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Eminem tackles racism and airs anti-Trump sentiments in Revival

In Revival, Eminem makes clear that he is done with his Slim Shady persona.
In Revival, Eminem makes clear that he is done with his Slim Shady persona.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Eminem tries to shed his Slim Shady alter ego, tackles racism and airs anti-Trump sentiments in Revival




Aftermath/Shady/ Interscope

3 stars

In the late 1990s, a relatively unknown Eminem created a new persona dubbed "Slim Shady". Through this alter ego, the rapper born Marshall Mathers produced clever, but often cruel and perverted, lyrics that helped him become one of the best-selling hip-hop acts of all time.

In his latest and ninth album Revival, he makes clear that he is done with the character.

While it is not the first time that he has expressed regret at writing violent lyrics inspired by the fractured relationships with his mother and ex-wife, there is a renewed earnestness in the way he is showing remorse.

"Maybe I shoulda did a better job at separating Shady and entertaining from real life," he raps on In Your Head, a song that features a sample from Irish band The Cranberries' 1994 hit Zombie.

In the two poignant songs that close the album, Castle and Arose, he mulls on the near-overdose that almost took his life 10 years ago and reflects on the negative impact his music career has had on his loved ones.

With 19 songs and stretching out to one hour and 17 minutes, Revival is a lengthy release, but the quality is not always consistent.

A lot has changed in the hip-hop world since he made his debut, but instead of making a foray into the cutting-edge, Eminem relies on familiar tropes that have marked his past discography.

There are pop hooks galore - as befitting a rapper of his stature, he assembles a vaunted list that includes marquee names such as Beyonce (Walk On Water), Ed Sheeran (River), Alicia Keys (Like Home), Pink (Need Me) as well as regular collaborators such as singer-songwriter-producer Skylar Grey (Tragic Endings).

He is still a master at spitfire-like delivery and nowhere is this more evident than in Offended, where he beats his previous record by rapping an average of 6.71 words a second, quite an astonishing feat.

In Chloraseptic, he takes aim at what he perceives as the unintelligibility and lack of lyrical prowess of the modern crop of "mumble" rappers, but he also has plenty to say about United States President Donald Trump.

In fact, Revival is his most politically charged work yet as he raps about white privilege and systematic discrimination in Untouchable and challenges Trump and his supporters' brand of patriotism in Like Home, which features Keys' soaring voice in the stirring chorus.

Yet, Revival is at times frustrating because he tends to contradict himself. The contemplative tunes come undone when he slips back into corny puns and misogynistic lyrics in songs such as the cartoonish Framed and its murder fantasy as well as the lusty Remind Me - even though he claims to have buried the Slim Shady caricature.

The bawdy attempts at humour do not sit well with his stature as one of the elder statesmen of hip-hop.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2017, with the headline 'Out of the shade'. Print Edition | Subscribe