Rapper Marshall Mathers, known by his stage name Eminem and his alter ego Slim Shady, has had a rough couple of years. His 2017 record “Revival” was so poorly-received that his surprise 2018 project “Kamikaze” seemed to be fueled entirely by the anger and ego damage that Mathers sustained following the former project’s release; it was not received much more highly than the previous album.
Last week, Mathers dropped his 11 LP and second consecutive surprise project, “Music to be Murdered By,” an album at least partially inspired by the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock compilation record of the same name. While the record is somewhat of a return to form for Eminem and certainly a departure from the unbearably poor practices explored on “Revival” and “Kamikaze,” it is still a flawed piece of music and a disappointing Eminem record.
The record opens with “Premonition (Intro),” the first of several dramatic, violent, and often cringe-worthy interludes molded by and interspersed with light vocals and instrumentals. Eminem spends the rap portion of the track complaining about the reception of his previous records via the same choppy, cut-up vocal style that has pervaded and been derided in those projects.
The record’s long string of forgettable beats and features begins with “Unaccommodating,” featuring Young M.A., whose usually-excellent wordplay and flow is wasted on one of the worst tracks on the record. Eminem manages both to rap quickly and say absolutely nothing. It is genuinely difficult not to skip this track every time it plays on the record.
“Those Kinda Nights” is perhaps the worst songs Eminem has ever made. Mathers reflects on the improprieties of his younger years, bragging about sexually harassing waitresses, harassing bisexual women, and going back to his exes. He also offers a few bars of terrible Ohio-themed puns (“Holy Toledo, it’s Miss Ohio/we should be datin’ (Dayton), she’s from Cleveland”) and one of the worst bars I have ever heard in a song (“getting head in the bucket, Marshmello”) The verses are childish, ridiculous and genuinely annoying, and the chorus work from Ed Sheeran is beyond unlistenable. The track’s more somber follow up “In Too Deep” treads over the same territory with little more success.
“Godzilla” hosts the first postmortem feature of late rapper Juice WRLD, who passed away in December 2019. Juice WRLD’s chorus is serviceable, but the true draw of the track is Eminem’s blisteringly fast, wildly entertaining fast rap- the track’s final verse is one of the fastest verses ever put to record, at an unimaginable 224 words in 30 seconds.
The record sees its high, and perhaps its low, on “Darkness.” On the track, Mathers seems to compare and contrast his own experience with fame with that of the man who killed 58 and wounded 413 in Las Vegas in Oct 2017. Mathers seems to tap into deep insecurities, fears, and anger that has dominated his life in the limelight. The track doesn’t glorify mass shootings; rather, it attempts to break into the impossibly dark place in which those people operate. The track is difficult to listen to, and is one of the most gut-wrenching and heartbreaking songs Eminem has ever written. The track fades out through a cacophony of dozens of news reports about mass shootings interlaced with a rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”
“Yah Yah” is a gritty, energetic track featuring classic Eminem collaborators Royce da 5’9″ and Black Thought, but its location in the track list, nestled between the darkest, most emotional depths of the record, is nonsensical and completely derails the mood set by its predecessors.
Mathers also turns his rage onto his stepdad, with whom he had a strenuous, violent and abusive relationship. The anger on the track and accompanying interlude is palpable, but the track just isn’t good. Neither is “Marsh,” an autotune-tinged crooner ballad which should have been performed by 2 Chainz or Future, but absolutely never Eminem. “Little Engine” is a more effective attempt at a trap-influenced song, but Eminem, who has always been more at home on lofi, G-Funk inspired beats, feels too awkward and uncomfortable for the track to feel at home.
On his fifth attempt at a trap song on the record, Eminem strikes gold with “Lock it Up.” Featuring an irresistible chorus from Anderson. Paak, fun, fluid verses from Mathers, the track goes off without a hitch and should have inspired much more of the record. This track appears to be a fluke, as “No Regrets” with Don Toliver is a nearly unlistenable auto-crooner trap ballad.
The record ends its musical run with “I Will,” which feels like a rejected early-2000’s Slim Shady track. It is weak attempt to call back to what Eminem used to be and leaves a sour taste in listeners’ mouths. Finally, the record draws to a close with “Alfred (Outro),” an overdramatic and gaudy 30-second cut from the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock instrumental record.
“Music to Be Murdered By” is somehow a step up from Marshall Mathers’ last two records. After almost 30 years in the game, the 47-year-old rapper is finally attempting to branch out and modernize, even if it fizzles more often than not. After dissing modern trap rappers and auto-crooners on “Kamikaze,” Eminem seems to embrace the new age sound with a half-dozen features from popular artists. Mathers also seems to explore new, more vulnerable sides of himself, analyzing his past, family and penchant for violence. After decades of boasts and brags, Eminem finally feels like he’s beginning to tear down the walls of his youth.
Still, most of the record is messy, corny and uninspired. Almost none of the record is memorable in any sense, and is barely worth listening to a first time, let alone in its entirely multiple times. “Music to be Murdered By” certainly has highs, but it also has very low lows.