Eminem’s career hit a local maximum with his 2013 release The Marshall Mathers LP 2, but ever since then, he has been traveling on a downward projection. Once an artist who coupled his internal rage with politically incorrect lyrics in order to instigate the public turned into what could be said as an old man yelling at the clouds. Beginning in 2017, his witty lyricism and fierce delivery started to vanish while his already substandard production quality dwindled as well. This all reached a breaking point on 2017’s Revival, an album that is arguably one of the worst albums of any genre of the decade. The overwhelmingly negative reception of the album from fans and critics alike for the album’s banal lyrics (“Your booty is heavy duty like diarrhea”) and cheap production prompted Eminem to respond with a sequel, Kamikaze, in 2018. The album was a step up from its predecessor, but how could anything be worse than Revival? Kamikaze, still consisting of some of the traits of Revival, at least presented brief moments during which the aggravated yet meticulously-crafted Eminem shined. Ultimately, though, the driving narrative of the album is “you all didn’t like my last project so let me rap about your complaining” overshadowed these moments. Even after Kamikaze’s release, Eminem hasn’t been able to accept that Revival was simply an atrocious album. This insecurity was made even more obvious with the surprise release of January 17th’s Music to Be Murdered By. A possible cause for the failure of Revival Eminem claims to be the prejudging of the album based on its tracklist before its release; it was stuffed with pop stars and irrelevant artists that Eminem himself would have mocked two decades ago. To eliminate that chance, Music to Be Murdered By came with no promotional announcement.
Music to Be Murdered By is the most determined and focused album out of the three of the recent years. The album runs twenty tracks in length, offering a numerous amount of guest features from artists ranging from Young M.A. to Skylar Grey to Block Though of the Roots. Unlike Revival, which attempted to be politically-charged, and Kamikaze, which served as a response to Revival, Music to Be Murdered By has no overarching concept. Rather, each track stands as its own narrative, never presenting a storyline that overlaps with another track. Tracks like “Unaccommodating” and “Godzilla” represent songs on which Eminem demonstrated his lyrical acrobatic skills over trap-infused beats. “Lock It Up” featuring Anderson .Paak also brings that contemporary sound with its slick and nonchalant vibe that Eminem’s past projects have lacked. In other areas, “Yah Yah” with its brassy instrumental embodies a classic hip-hop posse cut with its impressive features from Black Thought, Q-Tip, and Royce Da 5’9”. Additionally, while having covered these topics before, Eminem recounts his troubling past with his addiction to painkillers and his absence of a fatherly figure in creative ways. Most notably, on “Never Love Again,” it seems as if Eminem is rapping about an estranged relationship with a woman. However, through subliminal lyrics like, “I can only take so much of you all at one time/Because too much of you's just too much to swallow sometimes,” it is made clear that he is actually referencing his attraction to pills.
Nevertheless, while Music to Be Murdered By brings moments that resuscitate the stale nature of Eminem’s career, the album also includes content that are carbon copies of the damaging aspects of Eminem’s previous efforts. Songs like “In Too Deep” and “Farewell” follow the formulaic and mundane storyline of a troubled relationship that Eminem has beaten to death in the past. “Stepdad” continues this redundant style of writing for Eminem with a banal fictional story about how he hates his stepdad. Rather than constructing a streamlined tale, Eminem resorts to his trite shock-reliant lyric style, talking about his getting revenge on his stepdad for killing his chihuahua. In other cases, an unengaging “No Regrets” ultimately becomes an afterthought, “Marsh” and “Little Engine” stick out like a sore thumb in the tracklist, and “I Will” underwhelmingly concludes the album.
When an album consists of songs of various backgrounds, they must be sequenced to maintain a steady pace for the greater album. Unfortunately, Music to Be Murdered By does not comply with that guideline. Before a song can finish planting its message into the fabric of the album, the song that follows begins and discusses an unrelated concept. As a result, the irregular rate at which the album progresses prevents the album from fully supporting any main concept. On possibly the most harrowing track of the album, “Darkness,” Eminem attempts to advocate for gun reform by rapping from the point of view of Steven Paddock, the shooter behind the infamous 2017 Las Vegas shooting. Its introspective lyrics (disregarding the inappropriate “Some of them John Travolta, staying alive by inches” line) and down-tempo instrumental kindle a potently emotional track. However, the song loses its entire credibility only two songs later on “Yah Yah” when Eminem himself then raps, “I am the Santa Fe, Mandalay and Orlando and Colorado and Columbine/All combined into one.” Is Eminem assuming that listeners forgot the line, “Manic states, Stephen Paddock with automatic stay sprayin'...As I stand at the bay window with a hand grenade/And a trey eight, at the Mandalay Bay” that he rapped with rage just one album ago? “You Gon’ Learn” also falls victim to having its gripping message ruined. Over a vulnerable instrumental, Eminem and Royce Da 5’9” stress the importance of determination and resilience when it came to their successes. The self-triumphant atmosphere of the track then abruptly as the absurd “Those Kind of Nights” interrupts it, a track on which Eminem returns to his Revival-like lyricism with “Like the gas in the tank, she's gettin' low on me.”
In comparison to its predecessors, Music to Be Murdered By is certainly more of a consistent and dense project. Yet those are easy praises to earn when placed against Revival and Kamikaze. Music to Be Murdered By is still rough around many of its edges, but at least Eminem proves during the peaks of this album that he can produce entertaining material. Hopefully, the notable moments on this album act as a prelude to a late-career renaissance to come in the upcoming years.
Best tracks: “”Unaccommodating;” “You Gon’ Learn;” “Never Love Again;” “Lock It Up”
Worst tracks: “Those Kinda Nights;” “Stepdad;” “Marsh;” “Farewell”