Eminem’s ninth studio album Revival has been one of the more anticipated releases of late 2017.
Slim Shady hadn’t delivered an album since 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, and in the weeks leading up to Revival’s release, there seemed to be strong evidence that Em was prepped to deliver a political firebomb aimed at addressing Trump’s America and the current cultural climate. Following his much-talked-about cypher at the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards, there was widespread discussion as to the role of hip-hop’s most celebrated white rapper in this age of Black Lives Matter, MAGA and #MeToo. The public expected a raging, topical Eminem, and the release of the album’s American flag artwork seemed to confirm it.
Despite the pre-release buzz, however, Revival isn’t the commentary-driven release many may have expected. The album’s political focus is mostly on the first half, with Em pondering everything from white privilege to Trump support in ways that feel sincere, but not quite revelatory. “As I kick these facts and get these mixed reactions / As this beat backspins, it’s like we’re drifting back in / To the sixties, having black skin is risky / ‘Cause this keeps happening throughout history.”
But once you get past the midway point on Revival, it’s clear that this is pretty much standard Eminem, in terms of subject matter. He reflects on the glare of superstardom, gets occasionally murderous, muses on fatherhood and even apologizes to his ex-wife, Kim. The rapper’s first album in four years isn’t a bold new direction inasmuch as it’s Eminem trying to squeeze himself into music’s cutting edge by showing all that he can do, creatively.
On “Believe,” he’s even awkwardly attempting to work his hyperkinetic flow into trap beats. But it doesn’t reinvigorate his art—he’s simply trying too hard to please too many listeners. Whereas The Marshall Mathers LP 2 sounded disengaged, here Em sounds like he’s doing too much, and he is saddled with some of the most ill-fitting production of his career.
“Why are expectations so high? Is it the bar I set? / My arms, I stretch, but I can’t reach / A far cry from it, or it’s in my grasp, but as / Soon as I grab, squeeze / I lose my grip like the flyin’ trapeze…”