My previous review of this album was heavily biased and I failed to provide any worthwhile criticism due to my desire to garner clicks. I regret how I treated my article and my readers. So now, I’m returning to the record to provide more in-depth analysis and convey my thoughts thoroughly.
Detroit rapper Eminem has long proven his credentials in the rap game. With classic albums like The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP, alongside commercial juggernauts like The Eminem Show and Recovery; Em has achieved the success that most artists can only dream of.
His latest release, Music to be Murdered By, follows in the footsteps of his most heavily derided albums – Revival and Kamikaze. The album still contains many of the same elements that have come to define Eminem’s current style; wickedly-fast flows, intricate bars and one-liners, and an inherent need to bring up past success and failures throughout his career.
The most notable difference this record is its major improvement in regards to beat selection. There’s trap (“Unaccomodating”), boom-bap (“You Gon’ Learn”) and pop-rap (“Farewell”), all of which are miles ahead of his recent output.
Opening track “Premonition” follows the same bitter lambasting of his detractors that Kamikaze had done to death. With Eminem’s choppy flow over the rattling beat, it leaves for little room to breathe and makes the song sound overbearing and unnecessarily convoluted.
The track that follows, “Unaccommodating”, sees Em relinquishing the spotlight to Young M.A who, though provides a great verse, sounds extremely muffled which is a shame. Still, Em himself then comes through with one of his most immaculate performances on the album. Flowing effortlessly across the beat, his rapping here only highlight how clunky he sounds on many other tracks on the album.
As evidenced on “You Gon’ Learn”, where Royce da 5’9 lays down great lines like ‘This it for me, give my daughters a kiss for me/Y’all call this fame, I call this shit alcoholistic infamy’; Eminem on the other hand, is so overly focused on technical proficiency that he falls lyrically short.
‘I get to flippin’ the mic’ as a murder weapon/I’m poppin’ an extra clip, then cock and shoot, then I’m popping/Do not let me catch you slippin’/I will pop up and I’ll take a spot from you’
Eminem’s tendency to squeeze in as many words into a bar has worn out its welcome a long time ago. Of course there are instances where he can sound incredible, like on the Juice WRLD collab “Godzilla”, which features his fastest verse to date while ensuring it has enough bounce to make it an enjoyable listen.
On the other hand, “Little Engine” is Em embracing the worst qualities of his recent efforts: inexplicable pauses in his rapping, an unwarranted need to speed himself up and setting it all under a beat that seems to be equally as jittery as Em himself.
Fortunately, the bulk of MTBMB has Eminem holding back and actually rhyming like he used to from his Relapse/Recovery/MMLP2 days. “I Will” with Slaughterhouse (minus Joe Budden), sonically sounds like “Underground” pt.2 from Relapse, down to its soft horrorcore themes. “In Too Deep” then sounds like a Recovery B-cut, while “Never Love Again” would have comfortably earned a spot on MMLP2.
None of these tracks are great, however. “I Will” sounds too skeletal for an album-ending posse cut; “Never Love Again” despite its effective metaphor for his drug abuse, is supported by a weak instrumental; then “In Too Deep” is rather forgettable in terms of both tune and storytelling.
Fortunately, Eminem flexes his storytelling muscles some more on the album, which has been a pivotal strength in his early (“Stan”) and late (“Stepping Stone”) career. “Darkness” is a return to form as he weaves two parallel storylines, one of pre-performance anxiety and a personal ‘recollection’ from Las Vegas shooter Steven Paddock.
This song is Eminem at his best. Even though the Royce da 5’9-produced beat may be too subdued for my liking, Em’s performance alone is able to carry the track. It’s a moment of brilliance that he hasn’t been showing much off, which is all the more saddening given it’s the only instance of it on MTBMB.
“Stepdad” is also a narrative track where Eminem recounts moments that sowed seeds of hate for his stepdad. There’s much less subtlety in this and his propensity for embellishment reduces the effectiveness of the track. Old Eminem would have drenched his performance in humour and sarcasm when it came to this type of narration, but current Em’s brute force way of rapping only exposes the rather juvenile writing.
The song is also a clear example of Eminem’s biggest shortcoming, his proneness to bad hooks and choruses. His willingness to employ other artists for hooks only further illuminates how clunky his singing can be (though both Skylar Grey and Don Toliver fail to deliver on “Leaving Heaven” and “No Regrets” respectively).
“In Too Deep”, “Marsh”, “Never Love Again”, “Little Engine” and “I Will” all suffer from this. This causes otherwise decent Eminem performances to be sandwiched in between atrocious choruses. It’s an achilles heel that’s plagued Revival and Kamikaze, and its presence here severely weakens MTBTB as well.
Still, it’s not all bad. The chorus on “Darkness” is catchy in its simplicity, while “Farewell” has classic vocal-layered Em over some perky pop-rap production that work surprisingly well together.
I still don’t understand why an artist of Eminem’s stature would still need to cater to radio play, but if can continue to churn out tracks like this then I’m all for it… the Ed Sheeran track I can absolutely do without though.
Music To Be Murdered By definitely isn’t as bad as I initially made it out to be, but I’d still rank it as one of Eminem’s weaker studio albums.
The bloated track list, grating hooks and choruses, blatant thematic contradictions (I still can’t understand why he would make “Darkness” but go on to make fun of the Ariana concert bombing on the same record), and many past mistakes that make their reappearances, all hold the album back.
There’s definitely improvement here, but it’s hard to see how he’ll even come close or surpass the past brilliance of his early career work.