By Jackson Stein, Staff Writer
Key tracks: “Darkness”, “Yah Yah”, “Lock It Up”
If Eminem dropped a surprise record 20 years ago, listeners across the world would scramble to their nearest record store, needing to hear what the Detroit rap legend had to say. After all, Eminem was hip-hop’s brilliantly diabolical antihero who truly didn’t give a fuck what you thought about him. Now, he’s traded his satirical sense of humor for ludicrous self-seriousness.
2017’s Revival was easily his worst project to date, hosting the most cringey bars, production and song topics of his discography. Outraged over the rightful backlash the album received, Eminem released the equally pathetic Kamikaze in 2018, which hurriedly spent its entirety hissing at critics rather than improving his music.
After both Revival and Kamikaze, the prospect of an unannounced record release from Eminem isn’t nearly as exciting as it used to be. However, thanks to fantastic production and great features, Music to Be Murdered By is far less creatively bankrupt than recent releases, even if Eminem can’t let go of the bitterness that ruined his 2010s.
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Standing at a mountainous 20 tracks, the LP holds a handful of forgettable songs that Eminem definitely should have left on the cutting-room floor. After multiple listens, it’s almost impossible to not skip the antiquated and arrogant “Those Kinda Nights”, the tedious and boring “No Regrets”, or the downright terrible “Farewell”. All it takes is one glance at the hour-long runtime to understand that Music to Be Murdered By is a bloated album; however, unlike other lengthy projects like Encore or Revival, enjoyable songs are peppered throughout.
The gritty percussion and chipmunked vocals of “You Gon’ Learn” perfectly showcase the brilliance of Dr. Dre’s production, and the clever guest verse from Royce da 5′9″ agreeably works with the head-bobbing instrumental, but what makes this track a highlight is Eminem’s verse. His flow is first-rate, and his lyrics faultlessly stress the importance of determination in times of struggle.
In terms of features, “You Gon’ Learn” is representative of the entire album. The contributions from artists like Royce, Black Thought, Q-Tip and Anderson .Paak are all great, but they never overshadow Eminem. He knows exactly when to utilize his guests, and he knows to not let his listener forget that this is his album.
The frenzied posse cut “Yah Yah”, for instance, perfectly builds anticipation for Eminem’s closing verse. The track is a joyous experience that could easily appeal to both old and new hip-hop fanatics, and the buzzing synths and driving drums sound like they could fit onto a Danny Brown project.
Music to Be Murdered By interestingly features young rappers like Young M.A and the late Juice WRLD, who belong to an era of hip-hop that Eminem ignorantly criticized on Kamikaze. Whether he’s trying to say that these artists are exceptions to that judgment or if he’s trying to retract his statements, it’s refreshing to see him embrace their undeniable talent.
It’s also nice to hear a genuine apology for his previous attacks on rappers including Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt on the song “No Regrets”. Although there’s still significant work to be done on Eminem’s attitude, he’s making steps in the right direction.
The track “Darkness” is easily the most considerate song on the entire record and is possibly his most thoughtful track since “Stan”. Referencing the 2017 Mandalay Bay shooting, the song illustrates that the mentally ill can be just one bad decision away from harming others. Eminem draws comparisons between himself and the shooter, highlighting how his rough upbringing in Detroit could’ve led him down a much darker path. Plus, the instrumental’s minimal take on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” enhances his serious tone and morbid lyrics.
Music to Be Murdered By could’ve been a much stronger album if it wasn’t so long and inconsistent. For every track like “Darkness”, there’s one like “Stepdad”. For every groovy Anderson .Paak hook, there’s a sickenly clean Ed Sheeran chorus. It’s an album in serious need of editing.
Eminem cut some of the leftover fat from Revival and Kamikaze, but he still doesn’t seem to understand why those albums received so much heat. While Music to Be Murdered By is certainly an improvement, the result is a long-winded abundance of mediocrity, despite superb production and a handful of thought-out highlights.