Would someone please hand Mr. Marshall Mathers a lozenge? Preferably one that’s cherry-flavored.
Em is upset that his latest album has had such a lukewarm reception all across the board. Yes, the album went No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and led to him being named a headliner at Coachella 2018, but it also marked his lowest first-week sales numbers of any of his major label albums. Beyond that, it gave him his lowest critic and user scores of any of his solo albums on Metacritic.
But, in his response to Revival detractors, Slim Shady proved he’s missing the point of the backlash.
Em’s verse embodies exactly what exhausted fans and writers on Revival. It’s technically brilliant and stocked with clever metaphors, but his angry delivery and hyperactive flow disregard the beat, creating a jarring musical experience. Even the meaning behind the metaphors reveals a frustrated MC struggling to come to grips with reality.
“‘Walk on Water’ sucks/Bitch suck my dick/Y’all saw the tracklist and had a fit before you heard it/So formed your verdict/While you sat with your arms crossed/Did your little reaction videos and talked over songs/Nah, dog, y’all saying I lost it, your fucking marbles are gone”
Marshall unleashes his fury over unreasonable expectations and critics who balked at the pop-heavy tracklist. “Y’all saw the tracklist and had a fit ‘fore you heard it/So formed your verdict/While you sat with your arms crossed/Did your little reaction videos and talked over songs,” he spits. And yet, Eminem has fused pop with rap ever since he sampled Dido on “Stan,” which is arguably his greatest song of all time. Sure, the internet held its breath with trepidation after seeing Ed Sheeran, Beyonce and P!nk on the tracklist. But the Sheeran-assisted “The River” went No. 1 on the Digital Genre R&B/Hip Hop Chart, and though Eminem decried the mixed reactions to “Walk On Water,” there are still plenty of Stans who enjoy playing in puddles with that joint playing in the background.
Shady also seems to think fans want him to adopt a Migos-like triplet flow, and does so on the remix to make a point. He goes on to rhyme: “But am I s’posed to sound like everything else out?/’Cause I don’t get compared to it, only myself now/And I can see the fair-weather fans and sales down/But the only way I care is if I let myself down.” The very fact that he responded with this fiery cut proves he absolutely cares about the response to his album. And since when has anyone ever wanted Eminem to sound like a trap rapper? He’s beloved precisely because he is unique; fans want to hear about his personal life. Just not combined with overproduced production. And, despite his claim to the contrary on the remix, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a few people who want Marshall Mathers to sound like Macklemore.
It’s true that Eminem carries a weight of expectations on his shoulders that would crush most other MCs. He’s one of the top-selling solo male artists of any genre of all time, and it can’t be easy to lug that around. There will always be those fans who won’t appreciate Eminem’s new work because it isn’t The Marshall Mathers LP. However, for Em to use that as a primary reason for Revival’s reception is erroneous. Recovery and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 certainly weren’t at the level of The Slim Shady LP or The Eminem Show, but they were still well-received by his fans and the internet.
The closest Shady came to recognizing the driving forces behind his detractors came from a single bar: “Why you always gotta smack a whore?” The operative word there is always. Revival was meant to be a rejuvenation of sorts for Em, but the album proved that, aside from calling out Donald Trump, Slim has almost nothing new to say. The shock raps, relationship ballads, and journal entries are all recycled to a lesser effect than previous like-minded Eminem songs.
This is the first time Eminem has taken criticism for an album so poorly. (What happened to “I-don’t-give-a-fuck?”) In fact, he showed remarkable humility on the lead Recovery single “Not Afraid” when he copped to the mediocrity of Encore and Relapse. His anger shows that he’s at a loss, and though this remix indicates that he won’t stop rapping anytime soon, it’s pretty clear where the 45-year-old maestro needs to go from here.
Andre 3000 is heavily criticized for not dropping a solo album, but Marshall should take a page from Mr. Benjamin’s rhyme book and drop sizzling 16’s here and there while focusing his creative energy on other projects. He’s an adept producer, and the new artists on his label would continue to benefit greatly from his direction. Boogie, in particular, is poised to blow up in ‘18. He also produced the battle-rap comedy Bodied, which wowed audiences upon its release last year.
So, yes: Marshall is a Hip Hop legend with nothing left to prove. He has nothing to gain from dropping middling projects that seem to be, at least in part, a response to the immense pressure that he feels from his fans.
Rather than rage against the machine, Eminem needs to take a breather and reevaluate the direction of his career.
It’s that time.