Rap Game Rip Van Winkle: Meditations on the New Eminem Album: "Kamikaze"
(Below is a copy of a fictional note written by a fictional physician, Dr. Wolf, to his fictional colleague, Dr. Johnson, pertaining to the rapper Eminem—and while the note, like the physicians, is fictional, the opinion, like Slim Shady, is real.)
Dear Dr. Johnson,
I am writing to request advice on a patient, one Marshall Bruce Mathers III.
The patient—whom you may be familiar with as Detroit rapper Eminem—appears to be suffering from a kind of compulsive nostalgia, presenting symptoms that are, in their way, reminiscent of early-onset Alzheimer's disease (or Anterograde amnesia).
Each morning, Mr. Mathers arises fixed in his belief that it is the year 1999. Convinced of this temporal milieu—which, as his biographer has noted, was the very apogee of his career—the patient commences his day in a state of contented oblivion.
Initially, his day proceeds without incident, for his actions are contained within the cocoon of his Michigan mansion—where time stands still (and where I have lodged for the purposes of observation).
Slowly, however, the layers of his silky envelope are peeled back, and the patient intuits that something is off. This intuition is founded, more often than not, upon the stimulus (if that is not too strong a word) of the inane lyrical repetitions of one Playboy Carti.
"Woke up to ni$#as sounding like me."
Like Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, Mr. Mathers' suspicion builds to a violent crescendo as his sense of the crookedness of reality comes to a head. Finally, this diurnal tragedy (the patient's mnemonic integrity lasts but 24 hours) culminates in my own medical intervention: I, being forced by stress of awkward circumstance, to redress the patient's temporal misconceptions.
When the veil is lifted at last, the horror of the present moment washes over him, and he—like the fictional Kurtz—whispers of mankind's depravity in fatal spasms.
“Mumble rap: the horror, the horror.”
I do not know what to do; the patient's violent reactions to the zeitgest—and to his own fading cultural relevancy—are difficult to behold.
Today, for example, I discovered that Mr. Mathers' disorder—in cahoots with his vulgar narcissism—has resulted in a new album, which the patient released without my knowledge last Friday.
The album, entitled Kamikaze (suggestive of the patient's suicidal state of mind) is largely a collection of lyrical diatribes performed in opposition to the apparently pitiable state of modern rap music.
Thankfully, the patient's technically adept delivery, combined with the intricacy of his multi-syllabic rhyme scenes, have served to conceal his illness from the outside world; but his adeptness belies his insanity—and it is obvious, to any reasoning observer, that Mr. Mathers is a very sick man indeed.
In order to disentangle the twisted knot of his psychic configuration, I have listened to the album and jotted down a few thoughts (see below), thereby hoping to shed further light on the nature of his disorder so that you may, perhaps, suggest some remedy.
Here are my observations:
Kamikaze finds Mr. Mathers—who is 45-years old—expending significant energy demeaning the efforts of musicians not half his age. This ignoble species of middle-aged bitterness, predicated on the fiction that rap music in the '90s was somehow ideal (when in reality rap music has always been problematic), speaks not only of a deep-rooted Gerascophobia, but also, and somewhat paradoxically, of premature senility; he resembles, as someone recently pointed out, an old man screaming at a cloud.
Furthermore, on the album, the patient is entirely self-obsessed, which may or may not be a symptom of his illness (Mr. Mathers has always nurtured an unhealthy egotism). On the album's opening track, for example, the patient declares his urge to “punch the world in the fu$%ing face:” the reason being, as revealed in the subsequent lyric, NOT the wretched state of American politics (although there is some mention of the president); NOT the impending doom of Climate Change; NOT inequality or racism; NOT the various humanitarian disasters occurring in the world today—but rather because Mr. Mathers has come to understand that his fan-base is dwindling. This brings to mind an obscure quote, whose origin I cannot recall:
"Small men seethe at minor injustices, but remain forever silent in the face of grand social iniquities."
Finally, having heeded the album in its entirety, I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Mathers—whether owing to his illness or not—is like an old illusionist, staging a trick that impressed his audience 20 years ago; but now, because these tricks have grown both old and stale, they are received with a mixture of pity and annoyance by the underwhelmed audience, who find themselves collectively sighing at this doddering old sorcerer still pulling deceased rabbits out of his faded Durag and yelling "Ta-Dah!"
It is no matter that he extracts these rabbits at twice the speed—they are still the same rabbits.
Whatever the case, I fear that Mr. Mathers' disease will become public before long. And I fear that this revelation shall tarnish his otherwise meritorious legacy—and that he will henceforth be remembered, in the idiom of the day, as a kind of rap-game Rip Van Winkle (Rap Van Winkle); has he not fallen asleep atop the Huron mountains, wandered down after a twenty-year slumber to vehemently declare his allegiance to the old kings: Masta Ace, Prodigy, Big Daddy Kane (as you will recall, Van Winkle was loyal to King George II, having missed the American revolution)—only to discover that the times have changed?
And while I am inclined to agree with the patient on the rueful state of rap, and much prefer the old kings to the new, I think Kamikaze points to the essence of Mr. Mathers' illness: While the patient has maintained, if not improved upon, his dazzling motor skills throughout the ordeal of his illness (which may simply be a bad case of aging), all of his technical ability is yet employed in the service of ignoble ends (which could be excused when he was young and immature), that is to say, in his belittling others with all manner of vulgarities (even homophobic slurs); in his implicit (sometimes explicit) praise of his own precarious sense of self; or in his glorifying a bygone era that doesn't merit that glorification—all the while remaining silent on those issues that matter most in the world today.
Is there anything that one can do?
Sincerely, Dr. Wolf