So I didn’t think having a TV advert proclaiming dude as “THE GREATEST RAPPER IN THE WORLD” then playing the chorus from “Not Afraid” would = ratings, but I guess that shows what I know…
Jonathan Bogart: In some ways it feels like it doesn’t matter what score I give this, what score any of us give it: Eminem Is Back, and whether we like the reincarnation is less important than the solidity of the fact. Hooking up with Rihanna, who knows a bit about rock-bottom comebacks, was probably the smartest move he’s made in the years since 8 Mile, and the fact that he goes balls-out on the domestic-abuse storyline when her presence on the track creates automatic associations in the listener’s head is at least an echo of the old firebreathing Shady. If emo-rap insists on being a major presence on the charts from here on out, a don’t-give-a-fuck final verse definitely helps it go down smoother. Points docked for “window pain,” because DUDE.
Hazel Robinson: Christ this is a lot better than I would have imagined he could come out with these days. Getting Rihanna in to darken further a lovely summer anthem about killing your girlfriend is such a good move it’s almost cheap but this is easily sinister and catchy enough to get away with it.
Al Shipley: Eminem has written countless rhymes taunting and feuding with female pop stars, so there’s something kind of surreal and odd about him actually doing songs with Rihanna and Pink now. And I’m not saying I’d rather he make inappropriate jokes about Rihanna’s personal life, but it’d be more in character than this bland post-rehab nice guy pap.
Alfred Soto: This is the first single in years in which Em’s gritted his teeth in a meaningful way, but that’s part of the problem: he doesn’t let the track breathe. When he cracks his lame joke about the window pane it’s so affectless it’s (a) buried (b) offensive because it’s buried. That cybernetic organism known as Rihanna doesn’t help either. Never mind the lines she’s required to sing: her schtick as usual is to read a bunch of lines without inflection. This sadomasochistic nonsense worked best when Em was a young pup.
Michaelangelo Matos: I kind of feel for Em listening to this, because it’s kind of obvious that he’s trying and is basically on his game, but for me he’s become such a marker of his place and time, one that in some ways feels further away than a lot of stuff from before it, that unless he’s doing something clearly at that level, it seems kind of pointless. I’ll take it over “Kim” any/all days of the week, though.
Doug Robertson: When was the last time Eminem did anything that wasn’t just a rehash of previous glories? The aggression seems forced, the lyrics uninspired, and it’s only Rihanna’s contribution that makes this in any way interesting.
Anthony Easton: Rhianna is a more interesting singer then Dido, though one would not be able to tell from this track, which is poisoned by its own nostalgia.
Martin Skidmore: It’s ages since I’ve at all liked an Eminem single, but this isn’t at all bad. It’s massively confused and conflicted, about a tempestuous relationship. I come down on the side of disliking its attitude, but there’s a fucked-up honesty in it (makes me think of Robert Crumb’s strips about women) which is fascinating. Technically, it has some very strong complex rhymes, and Rihanna of course sings it with sharpness, but really it’s its emotional messiness that hooks me.
Chuck Eddy: Don’t know what else to add to the obvious — she grabs more than he does, and all the domestic violence pandering begs questions so obvious that I feel like a dupe even bringing it up. But he grabs more than some pretend. Also, this may well be the first pop hit ever to mention “dry wall.”
Katherine St Asaph: You could speculate for days on whether Eminem meant this as a critique (probably), whether audiences will hear it as such (questionable) or whether Rihanna should be on this at all (that’s her business). Assuming this is a fictional character — although the Superman line casts that in doubt — the key is the part everyone’s going to quote: “if she ever fucking leaves again, I’mma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” Em couldn’t emphasize this more if he stopped the track and played an ambulance siren. It breaks the meter, jars the ear and allows everything before it to be heard as the morass of rationalization, evasiveness and self-pity that it is. It all works brilliantly, but I’m rather unenthused about hearing this character’s ranting on the radio for the next few months.