'Music to be Murdered By' - The Album Eminem Needed Right Now
As you've probably heard by now, Eminem once again dropped an album out of nowhere on the 17th of January. Entitled 'Music to be Murdered By', its aesthetics harken back to the 1958 Jeff Alexander album of the same name which featured the subtitle 'Alfred Hitchcock presents...' Inspired by the horror master himself, the album's iconography features Marshall Mathers (under his 'reincarnated' alter-ego Slim Shady) donning the axe, gun, trilby hat, shovel and suit that Hitchcock sauntered in with. It's a look that fits the artist too, with Em's past horrorcore influences and delight in all things gore, so upon listening to the album I expected a ghost-train of asylums and serial killers, and whilst there's definitely those in bulk I found myself bristling with excitement throughout each song and its energy. It's the album I think Eminem needed right now.
First off a disclaimer, I'm a huge fan and so much of this is coming from the excitement and happiness that comes with a new release. Opinions on the man split people sideways and I completely understand that, but I'm an admirer so there's that. After the one-two punch of Revival in 2017 and Kamikaze just 8 months later, it felt as if some of the outside voices from critics and fans alike was impeding on his music. Revival was a different direction for one. One more politically-charged and softer in theme leading to the harshest criticism of his career. It only made sense for Kamikaze to combat everyone and everything in a lashing out of rage that'll be referred in the future to 'that time where Eminem went after people he doesn't even dislike'.
Whilst the music itself fared better under this rage (which many associate with him anyway) it wasn't sustainable and felt relatively small-minded compared to his previous output. You can't tell that many stories when you're just responding to criticism. 'Music to be Murdered By's opening track Premonition feels in-part like a compact version of this entire ordeal. Within the shortest cut on the album (it's even listed as just an 'intro') he addresses his mindset and confusion over fan hatred at his continued relevance. There's some interesting insight here too, harkening back to his glory days of infinite radio plays and how he feels, alongside others like Jay-Z, Tech N9ne and 2 Chainz, that rappers who have managed to stay relevant for longer actually get more flack when in fact they should get respect for continuing the output for all these years. It's a measured and calmer outlook on the situation than he's done in the past, and after the one verse it's onto the rest of the album. There's little fleeting references here and there to that period of time, but this wisely allows 'Music to be Murdered By' to live and breathe on its own - and it's all the better for it.
The next track Unaccommodating featuring Young M.A is the genesis of the album's controversy (It's the return of the 'Ah wait, no way, you're kidding. He didn't just say what I think he did...did he?') where Em fleetingly compares his music to a bomb attack - like the awful attack at the Manchester Ariana Grande concert in May 2017. These antagonistic tactics are bread and butter, and the entire song is just the duo poking and prodding the media hoping for a response in typical playful and psychotic ways - much like how Eminem made a name for himself. The uproar from the Media is to be expected, though it's also funny that many are refusing to report that this is both not the first time Em's referenced the attack for a punchline in his music and helped raise money for the cause in the past. For those arguing hypocrisy, sure, but there's always been a distinct difference in the man's lyrical content and real-world views same as any artist.
Alongside the album's release was a music video for Darkness directed by James Larese. This sombre and light-trap infused track signifies Eminem's continued knack for storytelling as he counts off the first half of the song as his nerves and anxiety eating away at him before a show in Las vegas before revealing his true identity as Stephen Paddock, the man who committed the deadliest mass shooting in the US by an individual after opening fire on a live performance in Vegas in 2017. The video itself is stark and violent, but the track is a sober affair in every sense of the word. Em's performance is subdued even during the violent crescendo as an interpolation of Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence is used to chilling effect throughout. But what's more chilling is the message. As the video ends Em calls for a conversation on gun laws in America, as he has before with the extended version of Revival's Nowhere Fast. A montage of news reports on shootings creates a map of America on television screens as Eminem watches on and asks viewers to vote in order to change gun laws.
What's most interesting about this cut's narrative rug-pull is the parallels the man draws between himself and Stephen Paddock. The isolation and depression go hand in hand and reminds me of Beautiful from Relapse at times, and Em at times sounds like he's theorising how close he could have come to those waters when the struggle gets worse. Comments about mental illness are abound, and it's a respectful and earnest take on subject matter that shows the two sides to the artists' work. Eminem is either the devil running around with Looney Tunes sound effects or he's a troubled father trying to do something right in the world depending on which song you're listening to. There is no inbetween.
It's songs on the album like Godzilla featuring Juice WRLD (RIP) and Yah Yah featuring the cavalcade of Royce Da 5'9", Black Thought and Q-Tip that re-energise the manic side of the rapper. The latter is a 90s rap throwback featuring a posse of MCs each taking turns to murder a beat whilst the former is 'just an excuse to go ballistick on' with a catchy hook from the recently deceased emo-rap artist. Songs like this and Those Kinda Nights featuring Ed Sheeran mark a return of Em's playful side. He bounces off each beat and revels in the debauchery, wordplay and just plain old fun he can have on the mic. And this brings me to one of the things that makes the album stand out from the recent crowd - the man sounds like he's having fun again.
Whether it's the return of his crazed-fan voice on Those Kinda Nights (Oh my God! My whole iPod's filled with your songs, I mow my lawn to 'em!) or his switch-up of cadences across Godzilla, Marsh, and I Will, there's a willingness to experiment and not take yourself seriously that I think fits Eminem's personality. The staccato flow Em's been employing recently in order to highlight wordplay has occasionally made his songs difficult to listen to recreationally, but on 'Music to be Murdered By' these moments are presented as cartoonish breaks where his cadence, accent and tone of voice alter to land the joke or visual splendidly. It bustles with energy constantly and almost every song features such a switch up to remind you of the man's versatilities.
Songs like In Too Deep and Never Love Again take us by surprise with old-fashioned style ballads of love (but this is Eminem, so it's both to drugs and in cheating relationships) with choruses that remind us Em can hold his own for the hook still. It's likely a sign of confidence too, that little trilogies of styles are placed sporadically throughout the album whilst continuing Hitchcock's theme of violence throughout - though that could arguably apply to any of his past albums too. The catchiness of some of the cuts here do more than hope for some continued airplay and chart success - Eminem seems to be having his cake and eating it too.
There's even references to recent beefs scattered throughout the album's lyrics. Many were wondering with Marshall was going to respond to Nick Cannon's seemingly never-ending barrage of hollow and pointless diss tracks, and manages to outdo him with a single reference found in No Regrets (for some adversaries I carry big guns, so some targets'll get the kill shot, some I just barely Nicked 'em). Lord Jamar gets similar treatment on the album finisher I Will featuring Royce Da 5'9", KXNG Crooked & Joell Ortiz, a horrorcore violent lashing of murderous lines that sounds like it could have been ripped straight from the original Marshall Mathers LP. The duality of tucking these responses into songs without grinding them to a halt is incredible and separates it from the likes of Kamikaze.
'Music to be Murdered By' feels like Eminem is rejuvenated again. The 47-year-old has never sounded more spritely, and the album's concept, whilst loose, is enough to stick together and offer a complete sense of pacing to the project. At the end of The Marshall Mathers LP 2 in 2013, Eminem teases a return of his 'Evil Twin' - referring to Slim Shady, and prompted many fans to anticipate some kind of horrorcore album that never arrived. This new release seems like the best of both worlds. Shady's return may not be grabbing headlines like it did in the early 00s but it's bubbling away like an insidious villain and when the music is sounding this fresh and confident thanks to renewed production from Dr. Dre as well as a whole host of others I don't think there's anything many fans would want more.
As for the future? Who knows. Personally I'd love to see Eminem tackle a full concept album of some kind and maybe finally stop hating on Relapse. But now that the confusing and vitriolic times of the past two projects are behind him it feels like there's space for anything again. We have no idea what could be coming, and that's the most exciting feeling possible.
Music to be Murdered By is available now on all digital platforms, with physical release soon.
I don't usually write about music here, I'm more of a film and television guy. But if you enjoyed this and like to get in touch email firstname.lastname@example.org and I'd be more than happy to have a chattete about any and everything. Thanks for reading!
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