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REVIEW: Eminem – ‘Music To Be Murdered By’ (Shady / Aftermath / Interscope)


In a sentence:

Reminders of Eminem’s former glory are overshadowed by pointless offence generation on the rap heavyweight’s latest surprise album, ‘Music To Be Murdered By’.

Marshall Mathers’ last Eminem album Kamikaze, released by surprise at the end of summer 2018,found one of hip-hop’s legendary heavyweights struggling to reposition and redefine himself in the genre’s voluble and fast-shifting landscape. While it was a refreshingly economical affair, not to mention more headstrong than he had sounded in years, it was marred by a notable sense of unjustified grievance, not to mention the unwise homophobic slur against Tyler, The Creator. Now entering the third decade of his career, Eminem repeats the same method of releasing Music To Be Murdered By suddenly and without any fanfare or promotion.

Vaguely framed as a tribute to the great director Alfred Hitchcock, his 11th studio album begins with the sound of a murder and sees him blurt out a mea culpa for what went on with Kamikaze“Once I was played in rotation at every radio station,” he rues on ‘Premonition’. “Instead of us being credited for longevity and being able to keep it up this long at this level, we get told we’ll never be what we were.” While apparently a change in direction, suggesting that Eminem is still in the process of figuring out his raison d’etre in hip-hop in 2020, the album quickly runs into the same kinds of problem that the last one did.

READ MORE: Eminem // ‘The Slim Shady LP’ at 20 years old

The schlocky shock value that Eminem seems to still regard as a viable currency in 2020 flagrantly oversteps the boundaries of good taste on ‘Unaccommodating’ by making light of the Manchester Arena bombing (“I’m contemplating yelling ‘Bombs away’ on the game / like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting”). This kind of thing might have been edgy and provocative once, but now seems gratuitous, wearisome and desperately outdated, not to mention unbecoming of a man most of the way to fifty years old. Long-term fans will obviously defend him on the basis that it’s Eminem being Eminem, but the reason he used to get away with this sort of thing was that his earliest material was (for the most part) careful to leaven the tastelessness with a lightness of touch and a playful tongue-in-cheek delivery that isn’t really there now. He hasn’t been America’s public enemy number one for years, and can’t play off that reputation any longer. Elsewhere on Music To Be Murdered By, Eminem compares himself variously to serial murderers Richard Ramirez (aka the Night Stalker), Albert DeSalvo (aka the Boston Strangler), and Charles Manson​.​ None of it particularly novel, as if Em’s simply trying to outdo himself, only this time, no one’s impressed or shocked. Simply, it all ought to be cleverer than this.

It’s a real shame, because it overshadows the fact that Music To Be Murdered By connects as least as much as it misses its targets. ‘Yah Yah’, featuring A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, is a joyous trip through rap nostalgia, sampling from Busta Rhymes and referencing Ice Cube and Wu-Tang in its lyrics. The hazy, psychodramatic ‘In Too Deep’, the minimalist ‘Godzilla’, featuring contributions from the recently deceased Juice Wrld, and the clipped ‘Lock It Up’, set to an inventive musical backdrop with the skills of Anderson .Paak, are all successes. Best by a mile is the harrowing ‘Darkness’, a chilling yet thoroughly engrossing account of the 2017 Las Vegas festival shooting through the eyes of its perpetrator.

Music video for ‘Darkness’

Eminem’s talent as an MC is also very much intact, with Music To Be Murdered By featuring numerous examples of his creative flows and wordplay, but the musical bedding sometimes lets this aspect down, particularly in the album’s second half where the energy rather peters out and the tracklisting could do with pruning. Ed Sheeran sounds unconvincing on the hedonistic nostalgia of ‘Those Kinda Nights’, but at least it’s better than the sickly collaboration on 2017’s Revival; long-time collaborator Skylar Grey’s turn on ‘Leaving Heaven’ is forgettable; and ‘Stepdad’, while harrowing and seeing Eminem in traditionally fertile creative territory looking back on his upbringing, is unfortunately reminiscent of nu-metal.

As a plot on a graph representing his career, Music To Be Murdered By is a slight improvement and course correction compared to Marshall Mathers’ most recent outings. Unfortunately, the gains made here might be overshadowed by Eminem’s seemingly uncontrollable urge to try to shock, rather than focus on his core strengths as a storyteller. (5/10) (Ed Biggs)

Listen to Music To Be Murdered By by Eminem here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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