As he picked up the EMA award for Best Hip Hop 2017, a bearded Eminem quipped, "“Yo, first off... I wanna start off, I’m not really sure how I got this, because I haven’t had an album out in a few years…”
And he was right. He'd just come off delivering a live rendition of 'Walk on Water', his new single with Beyonce - though at the awards, Skylar Grey, a longtime colleague and chorus writer of the song itself, sang the melody. Eminem's last album, MMLP2, was released in 2013.
Fans weren't surprised when Eminem dropped a single on the 11th of November - an album, Revival, had been teased for weeks - but the shock came when the feature was revealed. It was none other than Beyonce Knowles - and as revealed by Malcolm Gledwell on Rick Rubin's podcast 'Broken Record', "“Rick went to see Jay-Z, Beyonce was out of town, and played him the song.” He added: “He liked it and she liked it, and he got her to sing the chorus.”
A lovely gesture from the man that Marshall once put on the legendary list alongside "2pac and Biggie".
And what of the song itself? Beginning with a short, powerful chorus, the song is about struggle, the underlying hardship that Eminem has faced throughout the second half (post-hiatus) of his career. It's about grounding himself - he cannot "walk on water", he "ain't no Jesus". Mr Mathers may be talented, but he's an emotional human like you and I.
Lamenting "Why are expectations so high?", Eminem recognises the criticism he's received ever since Recovery was released - whether it be for his so-called 'choppy' flow or odd choice in beat - and how he struggles to deal with it. Indeed,
"There was a time I had the world by the balls, eatin' out my palm
but now Eminem feels he's "gettin' clowned and frowned on" - even legends aren't immune to disrespect.
The focus should be on the final verse though - the one delivered with such verve and emotion (this is especially shown in the live performance). Bemoaning the high bar needing to be ascended, the lyrics "Now take your best rhyme, outdo it, now do it a thousand times" are especially significant. If we compare Eminem's albums, one by one, there is not only progression, but evolution - yet a significant proportion of people expect the 45 year old to still be releasing tracks like "Without Me" and "Fack".
Before ending, we have to take the opportunity to highlight the chorus for a second time. Both Beyonce and Skylar Grey deliver it absolutely beautifully, encapsulating not only the structure of the rap ballad but the tone of the song itself.
Combine this with poetry from a living legend, and we have 'Walk on Water'. Bring on Revival:
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