It’s always been a bit puzzling as to why, exactly, Eminem chooses to release goofy launch singles for his albums; in the early stages of his career it wasn’t very problematic because the songs were good, but 2005’s Encore had the annoying “Just Lose It,” and last year’s Relapse featured the unfortunate “We Made You” — the latter of which was an apparent attack against celebrity culture that fell victim to its own satire (count the Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan references). With that in mind, “Not Afraid” is Em’s most serious lead single yet, a fact both reassuring and disappointing. Reassuring because he seems to have finally given up the comic-rap shtick; disappointing because it’s not on par with “Lose Yourself.” Hell, it’s not even really as moving as “Beautiful,” his underrated ballad from Relapse. The biggest point of criticism seems to be the sing-songy chorus, where Eminem pleads with us to “come take my hand” so we can “walk this road together through the storm.” Upon first listen it’s a bit corny, but it’s appropriately anthemic, and not bad enough to deter from the strength of the overall track.
It’s on the verses that Eminem really lets loose and reminds us why he’s one of the best out there – he doesn’t sound quite as pissed off as he did on “Despicable,” the freestyle released last month, but he does sound pretty passionate about what he’s telling us. He acknowledges that his last album was “meh” and promises to drop the obnoxious accents. (Both of which can only be good signs for Recovery, which tentatively drops June 18th.) It’s a solid single – flawed, maybe, but endearingly so. As an endnote: “Not Afraid” was released as a single and hit #1 on the Billboard charts this week, the second rap song in history to debut at that position. Looks like he has a reason not to be afraid.