Eminem dropped a new album, Kamikaze, today (August 31), surprising and delighting fans eager for new work from Mr. Mathers.
The first thing one notices when looking at the cover art for Kamikaze is the clear homage to the Beastie Boys’ 1986 debut Licensed to Ill. The gray airplane wing and tail are obvious throwbacks, as are the naughty coded messages painted on the plane (“3MTA3,” or “Eat Me” on License; “TIKCUS,” or “SUCK IT” and “F-U2” on Kamizaze).
The original airplane illustration on License to Ill was meant as a commentary on rock ‘n’ roll excess. “At the time, I had just read Hammer of the Gods, a wild biography about Led Zeppelin's rock excesses,” said License producer Rick Rubin. “In the book there is a photograph of the Led Zeppelin private jet and the idea of this cover came from that. The Beastie Boys were just a bunch of little guys and I wanted us to have a Beastie Boys' jet. I wanted to embrace and somehow distinguish, in a sarcastic way, the larger than life rock 'n' roll lifestyle.”
Eminem has long voiced his respect for the Beastie Boys, spending part of his 2013 "Berzerk" video imitating their "So Whatcha Want" clip. In an interview with Rolling Stone that same year, he discussed their influence on how he presented and expressed himself.
“[They said] ‘Fuck you. We fucking curse. We spit beer. We throw it on our fucking fans,’” he said. “And obviously as they got older their views and things changed, as all of ours do. You can be mad at their shit for not sounding like their last shit, but if it did, then they didn’t grow as artists. Same as me.”
Eminem likely remembered how the Beasties came to his defense when he was taking heat for lyrics deemed by some to be homophobic and sexist. Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) noted in 2000 that there were larger issues that factored into Eminem’s words and world view.
“People place a lot of importance on what he says and give him a lot of shit for what he says,” Horovitz to NME, “but you got to blame society. You can’t take all the blame off him, but you also got to put the blame on a society that, in America at least, raises boys to be sexist, to be homophobic, to be knuckleheads — that’s the American way.”
Eminem was quick to share condolences when the Beasties’ Adam Yauch (MCA) died in 2012.
“It's really sad,” he told HipHopDX. "It's really a shame. The Beastie Boys mean so much, have always meant so much since they came out, and mean so much to hip-hop, all three of those guys.”
He spoke of License to Ill’s most popular track as an early influence.
“When I saw the Beastie Boys' 'Fight For Your Right To Party' video," he recalled, “it made me realize that [anything] was possible. Just seeing that and being like 'Whoa, holy shit!' They were killin' it!”
Kamikaze is Eminem's second new album in the past year, following Revival, which arrived in Dec. 2017 and debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. He has not announced any tour dates to support Kamikaze.
The Beastie Boys will publish Beastie Boys Book on Oct. 30.