Early Friday morning, August 31, the music world was surprised with a previously-unmentioned new Eminem album, Kamikaze. The album follows Eminem’s poorly-received 2017 album Revival.
The opening salvo is “The Ringer,” a five-and-a-half minute, 1500-word song that sets the listener up for the pace and tone of the album as a whole. Heavily featured in “The Ringer” are responses to criticism of both Revival and Eminem’s 2017 BET cypher. Tightly woven throughout the intro song are multilayered swipes at other artists and media personalities.
The shade starts getting thrown almost immediately. Only a few seconds in, and Em is already taking aim at Odd Future’s Vince Staples: If I press the issue just to get the anger out, Full Magazine could take Staples out.
Here, Em says that if he presses the issue and engages, Vince would become as obsolete as staples to a pressed magazine. Using wordplay, Eminem simultaneously conjures up the image of a full magazine of lyrical ammunition taking out Mr. Staples.
Following a dense diatribe against Youtube music critics, Eminem switches up his syllabic rhythm. He begins mocking “mumble-rappers” by going into what’s known as triplet flow—a lyrical structure commonly used in the mumble-rap scene. A well-documented enemy of the subgenre, Em takes what’s theirs and uses it to belittle them.
Fans are treated to a taste of Shady’s penchant for horrorcore rap at around ninety seconds into the track. We see Em briefly morph into a demon-possessed rap vampire, and if there was any question about his nature here, he wastes no time in dispelling it: Like an evil spell, I’m E-V-I-L
He’s not totally committed to the dark side, though, because Eminem helps us out at the end of that line: “evil, spelled”. So like an evil spell, Em is evil spelled.
The next several lines show just how deep Shady’s detest of mainstream radio rap runs. He goes into gleefully sickening detail telling the listener how he’d rather mutilate his own genitals than listen to rap that’s mostly about “ice” and money. And immediately after embracing his most juvenile facet, Eminem matures into a grown man who’s above flashing his money.
You won’t ever see Em icy; But as cold as I get on the M-I-C, I polarize s***—so the tips might freeze.
He won’t adorn himself with gold and jewels because his skills are flashy enough on their own. Em is also acknowledging his largely anti-Trump 2017 BET cypher having a polarizing effect among fans.
Mr. Shady was apparently not a huge fan of Lil Pump’s hit song “Gucci Gang,” as there are two different lines mocking that song’s distinct hook. In the first reference, Em calls out all those he sees as Lil Wayne imitators. Lil Pump and Lil Xan are offered up as examples, but the listener can easily extrapolate. If you have “Lil” in your stage name, and facial tattoos, Marshall Mathers finds you to be unoriginal.
Shortly later, Eminem addresses his December 2017 album Revival, which some argue is the weakest in his discography. Not quite defending the album, Eminem instead uses it to further ridicule the mumble-rap trend he so abhors. Likening mumble-rap hits to a nutritionally bankrupt fast food burger, Em says: If you’re lookin’ to get a porterhouse, you better go get Revival.
Eminem’s worst album is a quality porterhouse steak compared to the talentless mass appeal of mumble rap. Adding some deeper meaning is the fact that Revival was largely produced by Mr. Porter. More criticism of his critics is followed by Eminem using a reference to the political climate in a brag about his own longevity.
I get impeached, my enemies die.
Even when Eminem is dispatched, he’s only impeached—temporarily dethroned. In comparison, those whom he comes after are left permanently “dead” to the public eye. Eminem knows he has people coming after him, too. He says as much with a nod to one of his idols, Nas.
I’m eastside, never be caught slippin—now you see why I don’t sleep, not even a wink; I don’t blink.
This is a clear reference to the Nas track “N.Y. State of Mind.” Nas “never sleeps, cause sleep is the cousin of death,” while Shady takes it a step further. Not only does he never sleep, he doesn’t even let himself begin to nod off. In fact, Shady “don’t even nod to the beats”.
Straight from the Nas homage, Eminem starts laying into radio personality and rap critic Charlamagne tha God. Following Em’s 2017 BET cypher, Charlamagne came out in sharp criticism of the freestyle, saying it didn’t rhyme enough to be a song. Charlamagne also disputed Em’s comparison of Donald Trump to comic book character The Thing, calling it a “reach”. Charlamagne claimed that The Thing is yellowish-beige, and not orange. Em’s response:
Shout to all my colorblind people
Each and every one of y’all; if you call a fire engine green,
Aquamarine, or you think water is pink
“Dawg, that’s a date.” “Looks like an olive to me.”
“Look, there’s an apple!” “No it’s not, it’s a peach!”
Eminem isn’t without self-reflection, though. He mentioned how he polarized fans with the Trump material in his BET cypher, and now wonders aloud if his line in the sand was worth it. Upon looking back, he sees that he’d do things differently. Instead of rejecting Trump supporters, Em now wishes he’d embraced those he sees as having been deceived by Trump.
To close the song out, Eminem insinuates that President Trump had the Secret Service interrogate him, asking whether he intended harm to the President or had any terrorist connections. Whether or not this is a credible claim remains to be seen, but any help from the news media might be hard to find for Mr. Mathers, as he leaves us with an image of “givin’ the media fingers” (Note the play on words, as “media” shares linguistic roots with “middle”).
“The Ringer” is vintage Slim Shady. Multilayered, clever, lyrically dense. He sends off verbal munitions gratuitously, and with extreme prejudice. Shady is pissed-off, and mad about it.