Although still far from another classic, Eminem begins his decade with an embrace of modern rap.
No matter what he puts out, Eminem can’t seem to get a break. Despite being the best-selling male artist of the 2010s, rap fans were not impressed with the majority of his output. The 2017 album Revival will go down as the worst album of his career, nor did the response album Kamikaze win many over. Old habits were dying hard in which there was a clear refusal to shift with the times. Eminem kickstarts the new decade with a surprise album, with a theme inspired by British film director Alfred Hitchcock that channels his Slim Shady alter-ego.
Music to Be Murdered By is a step in the right direction for Eminem, finally modernising his approach with the production and guest appearances. Yet its efforts are brought down by the usual Eminem tendencies.
It took him a while, but Eminem finally caved into rapping over trap beats. “Premonition” kickstarts the album with its trap beat and horrorcore template. It is clear Eminem still has to get things off his chest about the reception to his recent albums instead of letting bygones be bygones. But it’s not enough to ruin the song, as Eminem sticks to a topic while rapping effortlessly. “Unaccommodating” is an album highlight that features a nonchalant appearance by Young M.A., a collaboration no one could have seen coming (“Pro professional, pure persistent, I’m paper chasing”). It’s unjust to say the Detroit MC doesn’t suit the trap production, proving he can rap over any kind of beat.
The guest appearances continue to impress throughout the record. Royce da 5’9″ assists Eminem on “You Gon Learn”, bringing the best out of each other lyrically as they always do when they join forces. Eminem frontlines a posse cut for the first time since 2000’s “Bitch Please II” on “Yah Yah”, which is bodied by Black Thought and Royce da 5’9″. Aside its weak chorus, the track is both impressive and refreshing for an Eminem album.
Three-quarters of Slaughterhouse appear on the closing track, “I Will” (Joe Budden is both retired and on bad terms with Eminem). Once again Eminem isn’t afraid of inviting other rappers onto his own songs. There is nothing pop about the song, it’s a track for hip hop purists. The late Juice Wrld shows up on “Godzilla” to dish out one of the album’s best hooks. Above all the surprises has to be Don Toliver on “No Regrets”, whose infectious voice dominates your attention.
While the guest appearances are the best aspect of the album, Eminem strings together his own highlights. “Leaving Heaven” brutally addresses the death of Eminem’s father, who passed away in 2019. It is Eminem’s most accurate reflection of himself ever put into a song. No matter how many apologies he puts out across his career there will always be anger in his heart for the issues that date back to his childhood (“I couldn’t see your ass goin’ to Heaven / So I’m asking for a pass to go to Hell / So I can whip your fucking ass / I hate that I’ll never get to say “I hate you” to your face”). “Darkness” is a track without much replay value but cleverly narrates a dual-story of the 2017 Las Vegas shooter and Eminem’s own artistic worries.
For all these highlights, Music to Be Murdered By is still inconsistent in its quality. The horrorcore Hitchcock concept is one that’s presented only in the cover art, title and forgettable interludes. It’s a theme that was also explored loosely on Relapse, another album where Eminem faced troubles with consistency.
Tracks like “Farewell”, “Marsh” and “In Too Deep” bring forth the usual irritating Eminem traits. Those traits vary from the bad singing to the relationship topics and terrible punchlines. The hook on “Little Engine” is more unbearable than the hook on “Stepdad”, the latter of which is at least enjoyable in a comical, ironic way.
Ed Sheeran teaming up with Eminem once again on “Those Kinda Nights” implies the record labels have both artists in a headlock and forced to record another money-making song. It’s better than the majority of songs on Revival, but that isn’t saying much.
Even the best songs of Music to Be Murdered By do not reach iconic levels. Albums like Encore and Recovery are the homes to legendary Eminem songs such as “Like Toy Soldiers” and “Not Afraid”. It’s hard to see which song(s) of Music to Be Murdered By will stand the test of time and be remembered among Eminem’s best tracks of his career.
Music to Be Murdered By shows more promise for Eminem going into the fourth decade of his career. He is finally accepting the modern talent around him without compromising the rapping. However he is yet to let go of the traits that have plagued his output for the past two decades.
Rating: 6.5 / 10
Best tracks: “Unaccommodating”, “You Gon Learn”, “No Regrets”, “Never Love Again”, “I Will”, “Premonition”