It’s been quite a few weeks for rap disses, hasn’t it? And you’d be forgiven for struggling to keep up with what has become an endless game of diss-ping-pong between Eminem and – well – the world. One such dispute, which has been going strong for the best part of a month, occurred between Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly (MGK), their beef inspiring not one, but three songs so far. You wouldn’t bet against more appearing, although MGK claims to have put any more responses “back in the holster” for now. Phew.
MGK has now dropped his ‘Binge’ EP in the middle of this free-for-all, a row that’s certainly proving a great commercial success. His Eminem diss-track, ‘Rap Devil’, which appears on his latest EP, has debuted at number 13 on the Billboard Top 100, making it his second highest Billboard debut of all time – quite the track to release your EP on the back off. Meanwhile, ‘Killshot’, Eminem’s second MGK diss track, earned the highest YouTube viewings for any hip-hop video in history during its first 24 hours online.
Fans have been speculating that the whole affair has been staged. Both Eminem and MGK are on the same Interscope label; both diss tracks share the same producer too – Ronald Spence Jr is behind both ‘Not Alike’ and ‘Rap Devil.’ A screen shot of MGK’s SoundCloud page emerged online showing that ‘Rap Devil’ was first uploaded online six months ago before being hastily removed again.
For context, the entire argument dates back to 2012, when MGK tweeted that Eminem’s (then underage) daughter was “hot as fuck”. Eminem hit back, with MGK alleging that Eminem subsequently had him banned from certain media outlets; in a freestyle with the LA Lakers, he rapped: “I’m my favourite rapper alive since my favourite rapper banned me from Shade 45.”
Six years later, the Eminem track ‘Not Alike’ appeared, Mathers seeming to reignite the feud apropos of nothing: “…You already know who the fuck you are, Kelly / I don’t use sublims and sure as fuck don’t sneak-diss / But keep commenting on my daughter Hailie.” MGK’s ‘Rap Devil’ then took aim at Eminem’s beard, his selfies, his age, love of the dictionary, his sobriety, wealth, bodyguards and even his former glories: “Trying to be the old you so bad you Stan yourself.” And then of course came Eminem’s standalone ‘Killshot’, in which he strikes MGK in a Stan-esque era moment resembling the final rap battle scene in 8 Mile: “But I’m 45 and I’m still outselling you / By 29, I had three albums that had blew…I ’d rather be 80-year-old me than 20-year-old-you.” Ouch.
For ‘Binge’ to drop in the middle of this is of course very commercially convenient – and you can’t blame MGK for wanting to capitalise. The problem is, this isn’t a very good EP to capitalise anything on. In fact, the strongest track on there is his Eminem diss – fast, smart and full of adept lyrical wordplay, it gives you a glimpse of just how skilful MGK can really be. Yet a troubling irony is how MGK takes aim at Eminem for reading the dictionary, and yet lyrical dexterity is exactly where ‘Binge’ disappoints the most, ‘Rap Devil’ aside.
Tired stereotyping and age-old rap bravado abounds. On ‘Loco’, MGK raps, “So much bread I gotta boast” and “I got bitches blowin’ like I got a whistle on me.” Binge excess is, for the most part, celebrated too, something that makes for a very tough thematic angle in an era where so many young artists have recently died through hedonism.
On ‘Lately’, one of the stronger moments on ‘Binge’, he explores the issue with more complexity. He raps, “You know them kids be with the ‘Ye / And now them kids be seeing ghosts.” It’s an ambiguous line that appears to reference Kanye West and his ‘Kids See Ghosts’ project, while also seeming to reflect on the fact that many of his friends are now “ghosts”, passing away after battles with drug use.
This theme follows through on EP closer ‘Livefastdieyoung’, where MGK explores addiction more honestly, noting how even though he knows the danger of excess, he can’t stop. “I ain’t gonna stop getting high / I ain’t never even goin’ try / Even though I almost died / But I didn’t, I am alive.” MGK skilfully documents the darkness of addiction; he has always been open with his own battles, something he spoke about again recently in an interview with radio show ‘The Breakfast Club’. These are certainly the EP’s stronger moments, yet they are few: ideas feel rushed, too big almost to tackle on an EP of such short duration.
In between, tracks with weaker themes and unnecessary, heavy auto-tune drown out meaning and stilt the album stylistically. Important ideas become ambiguous and lost thanks to under-exploration, making it feel directionless; a diss track lumped in the middle makes little thematic or cohesive sense either, adding to the EP’s awkward flow.
In an interview recently, Eminem said: “Now I’m in this fuckin’ weird thing, because I’m like, ‘I gotta answer this motherfucker’, and every time I do that it makes them bigger by getting into this thing, where I’m like ‘I want to destroy him. But I also don’t want to make him bigger.'”
Sadly, it feels that this is just what has happened with ‘Binge’. Rather acting as an gateway to an important conversation about excess, and becoming MGK’s moment to shine, it has sadly become an EP all about Eminem and, as he raps on ‘Killshot’, a work about “who can out-petty who.” It could have been so much more.