Lucky Me: An Informal Review of Kamikaze
There is one song I've been listening to on repeat for the past couple of weeks.
Eminem's Lucky You featuring Joyner Lucas is currently my go-to song.
(I'm playing it right now as I write this article!)
I meant to do a review of Eminem's latest album, Kamikaze, on Facebook like I've been recently doing with music or films I've recently listened to or viewed, but I feel a short blog post would do this justice.
Plus, I had already read reviews of the album before fully listening to it, so I couldn't give an an honest opinion without any influence from critics who have already judged Em's work.
Overall, I liked the album. I'm happy that Eminem hit back at his critics for panning Revival, and critique the current state of hip-hop ("mumble rap" anyone?). I don't have anything against "mumble rap", but Em is right - artists are rewarded for sounding the same rather than bringing their unique sound to their work. Don't get me wrong, "mumble rap" and its related sounds have given us tunes to turn up to, but let's be real - none of this style of music will be relevant in the next few years, let alone a decade from now.
Bars still matter.
Lyricism still counts.
Eminem made that loud and clear in Kamikaze. From taking shots at MGK on Not Alive to detailing his romantic shortcomings on Good Guy, Eminem excellent technique in his delivery, storytelling, and wordplay is as good as ever.
With the general feelings about the album stated, I want to focus on what I believe to be the best song on the album: Lucky You. Lucky You is about one's place in the rap game. Joyner Lucas, a talented emcee on the rise from Worcester, MA, starts off the song with a bridge, vividly depicting of how hard it is to make a name for yourself as a newcomer in the game. His following verse is great - his flow works well with the beat and instrumental and he has plenty of punchlines to leave you satisfied by the halfway-point of the song.
Then Eminem straight kills it. His bridge is incredibly similar to Lucas's at the beginning, which I'll get into more detail in a moment. His perspective is one of someone who's won it all in music, yet still has plenty to give, which paints a nice contrast to Lucas's point-of-view as a relative newcomer. Em's verse on this song is easily one of the best on the album. I could get into it more and pick it apart, but Genius already does a really nice job of that, so I won't bother.
I really want to get bring the focus back on the respective bridges of each artist. To understand how powerful the comparison and contrast of each person's bridge, I want to talk about a common criticism of Kamikaze (and Em's previous album, Revival). Critics are annoyed with Eminem wanting to tear down this new generation of rappers for their style of rapping, which are lyrics that are barely intelligible over a trap beat. It's a fair criticism, but it's not enough to completely reject the whole artistic merits of an album like so many reviewers have done.
This DJBooth article by Donna-Claire Chesman is a better stated version of this common argument. I'll sum her stance up for you: basically, she argues that Eminem knows that there's upcoming rappers with the style that is more respectful in paying homage to the lyricism embedded in traditional hip-hop, and instead of tearing down a new generation that has somewhat consciously avoided such tribute and adherence to the genre's norms and values, he could instead feature more upcoming talent that aligns with his musical taste.
She even cites Lucky You as the best example of this positive encouragement as Joyner Lucas was featured on the track.
It's a compelling argument, and one that I wanted to touch upon because if anything, Lucky You symbolizes the Eminem's recognition of Lucas's talent that he finds not just legitimate, but worthy in his own way.
Take a look at the similarities in their bridges:
The similarities of how the topics they talk about can't be understated. From taking risks to contending for Grammys, this is everything a rapper at any stage of his or her career cares about. And to see such a differing perspective between the two shows how much Eminem respects the craft and storytelling that Joyner's worked on for so long.
If anything, I look at Joyner's bridge as a reflection of Eminem's feelings about the game early on - that he may never win a Grammy, and that in order to do so, he's going to have to take a lot of risk to just get a portion of what's being served for dinner. And vice verse, I look at Eminem's bridge as what Joyner will have to face once he reaches the top - musical stagnation and artistic complacency.
I view the similarities in each bridge's content as an intrepretation that if Eminem had to pick a representative for the next generation of hip-hop to be elevated, it would be Joyner Lucas or someone similar like him (like Big Sean, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar who he shouts out in his verse on the track, because they are all top tier lyricists.).
Hell, this portion of Eminem's four part interview with Sway Calloway basically confirms what I'm saying. See how Em gushes over Joyner's talent?
This metaphorical passing of the torch in Lucky You reminds me of Kanye West's Ultralight Beam performance on SNL. Chance the Rapper is featured on this song, and he absolutely delivers.
You can watch it here (couldn't find a Youtube version).
Pay close attention to how Kanye is reacting when Chance starts signing his verse, especially when he drops these bars:
You can see Kanye lighting up at the obvious name drop, but the first bar out of those two carries a lot of meaning, because its a reference to West's song Otis, where he raps:
It's a beautiful homage to Chance's idol, Kanye, and a loving tribute to their faith in God (thank you Genius for that tidbit there).
Well, this blog post is much longer than I expected, but I'm happy to have written it.
Lucky me for being born in a time where great music still graces my eardrums.
See you all tomorrow.