stints, I’ve stopped smoking, drinking, eating pork, eating meat altogether, eating dairy products, going on social media, etc. I remove these things because I notice the adverse affects they have on me either physically or mentally, and I need a reprieve. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard other people express the same desires, but chalk up the causation to almost like an intrinsic trait that can’t be reversed – so they take a why-try attitude. I respect Cole’s willingness to attempt to understand and tackle those things. I can’t stress how hard it is to remove certain forces, especially when you’re the only one in your circle trying.

 

  • Power of Music (23:48): I won’t get long-winded here, but Cole tells a story of how one of his fans who was dealing with pain overcame a moment, and maybe a lifetime, of addiction after hearing his new album, KOD. It just goes to show how the right music at the right time can impact people.

 

  • kiLL edward (31:28): Cole talks about the origin of his alter-ego kiLL edward. He also goes into the┬árelationship he had with his stepfather, Edward, and how those types of relationships can impact a young child.

 

  • Album with Kendrick Lamar (40:47): It doesn’t sound like this is happening anytime soon, if at all.

 

  • Kanye West (43:48): Cole expresses his displeasure with Kanye for releasing evidence of a phone convo the two had during Kanye’s recent “free thought” campaign. He goes on to address the entire saga, including how his song “False Prophets” relates.

 

  • “1985” (1:09:25): On the song 1985, Cole addresses some of the new rappers that have taken shots at him recently. So, at this point in the interview he details his journey to find out where that negative energy was coming from, how his very thorough response was formulated, and his current feelings about some of those new rappers.

 

  • Philosophy (1:19:51): Coming off a spiel about capitalism that we’ve heard from Cole before, he goes into his belief that mankind is still in an infantile state (not excluding himself) and sometime in the future as we mature, the concept of celebrity will cease to exist.