Robert Christgau on Eminem
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews 'The Marshall Mathers LP 2' and 'Kamikaze.'
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City . A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017, will be available from Duke University Press in October. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Aftermath/Shady/Interscope) Because I was between gigs when it came out in late 2013, I never reviewed Eminem's finest post- Encore release. But with Kamikaze dropped just nine months after Revival was trampled into the sod by a gaggle of sheep, I remain impressed by an underrated album that left Eminem well behind such dullards as Queens of the Stone Age and Phosphorescent in the Pazz & Jop Critics' Poll that year. Already Marshall Mathers had worn out his welcome like Jerry Lee Lewis banished with his child bride, an analogy anyone who knows more than two Jerry Lee songs should consider. Lewis wasn't a very stable or likable guy either, but he was an irrepressible virtuoso. He seemed connected to his piano by the brain stem, so imbued with music that he emitted it unbidden, launching songs of every provenance that he might do this way and might do that—or the other. Eminem is far less spontaneous. But here his musicality runs free as his practiced articulation reminds us what flow used to mean, delivering lyrics honed until every line offers up an internal rhyme or stealth homophone or surprise pun or trick enjambment. Also, he holds his Slim Shady side in check here—offensive cracks remain undeveloped, with the "I'm a sucker for love you a sucker for dick" stanza delivered by none other than guest paragon Kendrick Lamar. You don't like it, you don't really like the art form, simple as that. A
Eminem: Kamikaze (Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath) Strangely, the album he devotes to demolishing the Metacritic drones and social media ignorami who slimed Revival is more substantial than that clumsy labor of pride itself. That's because it's about hip-hop, his truest passion and sole area of undeniable expertise, rather than the larger emotional and political themes of what he conceived as a groundbreaking statement of principle. I mean, I like Migos, "Hanna Montana" as much as "Bad and Boujee." But anyone who got through the ambient overkill of Culture II without falling asleep should kick meth, and the parodies of the trio here are overdue—"Brain dead, eyedrops/Pain meds, Cyclops/Daybed, iPod/May-back, Maybach" or "Lug nut coaster [actual online-available consumer durable]/Lung jug roaster [set-up]/Young Thug poster [wham]/Unplugged toaster [cool]" even more than the thematic "Hatata batata, why don't we make a bunch of songs about nothin' and mumble 'em." Similarly, the relationship songs are Kim songs that don't mention her name—metaphors for the emotional dysfunctionality of a narrator whose only show of relatable feeling here comes with his highly belated farewell to his D-12 crew. As for calling Tyler the Creator the F-word, can I mention that rebel without a clue Tyler has misused that odious term far more freely than Eminem ever did—and that the pro forma p.c.-ness of Mathers's apology ("hurting a lot of other people," attaboy) comes as a relief from someone we can hope comes to terms with conventional morality e'en now. B PLUS
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris: Everything's Fine (Mello Music) Honorable alt-rap vet extracts long-awaited album from alt's most musical rapper, which despite many fine moments isn't focused by its silly concept and ends up longer on his raps than hers ("Waiting for the Moon," "Gold Purple Orange") ***
E-40: The Gift of Gab (HT5) At 50, he's still at his comic ease delivering blood-spilling, bitch-calling, dope-peddling truths and tales with a Cornel West coda because he knows that's real too ("When Life Shows Up," "These Days") **
Rae Sremmurd: SR3MM (Eardruma/Interscope) Two hours of generic sui generis hip-hop so easy on the ears you might think they never got the chance to utter the word "bitch" once—but you'd be very wrong ("Up in My Cocina," "Keep God First") *
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