So, the “original” version of Eminem’s “Chloraseptic” from his disappointing return album Revival has landed and it’s just as disappointing as the album was. The promised 2 Chainz verse that caused a minor kerfuffle when the tracklist released without it was restored — and it’s the best part of the song.
However, the main attraction for many was the brand new Eminem verse, and that’s where the whole exercise more or less falls apart. The final third of the song features a typically wordy, supremely technical Eminem addressing Revival‘s less than enthusiastic critical reception by doing every single thing that originally drew the criticism in the first place. There are collections of bars with stacked, cascading rhyme patterns that don’t actually mean anything, more casual misogyny and sophomoric, shock-jock “humor,” and more of the classic, thin-skinned schoolyard bully Eminem sensitivity that allows him to dish out abuse while feeling put upon by the entire entertainment criticism industry.
Here’s the problem with that: At 40-plus-years-old, that won’t work anymore. If every single criticism of your new album basically boils down to a lack of emotional and artistic growth, doubling down on it doesn’t prove you right, it just makes you look childish and incapable of seeing one simple truth. Criticism isn’t bullying; when journalists point out the shortcomings of a work, it’s not to make the artist feel bad, it’s to get them to address the flaws and come back better the next time.
When critics push Eminem to drop the misogynistic “jokes,” it’s not because “everyone is too sensitive these days,” to paraphrase another fallen icon who’s taken heat for his content of late. It’s because women make up half the population, and maybe, just maybe they don’t want to be subjected to offhand lyrics about Eminem sticking “a broom in the uterus / Of your Hooter’s chick” because there are enough awful stories in the news of men doing just that and worse it’s not funny for them. For that matter, it’s pretty offensive to those of us who, you know, actually like women as well. What does a bar like that prove? That “Hooter’s chick” rhymes with “uterus” and that rhymes with “lunatic?” Okay, cool, Em. You’re very edgy and irreverent. Good for you. Meanwhile, that bar: 1. Doesn’t make a lick of sense, and 2. Makes you look like a jerk and a jackass, which you probably aren’t, but in that case, why would you want people to think that you are?
The real issue here is that Eminem has proven, time and time again, that he is capable of better. Yes, he can rap his lily-white ass off. That truth has never once been in question. But if his bars are being packed to the gills with nonsensical rhymes just to show that he can rhyme, well, what’s the point? Am I learning anything? Is there something relatable in the clutter of assonance that prompts conversation or introspection? It certainly isn’t entertaining, and if you disagree that rape jokes are entertaining, I’m going to need you to stay as far away from me as humanly possible and also see a therapist or something. Other peoples’ suffering shouldn’t be funny unless you’re some kind of sociopath.
Eminem did try to take a stand, he is trying to impress on his fans some important truths, but they’re undermined every time he lapses into juvenile name-calling and bullying. When he says “I took a stand with a tan face / And practically cut my muthaf*ckin’ fan base in half” toward the end of his “Chloraseptic” verse, it’s hard to sympathize or even believe him when he is still so clearly straddling the fence elsewhere. He isn’t really ready to risk losing those fans when he keeps courting them with the same old, proto-internet-troll persona in the same verse. This was the primary concern for critics of Revival, and it looks like, for whatever reason, he still doesn’t get that. If he thinks that by saying the “politically correct” thing in one place, he can buy leeway for his crude content in another, his sincerity will always be in question. He’s been a Mobb Deep fan, even quoting them in his acclaimed film debut 8 Mile, so you would think he’d get it by now; ain’t no such thing as halfway. He said he drew a line in the sand and told fans to pick a side, but they won’t until he does so himself.