Fear and loathing: Eminem leaks new single, 'Not Afraid'
Amid all the attention lavished upon Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West and new media-darlings Drake, B.O.B. and Kid Cudi, it’s easy to forget that Eminem remains arguably the world's most commercially viable rapper.
Until Susan Boyle budged him from the honor, he had the best chart debut of 2009 and remains one of the few non-teen pop or “American Idol” artists capable of approaching multi-platinum sales.
So it’s safe to say that his singles remain one of the last things remotely resembling “event status” in the atomized Internet environment, stubborn barnacles of the monoculture, and the rare songs capable of impacting the Interscope quarterly bottom line.
Accordingly, the release of his latest “Not Afraid,” has the rote feel of a rigorously focus-grouped session, rather than the un-medicated spontaneity that characterized his triumphant freestyles and guest spots that accompanied the aftermath of the largely disappointing “Relapse.”
The first leak from the forthcoming “Recovery” (slated for a June 22 release) bests its last two predecessors, “We Made You ” and “Just Lose It,” largely off the fact that Marshall Mathers has finally realized that he’d exhausted his ability to shock via an ersatz Arab-accent, scatological shtick and moldy pop culture jokes.
But in exchange, he swaps the hamminess for a self-seriousness worthy of Bono. Gone is the caustic humor that characterized his most effective radio bids (“My Name Is,” “The Real Slim Shady, “Without Me”), and in its stead are vague self-help bromides and a bombastic but nondescript beat from Drake collaborator Boi-1Da.
“I’m not afraid to take a stand/Everybody, come take my hand/we’ll walk this road together/ through the storm/whatever weather/cold or warm/ Just let you know that, you’re not alone.”
The hook of the first single reflects a maturation for the now-sober rapper whose debut album found him reciting a litany of the drugs he used to consume (basically, everything except cocaine, crack, and heroin), but it doesn’t make for very engaging listening.
If one didn’t know any better they might mistake his lyrics for gospel rap. At his most compelling (“Stan,” “As the World Turns,” “Lose Yourself”) Eminem sketches detailed scenes, but “Not Afraid” drowns in inspirational platitudes – undoubtedly sincere but far from the incendiary third-rail raps that earned him his platinum plaques. It recalls the inspirational themes of his "8 Mile"-era material, but lacks the crucial details or any sort of narrative.
Technically, he remains razor-sharp and as virtuosic as any MC working. However, his flow on “Not Afraid,” seems carefully studied from T.I. -- Eminem makes it his own, but not enough to cover up the fingerprints. While it’s a disappointing first offering from “Recovery,” it’s likely a poor indicator as to what to expect for the album. Either way, it’s no big deal – if you’re looking for vintage Eminem, you can always download the excellent “Despicable” freestyle he unleashed last week.
Presumably, no focus groups were involved.
-- Jeff Weiss
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