Eminem is back. After more than four years of silence, the 45-year-old who’s been called a “rap god” returns with Revival. And he’s armed for lyrical battle.
Eminem’s 19-track effort—his eighth consecutive No. 1 album, a feat unmatched by any other artist—includes collaborations with such heavy hitters as Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys and others. Revival reflects—often angrily—on our current political climate, racial tension, broken relationships and Eminem’s own failings. The front album cover subtly shows Eminem in the background of an American flag with his head in his hands, apparently representing his disappointment with the country’s current state.
When NPR asked him about his album, Eminem said that he wanted to “open people’s eyes with it.” And open them he certainly does, taking listeners on an explicit, emotional and personal roller coaster ride for 77 minutes.
“Untouchable” gives a voice to racial injustice, particularly that of a “black boy” who has been unfairly “profiled” and abused by the “white boy” cops who say “we don’t like the sight of you.” It also mentions how “bad cops” mess things up for “the good cops.” In “Like Home,” Eminem feels our country is being threatened. But he responds patriotically, “I won’t give up on my home, that so many died for.”
“River” is an open confessional in which Eminem admits, among other things, that forcing his partner to get an abortion was a mistake for which he needs forgiveness: “I’ve been a liar, been a thief/Been a lover, been a cheat/All my sins need holy water/… I made you terminate my baby.” In “Bad Husband” Eminem chronicles his volatile marriage with Kim Scott, saying that he should have never “punched back” to “continue the pattern of abuse.” He describes himself as a “good dad, but a bad husband.”
On “Tragic Endings” (another track about a dysfunctional romance), Eminem raps, “But you’re the one thing/That I would die for.” “Need Me” similarly ponders a relationship’s up-and-down cycles, but voices commitment within them: “What I wouldn’t do for you/And I’m starting to think maybe you need me.” Elsewhere in that song, Eminem grapples with what he should do about his partner’s suspected infidelity: “I keep trying to make a bad girl good/Think I caught her cheating again/Give her another chance?”
“Arose” explores how he’d feel about his three daughters if he were to die unexpectedly: “I just thought about the aisle/I’ll never get to walk us down/… Wish I’d have had the chance /To have one last heart-to-heart.” That song also describes his drug addiction, and how he felt at one point that he was “100% finished” with being a rapper. (Though, obviously, that intention didn’t stick.)
“Castle” is a letter to daughter Hailie, specifically, and Eminem says he only ever wanted build a castle “for [her] to sit on the throne.” He also shares that all his efforts to build a paradise for Hailie left her “punished” for his faults.
“Offended” calls out other rappers and their unrealistic lyrics as “shoddy entertainment.” “Believe” articulates some of what Eminem has learned about overcoming adversity. “In Your Head” muses, “Maybe, I should’ve done a better job at separating/Shady… from real life.” And in “Walk on Water,” Eminem claims he is “no Jesus” but “only human.”
Despite that positive content, though, we still have plenty of explicit material to grapple with on Revival.
“Framed” offers graphic, unprintable advice on how to get away with murdering women. “Heat” details the rapper’s lust for a random woman whom he repeatedly degrades with anatomically explicit descriptions. “Remind Me” tells us that Eminem loves a woman who is just as “nasty” as he is. “River” tells the story of a manipulative “sex addict” whom Eminem also labels a “psychopath.” “Bad Husband” gruesomely compares leaving his wife to “sawing off a f—ing body limb.”
“Untouchable” lashes out against political conservatives, saying, “F— your Republican views.” The song also vents rage toward some police officers (“We done seen ’em beat Rodney King unconscious, and got off/So we don’t need all you crooked police officers’ peace offerings”). Contempt likewise reverberates through “Like Home,” as Eminem threatens to “bury” President Trump, “the Aryan” whom he calls a “Nazi” and compares to “Adolf Hitler.”
Eminem brags that his “principles” are gone in “Offended,” as he takes drugs, performs sex acts and violently threatens the president’s cabinet. “Nowhere Fast” chronicles bravado and reckless living. In “Believe” Eminem asks if his fans “still believe” in him. If they don’t, he threatens, “I’ll never forget if you turn your back on me.” And he brags, “As long as I got a mic, I’m godlike” in “Walk On Water.”
Eminem has always been known for stirring the proverbial pot. Writing for Billboard, Nerisha Penrose said of the 15-time Grammy-winning rapper, “His controversial lyrics stem from his experiences as a battle rapper, which he [has] said taught him to capture the attention of listeners from the first few lines of a rap.”
Eminem’s lyrics on Revival once again “capture the attention of listeners.” Sometimes, he does so in surprisingly confessional ways, demonstrating his capacity for reflection and regret—an element of vulnerability that’s often been missing from his music in the past.
That said, Eminem’s not quite ready to hang up his shock rap hat just yet. So Revival unleashes another lyrical barrage of vulgarity, graphic sexual exploits and seething rage as Eminem takes aim at everything that still angers him. Confessional moments or not, that’s still a pretty long list.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, loving raising their little guy, Judah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).