There is no disputing the fact that Eminem is one of the greatest rappers of all time. Marshall Mathers ruled the mid-90s and well into the new millennium. He has received multiple accolades, a heavy and devoted following, and, most importantly, respect from his fellow rappers. He is the reason over-obsessive fans of any artist are called "stans".
I say all of this so that I can give a frame of reference for my opinion. I fully acknowledge that Eminem is a legend, but I can't help but feel that his fingers have slipped off of the pulse of America. As I said, this is mainly my own opinion, but I know others that feel the way I do. With the recent release of his single "Walk On Water", and his politically-fueled BET cypher, Eminem has faced some criticism.
After the release of Eminem's cypher, a "diss track" against Donald Trump and his supporters, there was obvious backlash from right-wing America. Republicans weren't exactly known for their love of Eminem, but there are probably even fewer fans on the right now. A good amount of Eminem fans loved the cypher, and it's message, but there were also fans who thought it was unimpressive. Vince Staples, a young acclaimed California rapper, called the cypher "trash"; and radio-host Charlamagne spoke moderately on the freestyle saying it was just "okay". Shortly after the cypher was released, Anthony Fantano of TheNeedleDrop made a video asking if were too jaded for Eminem's message.
I agree with Vince Staples in saying that the cypher was "trash". I don't think the message of the freestyle was anything groundbreaking, and the flow, accompanied by no beat, was awful. The constant pausing honestly made me feel a little embarrassed. It just seemed like something was missing that would have made that freestyle as grand as it was pretending to be.
Just a few days ago, Eminem dropped a new single, featuring a hook by Beyonce, entitled "Walk On Water". "Walk On Water", like the cypher, features no beat (only soft piano and a few string arrangements). While the song has fans, it also has a lot of speculation surrounding it. Complex released a video asking whether it was good or not, only to come to the conclusion that it really wasn't good.
The only reason I now question the relevance of Eminem is that it seems like something everyone is doing. Typically, it is easy to notice when someone has faded out of social consciousness, but with Eminem, it seems as if we all have to ask if it's okay for him to stay relevant.
I understand why it feels this way. Like I said, Eminem is definitely one of the greatest rappers ever. He was so influential to many of the people who criticize him today. That is this reason that makes it so hard to come to terms with the fact that Eminem's cypher was garbage, and "Walk On Water" is a mediocre track. We cling to the love of the old Slim Shady so much that we are most likely blinded to the fact that Eminem isn't what he used to be.
A solution to this problem is to acknowledge that it's okay to criticize Eminem on his present work while still respecting his earlier work. I don't wish for Eminem to be culturally irrelevant, but I don't want to listen to any of his new material if it continues down the path it's currently on. The only way he can keep fans is to produce better music without trying to pander to audiences that might lessen his work.