Eminem's 'Revival': A Track-by-Track Guide
Eminem, the best-selling rapper of all time, returned at midnight with Revival, his first album in four years. The new LP sprawls across 19 tracks, touching on rock, gospel, pop and, of course, hard-bitten hip-hop. Eminem veers from sassy to self-deprecating, dependent to dismissive, murderous to politically conscious, uncontrollably lusty to borderline repentant, sometimes all within the same song. He raps over skeletal, golden-age beats courtesy of Rick Rubin and stirring piano ballads from longtime collaborator Alex da Kid; he teams up with locally known artists like Phresher as well as global stars like Beyoncé, Pink and Alicia Keys. Across it all, Eminem remains intent on convincing listeners that he's still at the top of his game: "Will I ever fall off/That day'll never come." Here's a guide to understanding the album's producers, songwriters, guests and key themes.
1. "Walk On Water" feat. Beyoncé
Back in 2000, Eminem opened The Marshall Mathers LP with a sarcastic public service announcement: "Slim Shady does not give a fuck what you think!" It got nastier (and funnier) from there. But that was the old Marshall, and it turns out the new Marshall really does give a fuck what you think. Revival starts in a way that would have been unimaginable in the old days, with solemn piano chords, an honest-to-god gospel chorus from Beyoncé, and Eminem earnestly asking, "Why are expectations so high? Is it the bar I set?"
There's no punchline. This is a serious, vulnerable track about the doubts that nag at a rap god late at night. He's heard your criticisms of his latter-day work, and they hit home. In the second verse, he makes the stakes he's chosen for Revival explicit, referencing the critical and commercial high-water mark of the original MMLP ("It's the curse of the standard/That the first of the Mathers discs set") and describing his writing process in relatable terms: "It always feels like I'm hitting the mark /Til I go sit in the car, listen and pick it apart/Like, this shit is garbage!"
Beyoncé comes through with humility and grace, and storied producer Rick Rubin (along with co-producer Skylar Grey) provides a sound that's closer to the albums he made with Johnny Cash than the tougher-than-leather Run-DMC/Beasties beat he served up for "Berzerk" on Em's last album. Mathers plays along, bringing a thoughtful tone and flow to match.
Then he snaps out of it in the track's final seconds: "Me and you are not alike/Bitch, I wrote 'Stan'!"
Trappish snares and a minimal piano line give Revival's second track a more contemporary feel – this is the sound of a rapper in his mid-40s doing his best to keep up with the kids. He's pretty comfortable in this new setting, even sneaking a not-groanworthy use of the word "lit" into his first verse. A bit later, he gets off some great internal-rhyme runs in a thuggish-ruggish Midwestern cadence: "But I still remember the days of/Minimum wage for/General labor/Welfare recipient as a minor/Look how government assistance has made you!" That verse builds up to one of his more memorable recent solo choruses, with shades of "The Way I Am" and "Cleaning Out My Closet." The lingering questions that he emphasized on "Walk on Water" are still in the picture here ("Man, in my younger days, that dream was so much fun to chase….But how do you keep up the pace and the hunger pangs once you've won the race?"). But he's off and running now.
3. "Chloraseptic" feat. Phresher
Fans flipped out when they saw that the only guest MC featured on Revival's tracklist was Brooklyn's own Phresher, best known for his street hit "Wait a Minute," which blew up about a year ago and subsequently got remixed by everyone from Remy Ma to Riff Raff to 50 Cent to Royce da 5'9". The latter connection likely explains how Eminem ended up calling in a hook from the NYC up-and-comer. "The record is about just spitting, man...Just cutthroat, at your throat music," Phresher told Complex, adding, "It's raw as fuck."
True enough, Eminem gives a revved-up performance, dubbing himself the "Simon Cowell of rhyming foul," memorably declaring "I'm Schoolly D, you're Spoonie Gee" and providing a detailed description of how he plans to murder you using the wire from a notebook full of your weak-ass rhymes. The rumbling beat from his old friend Denaun Porter (a.k.a. Kon Artis from D-12) brings out his energetic, mischievous side.
track-by-track guide to the superstar cameos, Trump tirades, personal
drama and blistering rhymes on Eminem's 'Revival'! via @RollingStone