Tried not 2 overthink this 1… enjoy.
It started with a tweet, and it ended up a sensation.
Eminem’s surprise new album, Kamikaze, dropped less than a fortnight ago (August 31) with no preamble, no marketing tease, no noise.
Just a tweet – and 13 tracks full of brisk, antagonistic, rage-fuelled bars that got the world talking.
A portion of the album openly railed against critics of Eminem’s previous album, Revival, which arrived just over eight months prior, in December 2017.
The twist: Kamikaze smashed through 434,000 album equivalent sales in the US in its first week – some 63% higher than the lushly-produced, superstar feature-laden Revival chalked up (267,000) in its opening seven days.
Kamikaze’s barnstorming debut made it the fourth biggest week-one in the States so far this year, tucked in behind three giants of modern popular rap – Drake, Travis Scott and Post Malone.
Kamikaze has also proven itself a truly global hit, rising to No.1 in no less than 103 markets around the world.
Here, MBW catches up with two long-standing, key members of Team Eminem: Marshall Mathers’ manager (and recently-crowned Def Jam chief) Paul Rosenberg, plus Interscope Geffen A&M Vice Chairman, Steve Berman.
The duo spill the beans on where they believe Kamikaze can go from here, what its huge commercial performance means for Eminem’s career – and why it heralds good news for the album format in the age of streaming…
Paul Rosenberg, CEO/President Def Jam Recordings & Eminem manager
What were your expectations for Kamikaze before it landed?
We didn’t know [Kamikaze] would perform quite as well as it has out of the box, because we haven’t done anything like that before with Marshall – a surprise release of a full project.
We didn’t really have a gauge for it. We were coming off of Revival, which is a project we marketed months prior to its release, which didn’t perform as well as we had hoped, so there was obviously a bit of the unknown involved in this venture.
Did you think, before Kamikaze arrived, that a ‘rawer’ album than Eminem’s previous LP would surpass it commercially?
I felt it was necessary for [Eminem] to get these messages off his chest, and for him to release the record with the energy, urgency, and angst that he expressed within it.
Did I know that meant it was going to be a big commercial performer? I didn’t. It just goes to show this [streaming] audience, with everything being so transparent and democratic, they want honesty, they want purity. They don’t want to be marketed to, they don’t want to be told that something’s a hit.
They want to find music themselves, and consume it how they feel is best for them.
In a lot of ways, for a guy like Eminem, that’s a big relief, right?
That makes sense.
Because now you can sit back and say, “Why am I trying to do this? Why am I chasing that? I’m going to make the record I want to make. That’s what my audience wants.”
“Whatever did or didn’t happen with Revival got Eminem to a place where he could make this record.”
I think in a lot of ways, it’s a blessing. Whatever did or didn’t happen with Revival got him to a place where he could make this record, and be raw and honest and emotional, and have people really embrace it.
The impossible question: now it’s happened, why did Kamikaze perform so much better than Revival, which as you note had so much more ‘traditional’ media/marketing amplification?
It was a lot of factors, the first and foremost being that Marshall’s never done [a surprise release] before.
If you hear that somebody like Eminem has dropped a surprise project, instantly you’re intrigued and you are interested in finding out what it’s about.
The timing was really good, too, in terms of the runway being very clear for big releases, and some of the larger hip-hop projects getting out of the way.
Then, obviously, word of mouth is really strong, and people were definitely very eager to hear what he was talking about, because there was a big buzz about some of the topics he was addressing.
the debate over those who he raps about continues to rumble! What do you think that Kamikaze’s done for Eminem’s status amongst, particularly, a younger audience, as well as his own personal energy as an artist?
I think he was in the mindset of like, “Look, I don’t know if people forgot who I really am and what I’m about, but I feel like I need to remind them.”
I feel like that’s what he wanted to accomplish, and he did it.
He put out a project where he can just say, “Listen, don’t forget what I am capable of, and the things that got me to where I am.”
Does it please you that people are talking about the whole album in an industry which is becoming increasingly track-led?
Definitely. That’s really important for a guy like Em who’s so focused on music as a body of work.
To have this streaming audience, this digital audience which is obviously younger, be engaged in it like that, it just goes to prove the point that if you deliver the right quality of product with high standards, people are going to be there for it.
They will indulge in things that are worth indulging in.
When did you first hear the record?
I heard songs as they were being created, and initially he thought he was maybe just going to release one or two songs in response to what he was feeling.
As he kept going, I think he started to feel more confident about what he was doing, and then two songs turned into four songs, and then next thing you know, he said, “Why don’t I make this a real project?”
Were you panicking a bit about keeping the record under wraps?
Oh yeah, I was terrified. But the good news for Eminem was that in my other job wearing my other hat, with Def Jam, I’d been through a bunch of these drills [this summer] with the Kanye releases.
I’ve learned, being in this system, what you can and can’t do, how long you can hold things, and the levers you can pull to get things done in a short amount of time.
I know you get asked this every single lunch you go to now, but how is it working on an Interscope project as Eminem’s manager, and then also working as the boss of Def Jam – which, although a fellow part of the UMG system, is a rival label. Is that a bit schizophrenic?
A little bit, because obviously we’re in competition with Interscope at Def Jam for some things, like signing new artists, but I never look at them as [outright] rivals. I’ve been working so closely with [Interscope] since the beginning of my career, that I could never see them in any light other than a positive one.
Marshall remains signed over there, I love working with the people at the label, and everything has continued pretty smoothly, all things considered. While it’s weird at times, because I do have to put my other hat on, I think that we’re all able to separate it pretty well.
“Marshall comes along and says, ‘Hey, what are you doing? We’re putting out another album!'”
One of the things that I told everybody at Universal before I took the position with Def Jam was, “I need to get this Eminem album [Revival] out, before I can go focus on [the label].”
I thought I was going to get a couple of years to really settle in and get comfortable in this new role, and of course, Marshall comes along and says, “Hey, what are you doing? We’re putting out another album!”
It’s been a huge challenge, and a tremendous amount of work, but it’s kept me so focused. I think I’m actually more efficient as a result of it.
You appear on a skit on Kamikaze – warning Eminem on a voicemail of the “slippery slope” of firing back against critics of Revival. That’s scripted, right?
The skits are always based on real conversations, so while they’re not necessarily real voicemails, they are things that have really been said amongst us – particularly mine.
Marshall’s [skit] is a little bit more extreme and comedic, but there’s always pieces of truth in there.
I’ve always played the ‘voice of reason’ in those skits, and early on it was just to let everybody know we’re not completely insane!
I’m saying some of the things that you might be thinking when you’re listening to these records.
Outside of Eminem, what’s your No.1 goal at Def Jam, and why did you take the job?
We really have one goal, and that’s to make this the record label that everybody in the genre wants to be associated with, and to be signed to again.
There was a time in hip-hop where there was Def Jam, and then there was everything else, and I want to get back to that. If we do that, that means we’re doing everything properly; we’re breaking records, we’re signing the right artists, we’re influencing the culture, we’re cool. All those things are working if we reach that goal. That’s where I want to be.
Why did I decide to do it? I mean, it’s the greatest hip-hop label of all time.
To be given an opportunity to sit in command of that and contribute to that legacy is a once in a lifetime thing that there’s no way I could have passed up.
Steve Berman, Vice Chairman, Interscope Geffen A&M
What’s the current mood at Interscope?
We’re thrilled with the global reaction, seeing the numbers that we’re seeing around the world, in every market, on whatever format that matters.
We had to be so sensitive to Marshall and Paul’s wishes; the one mandate was, “Don’t let anybody know. Don’t let anybody know, and do NOT let it leak.”
Given that we wanted to execute the message exactly the way they wanted it, we felt like that’s how we crafted the rollout, and in terms of watching it now play out, we’re so happy.
When did you find out about Kamikaze?
Our core Eminem team – John [Janick], myself, [Interscope comms boss] Dennis Dennehy, [marketing exec] Jason Sangerman – flew down to Detroit and met with Paul and Marshall.
It was about five weeks out from release. Marshall was very clear in how he wanted this to roll out.
We came back and kept it to a very, very, very small group here. [Chief Revenue Officer] Gary Kelly and [EVP International] Jurgen Grebner were heavily involved and have done a wonderful job with the global campaign.
“It’s torture, but it’s really exciting.”
Everybody was really clear on the mission: honoring Marshall and Paul’s mandate.
You’re sitting there every day leading up into it, thinking, “Is this the day it’s going to leak? Is this the day the information’s going to get out?”
Literally hours before it was going live: “Are we going to make it? Are we going to make it?”
That’s a really exciting thing to be part of. It’s torture, but it’s really exciting.
What was the mandate from Eminem?
It was really important for him that he wanted [Kamikaze] to surprise people. He just wanted for his fans to wake up and say, “Oh shit. Here it is.”
It was so important to us that we were able to turn the physical around as quickly as possible, because there were certain markets where physical means everything.
At the same time, Paul and Marshall were creating visual elements to support the release – the Fall video hit right on top of the release and the Lucky You video is hitting right now.
Does the fact the global discussion is around the album, the full body of work, feel important?
I love that you asked that question, because it speaks to who I am as a record guy.
I hope what this does is inspire a whole new group of artists, a whole new legion of artists, to be able to see the value of the album; the power of it and the art and care that goes into it.
The stats suggest that Kamikaze has put Eminem back in a conversation amongst young hip-hop fans worldwide, in the same breath as Drake, XXXTentacion, Kendrick Lamar, Migos etc.
I was at Twickenham Stadium [in the UK] when Em did the shows in July, watching the fan reaction, which was incredible. I was with [Universal Music UK boss] David Joseph, and it was very clear that Marshall was concocting something, but we didn’t know what yet.
Fast forward and I’m in Detroit, hearing the album for the first time when he played it to us in the studio. That was one of the happiest days of my career, because I knew at that point it was something really special, and he just had this clarity.
“That was one of the happiest days of my career.”
We’ve been on a big journey with Paul Rosenberg and Eminem, and that journey has not always been a straight line. There’s been twists and turns, but through it all, we’ve had such belief, and blind loyalty to Em as an artist and a friend.
I think people are going to look back at this [Kamikaze] and say, “That was a real moment; a record that represented him completely clearly, when he was in a great place with his art.”
We’re really proud to be in business with Eminem and the art that he creates.Music Business Worldwide