You can look at Eminem’s new rap song, “Rap God,” in one of two ways. It’s either “This is the sound of a man who hasn’t been considered dope in a long time reminding people that hey, I’m not bad at this rap thing,” or “Wow, Eminem kinda fell off.”
As far as the song itself, Eminem is a Ph.D candidate in rap studies, effortlessly switching the flow from slow and enunciated to homages of ’80s one-hit wonders J.J. Fad and Chicago’s own Hotstylz’s 2010 song “Lookin’ Boy.” (That last one got me to blurt out “No this [bleeeeeep] isn’t doing this right now” on the train.) That aspect is a treat, and should be cherished and heralded by people who love lyricism. That concludes my review of a 6-minute Eminem song that came out in 2013.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Mr. Mathers is at an interesting point in his career. He’s earned all the acclaim, awards and controversy that came with rap’s transition from popular thing that people pretended was a niche to the current state of being outright pop music that even your racist Uncle Morton can’t deny. Problem is, that isn’t enough anymore. All the punchlines on Earth don’t mean anything if you aren’t making music your audience responds to. Unfortunately, his audience is … everyone. Like most creative endeavors, there is a definite moment when you can tell someone is trying too hard. This song is a case of that. After a few listens, it felt like he was waving frantically, trying to remind people he could do his thing.
Online, there’s already a surging army of folks ready to decry anyone who dares say that arguably one of the most popular technical rappers ever lost a step. Well folks, he has. From his hacky attempts at pop culture references (Monica Lewinsky, Ray J) to his reliance on homophobic terms, he’s showing his age. This song shows that Em notices the problem, and is pissed that he isn’t being named and re-embraced in the post-Kendrick world of lyricism over everything. Maybe, just maybe, that’s who he’s been this whole time, and he finally gets to be himself on a record.
Either way, the man who went from being the kid in the back of class who did drugs to being the champion for guys who used to beat up the kid in the back of the class. Can he regain his throne? All I know is, I’m interested to see what comes next.
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