One of the most celebrated MC’s in modern rap music, Eminem, dropped a new album, Music to be Murdered By, this week. This is his eleventh album and he remains one of the most popular and controversial figures in rap music, in part due to race, subject matter, beef with other MC’s and straight bravado. He has had the worldwide bestselling album twice, won countless awards and in so many other ways is a pillar of the rap community. On the surface, he seems very much like the two very different personas he presented us over the years with Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers, but neither of those public figures is Eminem. Listening to this record, I found myself asking if the real Slim Shady would ever stand up?
Unlike Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder or Tina Turner, there is something about the majority of Eminem’s work that makes me think he won’t stand up in a historical context. Maybe he knows this too, and that’s why he is so venomous on the intro of his new record to assert his relevance and how his name is used by the media. He has always taken the violence of street rap and turned it darker, more personal and that has helped him stand out in the genre. And yes, being more twisted might get shock value followers, but is it going to be held up as an example of the art form? He might have gained popularity for those early sinister rhymes, but its on this album it feels like he is aiming to be his best self. The problem for Em, is that he has been someone else, insecure and so overtly saying he doesn’t give a fuck for so long, it sounds like he doesn’t know who his best self is.
There is no taking away from his skill though. First (real) track in, Unaccommodating he take Young M.A.’s meandering thought process and puts jumper cables to it. He’s so hot on his verse its almost excusable that he once again uses the most horrific social situations for lyrical fodder referencing the shootings at the Ariana Grande concert. Its less of a shock, because this is his tried and tested trope, but it still feels unnecessary. People died violently that night and trivializing it helps no one.
The next track features Bad Meets Evil partner Royce Da 5”9 and is a great in for raising an interesting issue for Em: Royce da 5”9 is such a staunch defender of anything Em does and as a white MC in an art form started by disenfranchised black men, does Royce (and Dre, D12 even 50 for that matter) give him legitimacy? And is that more so than Mac Millar for example (whose posthumous album was released the same day)? Why is Royce and others able to throw the culture vulture net over other white MC’s (Yelawolf anyone?) but Em is protected? How the hell Post Malone became popular is surely in relation to Em’s history and a fungal ear infection whose symptoms include deafness and seems to come complementary along with any of his music.
There are few “relationship” tracks in there where Em at least pretends to acknowledge women and to an extent D12 that can totally be skipped which is just as much a metaphor for his misogyny as any of his lyrics. The next must hear track on this record is Godzilla which feature the late Juice WRLD. I have mixed feelings about this track and the timing of releasing it. Juice WRLD was taken from us far too young and hearing his vocals saddens me. He provides a hook at the beginning of the song and the remainder of the track Em bodies, and hell does he go for it. I can’t decide if this is a fitting tribute for Juice or an arrogant way of outshining a youngster gone too soon. If it turns anyone onto Juice WRLD’s music than great, otherwise, more insensitive shit form the king of insensitive shit.
What might have been the highlight of the album if Juice was still touring Europe, is the track Yah Yah where Old schoolers Black Thought and Q-Tip show up. Its probably the only song on the album where Em doesn’t go out of his way to out do the feature, though it helps Black Thought comes hot and the hook is super catchy. Yeah Marsh and Little Engine are good tracks with that smooth Em flow, but nothing particular to say. Lock it Up comes curtesy of Anderson.Paak and is the next song that needs to grab you. It almost proves that you can rap at a katrilion BPM, but if you have the funk of Anderson.Paak you can lace a track with it and everyone else shines because of you. The best elements of Slaughterhouse (i.e. everyone bar Joe Budden) show up right at the end of the album. I personally feel Joell Ortiz is one of the best MC’s out there and he proves it again on this track. He and Royce hold their own on the track and the Wu Tang references make the nostalgia of the song swell, Its another stellar outing.
What is clear at the end of this record is Eminem is so concerned with how he is persevered, he keeps hiding behind aliases, ego, and his legacy. He has yet to show the vulnerability of Juice WRLD on a track or the straight funk of Anderson.Paak that makes other people shine, but that distance allows him to be horrendous. And that’s what people want. After the killing Kim lyrics and Slim Shady’s antics maybe no one expects Em to be himself. Maybe they believe he is this arrogant asshole he presents as or maybe no one other Machine Gun Kelly cares who Eminem really is and so this is the best we’ll see from him. Is it an album you need to hear? No, but there are three or four tracks that are so good they send tingles up the spine.