For Eminem, the first half of this past decade started much better than it finished. 2010's Recovery was regarded as one of Marshall's best project in years, not to mention being the vehicle that brought him his most commercially successful single to date, "Love The Way You Lie." From there though, Em's social standing in the court of public opinion started to slowly decline. The slander from fans and critics alike became so bad that Em was forced to drop his own version of a Kamikaze in 2018; a full-on diss album geared towards the world at large.
The dismal collection of self-indulgence and proudly ignorant misstepping that Eminem offered with 2018's Kamikaze left him with nowhere to go but up. Though his technical mastery hadn't waned at all, cringe-worthy lyrics and a mentality somewhere between seventh grade locker room bragging and an active midlife crisis made for one of the worst albums from one of the (historically) best rappers. Also released without any publicity or lead-up, Music to Be Murdered By sees Eminem pulling himself out of Kamikaze's wreckage somewhat, though he still falls victim to moments of willful dumbness and a tedious self-obsession that's become par for the course.
In 2018 Eminem released a lead single from a new album that featured him calling another rapper a 'faggot': so far, so usual. But this time a variety of factors came into play - the subject of the diss having come out the previous year, the shifting boundaries of acceptability in hip-hop, Eminem's decreasing relevance in the scene - and he was forced to backtrack 10 days later, something vintage Slim Shady would never do. It felt like a sea-change moment, but really just crystallised a situation that had been brewing for a while, one in which the rapper is stuck awkwardly between old and new.
There were rumours of a new album that casually popped up throughout 2019, but at no point was it suggested that Eminem would release a surprise album. What shouldn't come as a surprise is that Eminem's latest is called Music to Be Murdered By, nor that this album very casually opens up with a woman screaming, in what one can assume is a murder scene. It also shouldn't come as a surprise that in 2020 the gimmicks are tiring.
For his whole career, Eminem has rallied his albums around a superior flow and shock value. It's what leaves ….
The thing you have to remember is that Eminem was on Rawkus' second Soundbombing compilation. Before he ever shook hands with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, Marshall Mathers battled Project Blowed members and Chicago's future candidates for alderman. This, after all, was a nasally white rapper from Detroit with a rhyming dictionary and a taste for horrorcore.
A semi-focused surprise album that emits indifference, if nothing else.
At this point, I have to ask myself what makes Eminem tick? Em's music career has been a peculiar journey and a fascinating spectacle to observe - especially in its most recent portion. After all, twenty years ago Eminem literally didn't give a damn what you thought about him. Now? He's the antithesis of that earlier trait; a hollow caricature of his former glory days and a deeply self-aware and sensitive rapper, functioning on a diet of contradictions and empty words.
On Eminem's last album, Kamikaze, he struck back at critics of his prior album, Revival, who said he was washed up and done with. On Kamikaze, there's a scripted sketch in which his agent, Paul, calls him up to say that Kamikaze is a bad idea, asking "What's next? Kamikaze 2, the album where you reply to everybody who didn't like the last album that you made replying to everybody that didn't like the previous album?" While this is supposed to be a joke and a sign that Eminem can be self critical, it sadly became true as Music to Be Murdered By is exactly the album that that sketch warned about, as evidenced by the first rapped line on the album: "They said my last album I sounded bitter. " But while Kamikaze was actually responding to the very real flop that was Revival, Kamikaze itself was certified platinum and the highest selling hip-hop album of 2018, so Eminem responding to Kamikaze's critics just reeks of a deep seated paranoia.
'Music To Be Murdered By' is the best way to describe Eminem's surprise album. The themes portrayed here are very controversial, but what else could you expect from the Detroit rapper? He has always been criticised by the mass media for his controversial music, and been labelled homophobic, misogynistic and insensitive to various man-made disasters. However this is what sets him apart from artists in the hip-hop industry: he is not afraid to speak his mind and rap about topics most would shy away from, afraid of the backlash they may receive.
The Lowdown: Eminem still makes more good music than the average Big Thief fan can fathom and still rewires his program more than the out-and-out haters want to admit or believe. So, for every Relapse or Revival (which didn't grow on me, though I should've noticed "Like Home"), there's still a Marshall Mathers LP 2 (very few flaws!) or a Kamikaze (okay, a few more here) where the gifted technician brings it even when the congealing brain doesn't. With Music to Be Murdered By, it's starting to feel like he drops surprise albums now because that's easier than coming up with a lead hit single, but the Em album it most resembles is Recovery, because both are so relatively normal.