Album Review: Eminem – Music to Be Murdered By

January 17th – just out of the blue, with no prior announcement, Marshall Mathers or simply Eminem dropped his 11th studio album that made it – just like his last 9 albums before – straight to number 1 on the Billboard 200, only one out of six artists that achieved releasing ten number 1 albums but moreover makes him the first artist to have ten consecutive albums debut on the top spot in The United States. But all in all, Eminem aka Slim Shady worked hard continuously to achieve that goal: Just when his debut in 1996 ‘Infinite’ roughly sold around a thousand copies and didn’t attract a large crowd, his grotesque but funny raps eventually caught the attention of Dr. Dre, was signed to his Aftermath label thereafter, and just as if it was magic attracted the world like a magnet – with sales and chart positions going straight up like an endless escalator. On the one hand, a comedian who pokes fun of others, yet also makes fun of himself, on the other hand, an aggressive lone wolf who seeks justice for his own dark past. Not to mention his endless use of creative rap lines (sometimes in super high speed). His collection of singles like ‘The Real Slim Shady’, ‘Without Me’, ‘Lose Yourself’, ‘Mockingbird’, ‘Not Afraid’, ‘Rap God’, and ‘Venom’, among many others in between, opened up a whole new scale in hip-hop music, not forgetting his work with rap groups D-12 and Bad Meets Evil.

But then in 2017, when his LP ‘Revival’ received polarized reviews, Em quickly bashed out a response eight months later with the release of his 10th album ‘Kamikaze’ in 2018 to silence haters and presenting a style more reminiscent of his 2000s records. Now, roughly one and a half years later, his new release ‘Music to Be Murdered By’ takes inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, to create a different theme than before: The thrilling horror of Hitchcock’s directing days, taking the title of an album and cover art released from Hitchcock as well. Let’s see how this concept translates into the 20-track studio album, his 11th release to be exact.

Left: Jeff Alexander’s ‘Alfred Hitchcock presents Music to be Murdered by’ from 1958; Right: Alternative cover art of Eminem’s album of the same name that inspired Hitchcock’s cover and concept.

In murderous fashion, the album starts off with a woman screaming, hearing stabbing sounds reminiscent of the famous shower scene of Hitchcock’s film ‘Psycho’ (1960). While Em is digging a grave in the introduction track ‘Premonition’ (with Nikki Grier singing in the hook), he rewinds back to ‘Kamikaze’ about the backlash of his release ‘Revival’ as many were upset about the mainstream/pop appeal and the lack of focus. Eminem refreshes the listener about the negative feedback he received for his 2017 album, and also the response he got for 2018s ‘Kamikaze’ (“They said my last album I sounded bitter”). The typical stigma of fans complaining ‘the new is not as good as the old music’ or the feeling of betrayal when older artists turn to mainstream due to the fear they might not sell as much as they used to. Eminem quickly responded back a last time, making the audience aware of his longevity in the business, and if it would be about the money he “woulda quit a long motherf***ing time ago.” It’s a short and sweet flashback of the subject matter of his last two albums, then afterwards he leaves the topic behind by really starting off the actual album.

What attracts a lot of attention in ‘Music to Be Murdered By’ is how skilled he is as a rapper (basically just like his albums before). Em easily turns his voice from comical to aggressive, to thoughtful then serious, but also can show his ability to accelerate in speed. Like on second track ‘Unaccomodating’ where Eminem speeds up his lines impressively fast that even feature Young M.A gets overshadowed by the performance. But then, ‘Godzilla’ turns up a notch in the third verse where he surpassed his own record rapping in incredible 10.65 syllables per second. The song itself has a nice danceable beat and a wild party theme that features the late Juice WRLD who just out of nowhere takes over the hook, making a nod to Michael Jackson’s single ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’.

In addition to Nikki Grier, Young M.A, and Juice WRLD, the 20-track LP is filled with many features, with some who previously worked with Em on his last two albums. Like longtime friend and Bad Meets Evil companion Royce Da 5’9” who was featured in ‘Kamikaze’ as well, and this time raps in three different tracks: ‘You Gon’ Learn’, ‘Yah Yah’, and ‘I Will’. All three of them feature a load of rappers like a hip-hop squad, reminding of a soundtrack of either a video game (Grand Theft Auto-style) or an action movie. Moreover, Ed Sheeran who was featured in ‘Revival’ before, is back in ‘Those Kinda Nights’ where Eminem raps about a night out with his D-12 gang and returns with funny on the edge humor when he describes his encounter with a girl: “How you doin’? You straight? She said: “No, I’m bi.” She said: “Are you drunk?”, I said “No, I’m high” I’m checkin’ out the chick, she said: “So am I.”

Just like Ed Sheeran is Skylar Grey another feature he worked on ‘Revival’ before, supporting a rhythmic beat in ‘Leaving Heaven’ where Em directly addresses his issues with his father who died in 2019 but makes a direct statement that it did not change his feelings towards him. Similar to 12th track ‘Stepdad’ where he shares the story about his violent stepfather and Em’s anger defining his hatred – literally singing “I hate my stepdad / Tonight I’m saying bye-bye stepdad.”

While Eminem is very outspoken about his dark past but also loves to play around with violence and killer scenarios, he did, in fact, take a serious approach towards real-life violence in ‘Darkness’ that addresses the Las Vegas festival shooting from 2017. From the perspective of the actual shooter, the inner thoughts and his probable motivation, with loneliness and isolation as key factors (“I don’t wanna be alone in the darkness anymore”). The music video, released on January 17, depicts the scenario of the shooter moments before and after firing at the crowd, then putting a serious message about gun laws at the end of the video.

‘Darkness’ Official Music Video

Outside of a dark tone, the album is also notable for putting more emphasis on songs about love and relationships this time around. Noticeable in ‘Never Love Again’: With old school hip-hop beats in the background, the song tells the story of a past love that took advantage of the Detroit rapper, while in ‘In Too Deep’ he tells a story about him cheating with a girl who is married – both not happy with their own partners, but can’t change the situation. Honest perspective filled with rhythmic melodies. Different though in ‘No Regrets’ (feat. Don Toliver) where a sad and draining vibe underlines past motivations, the dumb and the smart decisions, also linked with former beefs he had.

To further create a scary, murderous (kinda Halloween-themed) album, Eminem brings some extra spookiness in tracks like ‘Little Engine’ (mentioning Michael’s ‘Thriller’, but also Marilyn Monroe’s overdose) and continues a comical but chilling atmosphere in ‘Lock It Up’, featuring the rhythmic and soulish performance of Anderson .Paak, then puts hip-hop beats with an in your face street attitude in highlight track ‘Farewell’ where he switches up his rapping in between the lines, rapping some funny lyrics (“Everyone’s got ’em, thought that you were Cinderella / but feels like I slept with the wicked stepmother”). A fun song with a rhythmic beat.

As ‘Music to Be Murdered By’ is heavily inspired by “the Master of Suspense” film director Alfred Hitchcock, a lot of samples of Hitchcock’s 1958 album of the same name are integrated into Em’s 11th Longplayer. Hitchcock can be heard in track 4 where he introduces the concept album (samples that he recorded for his 1958 release), then in ‘Little Engine’ checking the audience (“I trust that everyone is enjoying the music”), then finishes the album in a final outro in Hitchcock’s typical fashion ending as if the listener had witnessed a scary experience: “…If you haven’t been murdered, I can only say better luck next time. If you have been, goodnight wherever you are.”

The bloody and grotesque concept works very nicely, even though it may connect more with a time around Halloween than in January… but why not. There’s room for horror the whole year. Lyric-wise Em likes to make puns related to his album titles or songs, like easter eggs for his fans. When listening closely to ‘I Will’ for example, you hear Em rapping the lyric “rejoice in the sound of my voice” that’s copied from his 2005 single ‘When I’m Gone’, and also featured rapper KXNG Crooked references Eminem and Dr. Dre’s collaborative single from 1999 (“I’m grippin’ the launcher / Like Em and the Doctor with no guilty conscience”).

These kinds of references are hidden throughout the album. Just like when he’s rapping about a “50 cent ring from out of a vending machine” in ‘Farewell’, that could be a double entendre about his hip-hop-mate 50 Cent. Moreover, wordplays about Nintendo, superheroes, to even Beavis and Butt-Head in ‘Marsh’ (“You wanna butt heads? Shut up, Beavis, haha.”) fill the content of the album. Although he does feel the need sometimes to explain his mentions, when he, for example, talks about an S on his chest in track ‘Marsh’, yelling “Superman” to make it obvious.

Moreover, it’s noticeable that Em this time around takes a break in beefing about other artists, only some friendly mentions, like a nod to Fat Joe and his hit song ‘Lean Back’ in ‘Those Kinda Nights’. When he, however, in ‘Unaccommodating’ makes a bomb joke related to the 2017 attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, the question remains – is this acceptable or too soon? Especially as Em was criticized about that lyric, even though other mentions, like the 1996 homicide of 6-year-old JonBenét on that same track, that got more overlooked. It’s hard to define what’s okay and what’s not but apparently depends on the timing. Though the album itself is a pretty good rap album. The only thing missing is a nice flow. The 20-track LP sometimes gets lost in the structure, and certain songs could easily be left out for a better ‘album format’. Nonetheless, ‘Music to Be Murdered By’ offers more comic effect than its predecessor and gives as much Eminem as ever. Fans will not be disappointed.

Highlight Tracks:
You Gon’ Learn
In Too Deep
Never Love Again

Full Track List:
Premonition (Intro)
Unaccomodation (feat. Young M.A)
You Gon’ Learn (feat. Royce Da 5’9” & White Gold)
Alfred (Interlude)
Those Kinda Nights (feat. Ed Sheeran)
In Too Deep
Godzilla (feat. Juice WRLD)
Leaving Heaven (feat. Skylar Grey)
Yah Yah (feat. Royce Da 5’9”, Black Thought, Q-Tip & Denaun)
Stepdad (Intro)
Never Love Again
Little Engine
Lock It Up (feat. Anderson .Paak)
No Regrets (feat. Don Toliver)
I Will (feat. KXNG Crooked, Royce Da 5’9” & Joell Ortiz)
Alfred (Outro)
‘Lose Yourself’ Performance at the 2020 Academy Awards

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