Eminem’s long-anticipated ninth album, Revival, has already received an extremely mixed response online. One dismayed fan tweeted: “Hurts my soul to say this, but this is a terrible listen.” Well, that’s perhaps a little harsh. The album finds a newly woke Marshall Mathers stumble through some clumsy rhymes and lumpen beats, yet on the whole he sounds freshly energised and inspired through its 19 tracks.
There’s one main reason for his: Donald Trump. The rapper’s antipathy – to put it lightly – towards the 45th President of the United States was widely noted at the BET Awards back in October. Em used the show to broadcast ‘The Storm’, a four-and-a-half-minute rap that denounced Trump’s attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and reckless approach to gun control. Here he goes further still, using ‘Like Home’ to call Trump “a Nazi” and “basically… Adolf Hitler” before defiantly concluding that “you ain’t ruining our country, punk”. Eminem spent the early noughties representing the same white, disenfranchised American working class that voted for Trump in droves, and it’s powerful to see him use his voice to disown the country’s drift towards hate and division.
Elsewhere, he’s clumsier and less effective, if equally well-intentioned: ‘Untouchable’ alternates between the personas of a white supremacist and the black character he denigrates. It’s goofy, unsophisticated stuff, but it’s better than ‘Framed’, on which he elongates the last word of each line to bizarre effect: “I didn’t murder nobody / I know these words are so naughty / But I’m just here to entertaaaaain.” He’s done that kind of material much better in the past (see 2000’s ‘Who Knew’) and it’s shame to see him retread old ground. With features from Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé and Pink, here was an opportunity to make a sustained – and more focused – statement.
Overall, though, the tellingly titled ‘Revival’ is the most vital record Em has put out since 2004’s ‘The Eminem Show’. He samples rock tracks (‘Heat’ borrows ‘Intro (Feel The Heat)” from the film Boogie Nights), rides over pounding percussion (‘Tragic Ending’) and on ‘Chloraspetic’ tries on trap beats. Not all of it works, but his renewed creative vigour is obvious and his sense of duty commendable.