Eminem Leaves a Trail of Blood on “Music to Be Murdered By”
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Eminem is still here, and he wants you to remember that. The 47-year-old rapper is past the point where he can safely rest on his laurels and bask in his days of being America’s musical antihero. He dominated the 2000s with a vicious brand of Hip-hop that combined unrivaled lyrical dexterity with a propensity for taboo topics. Celebrity beef and vilification by the media turned him into a spectacle, and against all odds, the violent, rebellious young rapper achieved pop stardom. It’s 2020 now, and Eminem is the highest-selling rapper of all time with a legacy of massively successful albums in his wake. But Eminem’s story has always been one of struggle, and the same hunger that drove him in his prime continues to push him further, for better or for worse.
It was definitely for worse with the disgustingly awful comeback project “Revival” (2017) and the bitter tantrum “Kamikaze” (2018). These albums displayed the terrible lyrics, stiff flow, and cheap beats that plagued his late-career music. As you listen to these albums, it’s hard not to feel like Eminem is a relic, a remnant of the past bitterly lashing out at new artists. Thankfully, “Music to Be Murdered By” sees Eminem finally settling in more comfortably into the position of elder statesman of rap. His lyrics are less cringey, his beats are more interesting, and he’s elevating new artists instead of complaining about them. It stands as a reconciliation of Eminem’s past and present as he enters a new decade.
“Godzilla” is perhaps the best example of the reformed Eminem as he spits rapid-fire bars over a bouncy, bass-heavy beat. With a chorus from the late Juice WRLD, it successfully bridges Eminem’s hyper-lyrical style with more modern production, an improvement from the stale trap beats of “Kamikaze.” In the final verse, Eminem unleashes one of his signature light speed lyrical barrages. While it is sort of played out at this point in his career, you can’t help but admire his skill as you let his waterfall of words rush over you.
While newer artists like the aforementioned Juice WRLD, Anderson .Paak, and Don Toliver pop up in the project, “Music to Be Murdered By” is firmly rooted in what Eminem knows. He continues to be a beacon of controversy, amending old wounds while opening up new ones in the process. While he does apologize to Tyler, The Creator for the shots he took on “Kamikaze,” he has faced major backlash due to a line on the track “Unaccommodating” featuring New York’s own Young M.A. In it, Eminem raps “I’m contemplating yelling ‘Bombs away’ on the game / Like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting,” a reference to the 2017 Manchester bombing that killed 22 civilians. It’s a reminder that even if Eminem has matured, the indiscriminately volatile nature of his early work is still alive and out for blood, no matter the consequences. Eminem taps into the past in a different way on “Yah Yah,” a ferocious tribute to a bygone era of Hip-hop. With a multitude of features, he pays homage to the rappers of the ‘80s and ‘90s that made him, which is ironic considering he has become a major influence on countless new artists himself. The combination of each featured rapper’s tight verses, a relentless beat, and a well-used Ol’ Dirty Bastard sample makes it one of the best tracks on the album.
Eminem’s reliance on the past also manifests itself in less successful ways. His lyrics are still mediocre, and the occasional solid bars don’t save the album from its corny dad jokes (“Like a liar’s pants, I’m on fire”) or awkward sex stories. On the tracks “Never Love Again” and “Farewell,” Eminem retreads the tired topic of his failed romances with tepid results. “Stepdad” would be a dark track about Eminem’s well-documented parental abuse if not for the chorus, a supremely awkward rap-rock fusion that you have to hear to believe. “Music to Be Murdered By” also sees the return of Eminem’s bland pop hooks, which were sung by either Ed Sheeran, Skylar Grey, or worst of all, Eminem himself.
While “Music to Be Murdered By” has a lot of rough edges, at its heart is Eminem’s most interesting and relevant music in the past few years. Tracks like “You Gon’ Learn,” “Little Engine,” and “Lock It Up,” while not his best works, showcase Eminem’s willingness to experiment with new beats and flows. “Darkness” is a particular standout, with Eminem seemingly rapping about his anxiety before a performance until the song unravels itself; it reveals that he is rapping from the perspective of the Las Vegas shooter who opened fire in a concert and killed over 50 people in 2017. It makes a powerful statement about gun control and mental illness and stands as one of Eminem’s best tracks of his late career. Despite not reaching the heights of his early work, “Music to Be Murdered By” shows that Eminem is still here, still provocative, and still out for blood.