The master of suspense and the master of the polysyllabic rhyme scheme go hand-in-hand on Eminem’s surprise 2020 album, ‘Music to Be Murdered By’.
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For longtime diehard Eminem fans (yours truly among them), early 2020 was already being eyed as a period for celebration, given the upcoming 20th anniversary of 2000’s landmark The Marshall Mathers LP. But then it turned out that the Rap God decided to get the party started early: January 17th saw the surprise release of Music to be Murdered By, Eminem’s 11th LP and second straight album to be released in such a manner, following 2018’s Kamikaze.
‘Music to Be Murdered By’ – Eminem
Sure enough, the new album gives plenty of reasons for the loyal members of the Shady Camp to rejoice. It’s an impressively focused release — its 60-minute runtime demonstrates how tighter editing might have improved several of his prior 80-minute LPs — with compelling flow, guest features and production. What’s more, although the Alfred Hitchcock-influenced title and album cover might have led you to assume otherwise, this is not a “horrorcore” album like Relapse was. “Relax, I ain’t going back to that now,” Eminem once told us, after recognizing that his approach on Relapse had failed to win over most listeners. Ten years later, he largely remains a man of his word.
But even without adapting a serial killer persona, Em still knows how to slay dem barz. He remains the undisputed King of the Speed Rap: Listening to him take flight on “Unaccommodating” and “Godzilla” will have you mentally playing “Rap God” in your mind and wondering how these new tracks compare to that Guinness World Record-holder. They come breathtakingly close, in any case.
Perhaps even more importantly, the rapper’s storytelling skills remain on point.
Once upon a time, Eminem would always go playful on his albums’ lead singles and save his more serious side for the follow-ups — this explains how “Without Me” led into “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” and “Just Lose It” into “Like Toy Soldiers,” for instance. This time, however, he cuts to the chase. “Darkness” is the first song off of Music to be Murdered By to have drawn outside attention, largely due to its accompanying music video and arresting lyrical content: it’s a track in which Eminem puts himself in the place of the 2017 Las Vegas shooter, Steve Paddock, on the night of his unspeakable act of violence.
“No suicide note, just a note for target distance,” he describes the gut-wrenching moment where Paddock had struck 500 victims with bullets and was now preparing to put another one through his own forehead. “But if you’d like to know the reason why I did this… you’ll never find a motive. Truth is, I have no idea.” It’s the album’s centerpiece, arguably the best Eminem song since “Mosh” written in response to current events and the best since “Stan” to enter the mind of a psychopath and probe for answers as to what went wrong.
Other tracks, even if less depressing in subject matter, still underscore Eminem’s abilities as a narrative MC. Sure, we’ve heard him talk about his family woes plenty of times before, but “Stepdad” still manages to be an impactful and melodic entry into that section of his catalogue. “Those Kinda Nights” also serves as comic relief on the record, as Eminem reflects on the carefree evenings that came early in his career, when he and his D12 crew had all the liberty in the world to “hit the club to go and hell-raise.” At this point, it’s the closest we’re likely to ever again hear of the fun-loving blonde boy who delivered gleeful hits like “My Band” and “Purple Pills” many years ago.
Lastly, Music to be Murdered By demonstrates Eminem’s considerable skills in orchestrating posse cuts.
The high point may well be “Yah Yah,” on which the rapper engages in a fierce exchange with his fellow hip-hop veterans, Black Thought, Q-Tip and Royce da 5’9.” The latter makes the most of his established chemistry with his Detroit homeboy on two further tracks, “I Will” and “You Gon’ Learn” — “I’m a product of properly hoppin’ up out of that poverty, profitin’ all for coppin’ and swappin’ that property out for a possible monopoly” is just one of many couplets to admire across Royce’s three cameos on this album.
Yet even those with less prior experience in collaborating with Mr. Mathers do impressive work as well. By bringing aboard energetic youngsters such as Young M.A. and the gone-too-soon Juice Wrld, Eminem allows up-and-coming MC’s to bring out the best in him, much as he did alongside then-emerging Kendrick Lamar on 2013’s “Love Game.” The long-overdue debut collaboration between Eminem and Anderson .Paak is a highlight as well — it may not be humanly possible to resist the urge to bounce along to the “I had to reach back, back, and lock it, lock it, lock it” chorus delivered so playfully by Anderson.
Music to be Murdered By loses some points for a few songs that sound too much alike and a handful of puns that are too hard to swallow — although, to his credit, Eminem has tempered the worst of his faults in that regard since the dog days of 2017’s forgettable Revival. But flaws and all, this is an album that Eminem fans old and new can find plenty to value within. His third decade as a hip-hop titan has dawned, and Mr. Mathers still warrants our attention in plenty of respects.
— Marshall Mathers (@Eminem) January 23, 2020
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📸 © 2020
Music to Be Murdered By
an album by Eminem