It’s been impossible to escape the maelstrom Eminem unleashed at the end of August with his surprise album Kamikaze. Whether it’s the furious bars that lash out at mumble rappers, the homophobic slurs slung at Tyler, the Creator, or his freshly reignited feud with Machine Gun Kelly, the new LP is either a rallying cry—or a last-ditch shot at relevancy.
It takes a village to make an album this explosive, and Em still gives credit where it’s due. Part of the listening experience of Kamikaze is picking out the samples and sounds that the veteran rapper and his coterie of new-school producers—including Tay Keith, Mike Will Made-It and Illadaproducer—sprinkled throughout the album.
Here are five of them.
“Ooouuu” by Young MA on “The Ringer”
“Ooouuu” and its earworm of a hook were inescapable in the summer of 2016. Young MA’s swaggering breakout single, produced by U-Dub of NY Bangers, defined the latter half of that year: It was remixed by everyone from Remy Ma to Meek Mill to Nicki Minaj. Even 50 Cent put his spin on it.
Clearly, Slim Shady was listening, too. He samples the Brooklyn rapper’s signature “Ooouuu!” cry on “The Ringer,” the album opener that comes out all guns blazing against the new faces of hip hop, Lil Pump, Machine Gun Kelly and Lil Yachty among them.
Young MA and her friends had been throwing the catchphrase around “a good year before the [‘Ooouuu’] record came out,” she told Vogue. It also made an appearance in her “Oh My Gawdd” freestyle video, which shows its versatility: Exclaiming “Ooouuu!” can be both an expression of admiration and derision.
For Eminem, it was clearly the latter. The exclamation sounds out as the rapper counts the ways he and his artistry have been snubbed by hip hop fans in 2018. Listen out for it after the verses about a fan sending Em a copy of an older album to remind him of his former greatness—ice-cold.
“Humble” by Kendrick Lamar on “Greatest”
The mutual admiration between Eminem and Kendrick Lamar is well known. The latter has gone on record with his admiration of The Marshall Mathers LP, and the former has also sung praises of Good Kid, Maad City. So it’s not too surprising to hear KDot’s smash hit “Humble” sampled on “Greatest” (both are, perhaps coincidentally, Mike Will Made-It productions).
But this nod to everyone’s favorite Pulitzer-winning rapper is particularly thrilling for the way Em gleefully mimics Kung Fu Kenny’s iconic “My left stroke just went viral” line. “Revival didn’t go viral!” Em snarks on the third verse, continuing to imitate Lamar’s flow on the next line: “Denaun and Royce tell me that I should take the high road.”
It’s been slightly over a year since Lamar released “Humble,” which might explain why only a handful of artists have sampled and remixed it (Boosie Badazz and Ne-Yo, for instance). So the way Em reworked “Humble” on his track is instantly notable—not least because it pokes fun at himself and bites another rapper’s flow at the same time.
“wokeuplikethis*” by Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert on “Greatest”
“Greatest” also contains another brief but notable interpolation—that of “wokeuplikethis*” by Playboi Carti.
A single from Carti’s self-titled 2017 mixtape, which had its biggest hit in “Magnolia,” “wokeuplikethis*” also features Lil Uzi Vert. Both artists are leaders of the mumble rap vanguard, pushing forward this exciting, if unintelligible, sound of youth culture today. On the chorus of “Greatest,” he borrows the lead melody of the Carti cut, but changes the verse to “Woke up to honkies sounding like me”—a clapback on another level of irony.
Em’s furious, machine-gun flow couldn’t situate him any further from mumble rap. And he makes clear his distaste for the growing sub-genre right from the outset of Kamikaze. On “The Ringer,” he sneers, “I heard your mumbling but it’s jumbled in mumbo jumbo / The era that I’m from will pummel you / That’s what it’s comin’ to.”
Here and there on Kamikaze, the hip hop vet does crib from modern rap flows and hooks, to various ends. In the case of “wokeuplikethis*,” it sounds like Em’s doing what he does so well: trying on a persona for size. And it appears like he doesn’t like how it fits.
“Seconds” by Little Dragon on “Normal”
Now here’s a sample that stands out from the rest: It’s “Seconds” by Swedish band Little Dragon. The closer of their 2011 album Ritual Union, it’s a gorgeous slice of synth pop the band are known and loved for, featuring the unmistakable vocals of singer Yukimi Nagano.
But how did this song, which wasn’t even a Little Dragon single, get onto “Normal”?
The answer lies in Illadaproducer, who is credited on four songs on Kamikaze, including “Normal.” The Florida-based producer, real name Illya Fraser, told Rolling Stone he knew the beat was destined for someone big: “‘Normal’ was a beat I made last year for a Kendrick or a J Cole or a Drake. As I’m making it, I’m like, somebody’s gotta spit bars on this shit.”
Under Illadaproducer’s hand, the Little Dragon track was thinned out, pitched up and turned into a sparse, tinkling beat. Atop it lie an ominous, droning synth and another beat that Em picks up on for his staccato raps. This was one of the first things Illadaproducer sent Eminem when he requested beats from him, he revealed.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time this song has come into contact with hip hop—Syd of The Internet (who was at the time still going by Syd tha Kyd) put her own spin on “Seconds” in a remix of the track.
“I’m Bad” by LL Cool J in “Kamikaze”
This is a sample oldheads will recognize: LL Cool J’s hit “I’m Bad,” heard briefly on the title track of Kamikaze.
“I’m Bad” was the opening track to 1987’s Bigger and Deffer, LL’s sophomore album that’s now mostly remembered for “I Need Love,” the first-ever commercially successful ‘rap ballad.’
But “I’m Bad” is also notable as a milestone in the long, audacious history of braggadocio rap, set by a rapper who was only 19 at the time. He had plenty of barnstorming bars—“Slaughter competition, that’s my hobby and job / I don’t wear a disguise because I don’t owe the mob”—and also lines to laugh at, like “I’m notorious, I’ll crush you like a jelly bean!”
LL and Eminem have undeniable rapport. Mathers appeared on LL’s radio show earlier this year for a rare, 90-minute interview, where he gave props to LL, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys for getting him into rap. But this sample is more than a hat tip to an inspiration. It’s about wresting the hip hop crown back.
Context is key here. After LL’s breakthrough debut album Radio, the stakes were high for his sophomore effort, Bigger and Deffer—that’s why “I’m Bad” hits as hard as it does. So it’s no accident that Em samples it on “Kamikaze,” a track on which the Detroit MC defends his title of ‘Rap God’ and swears vengeance against his unbelievers.
The sample on “Kamikaze” is a short snippet: “Kamikaze / Take a look what I’ve done,” extracted from the second verse of “I’m Bad.” But the way Mike Will Made-It integrated it into the song with turntablist scratches is a knowing nod to the production of the original.
So as indignant and incandescent his rage on Kamikaze is, you gotta admit: Em still does it with the style and poise of someone who’s been at the top longer than others have been in the game. Your move, freshmen.
Stream Kamikaze on Spotify.