Review: Eminem Shows Flashes of Past Brilliance on “Music To Be Murdered By (Side B)”

In my review of Music To Be Murdered By, I described it as one of Eminem’s weaker studio albums that exacerbates his recent shortcomings (grating hooks and choruses, blatant thematic contradictions) while improving on his gradual embracing of contemporary hip-hop elements. 11 months later, my opinion on it is largely unchanged and the release of a Side B deluxe edition keeps my same sentiment aside from a handful of amazing tracks.

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I always found it funny when Eminem critics or detractors claim he has “nothing to say anymore” on his latest records, as if he made super deep music in the first place. He’d always been pretty surface level on the themes he approached, packaging them in emotive music and great storytelling. I’m not sure why gave up on these qualities in recent years but I’ve made my peace with them.

The corny bars he’s been delivering (which there are A LOT of on Side B) have been so consistent over the past 5 years that it doesn’t feel like legitimate criticism if I mention them. They’re to be expected at this point and, in all honestly, if you can’t stomach them then current Eminem just isn’t for you anymore.

Most of the songs here continue with the sound that Side A had – thumping soulless beats, awkward hooks/choruses but paired with incredible rapping. Tracks like “Higher” and “She Loves Me” are prime examples of this. They could have fit snuggly on both Kamikaze and Side A, they aren’t necessarily bad but there’s this filler-like quality to them.

The main reason for this happens to be Eminem’s rapping. The fact-paced flow he employs always sounds great but the overuse of it just dulls its impact. Half the album just sounds like a flood of words that I could enjoy if I chose to pay attention, but the saturation feels overwhelming and repellant. It becomes background noise.

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Another issue I have with Side B is its features. Side A handled them much better so it’s confusing how out-if-place everyone else sounds on here. Their placements feeling like an afterthought; DJ Premier, Ty Dolla $ign, MAJ and even Dr. Dre all barely leave an impression, often smothered by the overbearing mixing in the production and not delivering great performances either.

Skylar Grey sounds right at home on “Black Magic” but, unfortunately, it holds the distinction of being the most boring song on the album. White Gold, on the other hand, had the best contribution on “Zeus” – a decent pop rap track that’s held up by its earworm chorus. It sounds eerily like the Ed Sheeran collab on Side A though.

It’s not all disappointing though, songs where Eminem decides to hop on a trap beat are some of his most exciting in a while. The aforementioned “Zeus”, “These Demons” and, in particular, “Gnat” inject some much needed personality into his music.

Eminem’s recent discography always has this bitterness hanging around it, whether it’s directed at his critics or his haters or the Trump administration. Like an angry old man yelling from his porch, it loses its entertainment value rather quick so seeing him slowly embrace current trends feels like a step in the right direction. It feels like artistic progression even if it isn’t the trailblazer-like quality that he used to have in the early 2000s.

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There’s genuine joy felt on “Gnat” as Eminem floats over the 1st half’s trap beat before letting loose on the sax-heavy beat switch later on. He’s always excelled over more unconventional production which makes “Alfred’s Theme” and “Tone Deaf” 2 of the best tracks on Side B.

The former, with its carnival-inspired beat, feels like “We Made You” pt. 2 without the insufferable accent. It’s a great vehicle for Eminem’s eccentricity to shine through. “Tone Deaf”, on the other hand, could have fit right in on Encore. From the peculiar basslines to the admittedly dated chorus, the track feels like a time capsule of goofy Eminem that’s surprisingly easy to stomach in 2020.

Finally, we have “Discombobulated” – a Relapse era cut that would genuinely surprise me if it was actually recorded in the last few years. Like some of the best songs off that record (“Underground”, “My Mom”), the deafening production paired with Em’s manic performance leaves us with a track that proves Eminem is more than capable of capturing lightning in a bottle twice.

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Final Verdict

Side B‘s greatness is split into 2 halves – one where Eminem revisits his past glories on “Alfred’s Theme” or “Discombobulated”, and the other where he openly embraces current rap trends that he used to despise like “Gnat” and “Zeus”. The remainder of the album, which is also what the majority of what Side A sounds like as well, is…well, boring.

The stale and uninteresting production is a monotonous canvas that gives Eminem multitudes of space to flex his rapping ability on. The overall product is the definitive Eminem sound in 2020, but given that it still sounds drab and, admittedly, like background music; I’d rather he conform to contemporary sounds or retread past successes.

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Based in Melbourne and Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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