Courtesy of Shady Records

January 20, 2020

TEST SPIN | Eminem — ‘Music To Be Murdered By’

Print More

With a title lifted directly from a 1958 Alfred Hitchcock compilation album, Eminem’s Music To Be Murdered By sets itself up as an aggressive and dramatic project, equivalent to the work of an acclaimed film director. It’s certainly his best album since 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, showcasing lyrical dexterity, complex topics and excellent beat selection. While there are a plethora of phenomenal songs that appeal to fans of all of Eminem’s phases, there are also a number of uninspiring tracks that hold this album back from being a classic.

The opener, “Premonition  (Intro),” is a song where Eminem complains about critics complaining about him complaining. Essentially, the song is a rehash of the first number on 2018’s Kamikaze, “The Ringer,” but with half the runtime and better production. Marshall also generally stays away from the topic for the rest of the project, which makes Music a more enjoyable listen than his previous albums.

Split into distinct halves, Music To Be Murdered By delivers two unique listening experiences. The first half of the album is more disjointed and contains a couple of unimpressive tracks, including a lackluster verse from Young M.A. on “Unaccomodating” and yet another mediocre, melodic collaboration with Skylar Grey (“Leaving Heaven”). A short skit about an abusive stepfather leads directly into the second half, which is a far more captivating and enjoyable listen. Relapse-style “Little Engine” appeases the rapper’s horrorcore fans and “Marsh” delivers three verses chock full of wordplay and wit, similar to past tracks like “Wicked Ways” (from MMLP2) and “Untitled” (Recovery). There are enough fun songs in the first half to make it worth your while, but Eminem certainly could have trimmed some of the fat from this project.

The greatest talking point from the album is the emotionally-charged “Darkness,” a lyrically-dense retelling of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, told from the shooter’s perspective. Its accompanying video flashes between shots of Eminem spitting bars in a dark room and a hooded figure in a hotel room, wearing the same attire as Em and hiding his face. It isn’t until the third verse that the second person is revealed to be the shooter, twisting the meaning of the song from an introspective view of the rapper’s mental health to a political commentary on gun rights. Likewise, the lyrics shift to a more violent description, peppering in details of the massacre and the shooter, such as “rapid-fire spittin’ for all the concert-goers” and “no suicide note, just a note for target distance.” Marshall has attempted similarly shocking political commentaries in the past, including “Untouchable” off of 2017’s Revival, but “Darkness” is executed at a much higher level. With storytelling reminiscent of his 2000 standout “Stan,” the track prompts further discussion of the divisive topic it addresses.

“Stepdad” is a mild rock track with shades of a rebellious teenager trying to be cool in 2005, which is to say that 47-year-old Eminem sounds woefully out of place in 2020. The chorus is a tad derivative, and the song eventually devolves into a demented fantasy of a young Marshall beating his stepdad to death with an aluminum bat. Similarly, the few “love” songs (“In Too Deep” and “Farewell”) feel like material that Slim Shady would have spit a couple of decades ago, but are slightly uncomfortable coming from a rapper who’s almost as old as my dad. I’m not sure how much of the songs are based on true events, but “Those Kinda Nights” is a more tongue-in-cheek club song that fits the nearly-misogynistic-rapper trope Eminem seems to shoehorn into every album. Ed Sheeran’s hook on the track is pretty solid as well; I’m looking forward to frequent collaborations between the two artists for the foreseeable future.

Features are far more prevalent on this project than on Eminem’s past albums. Royce Da 5’9” spits magnificently poetic bars on three songs, including the Slaughterhouse-sans-Joe-Budden posse cut “I Will” that closes out the album, and he unites with Black Thought and Q-Tip on the gritty, boom-bap “Yah Yah.” Anderson .Paak joins Marshall on “Lock It Up,” a smooth track that has excellent verses from both artists. The late Juice WRLD delivers the hook on the infectious “Godzilla,” which might be the highlight from Music To Be Murdered By. Over a bouncy synth beat, Juice and Eminem compare themselves to Godzilla and the Loch Ness monster.

Eminem finishes the song with a full 30 seconds of supersonic rapping, one-upping his performance from 2013’s “Rap God,” in an effort to prove that he is still capable of incredible rapping feats.

Jeremy Markus is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He currently serves as the assistant arts editor on The Sun’s board. He can be reached at jmarkus@cornellsun.com.