If there’s one person in music who needs no introduction, it’s Eminem. The man forged his path through rap and hip-hop like no one else, coming from absolutely nothing, to stardom in the matter of a few years. And since, he’s maintained that stardom to the point where many believe him to be the greatest rapper of all time. Whether or not that’s true, he’s certainly put out some legendary records, with a legendary attitude, and legendary skill. So the fact that his past two records have more or less flopped is incredibly disappointing.
It all started with his 2017 release, Revival — Eminem’s reaction to the new political environment following the 2016 election. The first time I listened to it all the way through, I was stunned. The outstanding Eminem I was used to was nowhere to be found, and although he was trying to make several political statements, when you do that in the context of bad music, no one is going to care. Later I found out I wasn’t crazy, as it is by far his worst received release to this day. In 2018, as a response to that, he released Kamikaze. And while it was certainly a step up from Revival, it was nowhere near where many people knew he should be. Filled with rage against his critics, he attempted to prove himself again, but fell short. The fall wasn’t from hero to zero, with most of his newer work being recognizably worse than the Slim Shady from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but it is probably the worst stint of his career, musically. Because of this sudden plummet, I was both intrigued and worried about what would be on this new record.
Eminem’s album, The Marshall Mathers LP.
The good news is Em seems to be out of the funk he was in previously; steering clear of a lot of the stylistic issues Revival had, while managing to not fall into the critic-complaining trap from Kamikaze. After mentioning his most recent haters on the intro track, he steers clear of the issue altogether, which I think was key to making a half-decent record. Past that, the album sounds very typical Eminem; with several updated pieces that typically come with the evolving genre of hip-hop. Throughout the album, the same past topics all come up: abusive fathers and parents, poor relationships, his dark inner thoughts, and of course, “haters.” But you can tell by his style of production, that at least a bit has changed.
The first and largest notable change, as I said, is the overall production and beat-making. The quality itself, in terms of clarity, balancing, and all other technical aspects, is absolutely fine. Unlike certain groups who make production changes, his manages to maintain its professional quality. But with the new, trap-heavy world we now live in, Eminem decided to take a few influences from the trend. The instrumental from “Unaccommodating” sounds very similar to a few tracks from Playboi Carti’s Die Lit. Most people’s favorite track, “Godzilla,” is a very typical trap-banger. And even the chorus on the track “Marsh” is stylistically similar as well.
That all being said, many of the tracks on here could’ve found themselves on any number of Em’s previous albums. “In Too Deep,” a song all about him and a woman having an affair together, goes into the large list of his ballad-like tracks; with the voice he uses (both the audible and character-portraying) reminding me of most old tracks pointed at his daughter, Hailie. “Stepdad” uses his anthemic voice-layering I primarily think of from albums like Recovery (2010). And the intro track, “Premonition,” uses a very aggressive, bass-heavy beat in combination with a woman’s background vocals; which is also reminiscent of his late 2000’s work. In addition to that, Eminem brings his typical interludes and intros into the picture to break up a lot of these tracks, and create an atmosphere behind the record. The Alfred Hitchcock samples he uses don’t always fit the tempo or sonic level of the record itself, but the way they contributes to the overarching theme of the album make them worthwhile, to me.
The artistic influence for Eminem’s latest release.
Now that we’ve established the ways in which it compares to his previous work, on the surface level, let’s dig a bit deeper and talk about how good it really is. Lyrically, it doesn’t feature the best writing of Eminem’s career. Different people I’ve seen have picked up on different lines, but two ridiculously bad ones that always shot out to me were “I’m talkin euthanasia, like kids in Taiwan,” and “Call us Long John Silver’s, ’cause we selfish.” The second of which is much more problematic in the context of the track “In Too Deep,” where the mood is supposed to be slightly dreary as he discusses cheating on someone, when he knows it’s wrong. Eminem’s lyrics haven’t been very substantive in the past, and he’s not one to write poetic verses like artists such as Kendrick Lamar; but I do think the word play has historically been either higher quality, or low quality, but used in a way that the lines would feed into the dorky, quirky themes of the song. Instead, in this release, a lot of the poorly written lines come at the worst times, where they make it impossible to take him seriously in any way.
More issues arise outside of individual lines, and instead with entire songs themselves. “Those Kinda Nights,” which features Ed Sheeran, is quite possibly the most obnoxious thing Em has ever made. The voice he uses on this track is not shouting, rapping, talking, or singing. The weird space it occupies is somewhere between all of them, and it does not turn out well. It’s as if he’s trying to yell-sing a song to you through a crowd of loud people. If that wasn’t enough, later on in the track, he mimics a valley girl twice, which brings both the volume, and level of curse up a few more notches. This song specifically isn’t supposed to be taken seriously at all. It portrays spending a night at a club/party, and meeting a girl there. But the line “I’m a candle. I’ll go out if you blow on me” is another example of the laughable lyricism that comes in at times.
Luckily, it isn’t all bad. I mentioned “Godzilla,” by far the most popular track on the album, and it’s pretty good. Juice WRLD’s feature fits well with the rhythm and mood of the song. Eminem decided to place one popular trap artist with a pretty standard trap beat so that they’d flow well together. The verse at the end (which apparently set a record for fastest syllables per second on any rap track) is very well done, and reminiscent of his last decent project: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and singles like “Rap God.” “Yah Yah” has some of the best overall features on the album, with legendary rappers Royce da 5’9″ and Q-Tip flexing their skills, and using a sample from a 1996 Busta Rhymes track. And both “Premonition” and “Unaccommodating” have the killer attitude of the old Slim Shady, without the cringe included with the new one.
Young Marshall Mathers.
Eminem hasn’t reached the initial heights of his career for at least fifteen years, but when you’ve been rapping for over twenty, that’s understandable. No one’s doubting his technical skill, or potential as an artist. As soon as he took his focus off of album critics and Donald Trump, he was able to create something similar to his old work; and something that could stand on its own. Music to Be Murdered By isn’t Marshall’s best record, or even close to that, but it’s a semi-cohesive project, featuring some amount of creativity, and a displayed desire to update his sound. Despite its occasional annoyances, and continuation of twenty-year-old topics, it manages to establish a couple of new hits, and show that Eminem isn’t washed up. He still has the ability, and the work ethic, to come out with more respectable music. I’m thinking a solid 5/10 on this one.
Favorite Track(s): “Unaccommodating,” “Godzilla”
Least Favorite Track(s): “Those Kinda Nights,” “Stepdad,” “Marsh”