Marshall Mathers, also known as Slim Shady, but mainly known as Eminem, gave the music world an early 2020 surprise when he dropped “Music To Be Murdered By,” the Detroit rapper’s 11th solo studio album, and his third in the past four years, following the heavily criticized 2017 “Revival,” and the equally disappointing 2018 surprise “Kamikaze.”
Inspired by the 1958 Jeff Alexander album “Alfred Hitchcock Presents Music to Be Murdered By,” and even featuring voice and audio samples from the Master of Suspense himself, the album deals with horror and violence of all different kinds, such as the familial horror of an abusive parent, or the societal horror of consistent mass shootings.
Unfortunately, the album’s inconsistent handling of such severe issues, as well as some erratic production and exhausting song length, soil some terrific guest artists, as well as great verses and flow from Mathers, resulting in an album that, despite being a step above his previous two efforts, is far below the bar he set with his earlier music.
That is not to say that there aren’t a few highlights on the roughly 65-minute long track list. The guest list is easily the strongest of Mathers’ career. Frequent collaborator and fellow Bad Meets Evil member Royce Da 5’9” appears twice in equally charismatic fashion both times.
Anderson .Paak proves that everything he touches is gold with “Lock It Up,” one of the best tracks on the album. Juice WRLD makes his first posthumous appearance after his untimely death with the chaotic “Godzilla.” The guest list doesn’t even end there.
Mathers himself is the strongest he’s been since “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.” Abandoning the overly-articulated and angry style that pervaded his tone in his last two albums, he takes on a more contemplative, yet equally aggressive and charismatic flow. His third verse on the aforementioned “Godzilla” now holds the record for fastest verse in a charted rap song.
Some songs also feature terrific production, such as the chaotic synthesizers and deep base of “Yah Yah,” or the easy yet unsettling chords of “You Gon’ Learn.” The constant inserting of vintage Alfred Hitchcock monologues also works incredibly well to bookend the album, creating a sense of unease, as if we’re actually watching a movie from one of the greatest artists of all time.
Unfortunately, the album is, at its core, inconsistent, largely due to its mixed handling of difficult subject matters and some questionable production. While production on the aforementioned songs is strong, many of the songs on the album, such as the unbearable “Unaccommodating” or the incredibly flat “Those Kinda Nights,” the latter of which features an incredibly cringe-worthy Ed Sheeran appearance.
The mixed handling of subject matter is also something Em really struggles with on this album. Some of the songs are incredibly well written and performed, dealing with subject matter of an extremely difficult degree with grace and inventiveness.
For example, the song “Darkness” approaches the mass shooting epidemic in an incredibly effective and unique way, rapping from the point of view of the shooter from the horrifying Las Vegas shooting in 2017. Following this is samples of the countless shootings we’ve had in America in the past decade alone. It is startlingly effective.
There are other songs that deal with difficult to talk about issues, but these songs are also mixed with some of the worst, most juvenile writing ever featured on a modern rap album. Em comes across like a horny teenager on “Farewell,” and discusses the abuse of his mother at the hands of his stepfather on the song “Stepdad” in an incredibly toxic and violent way.
Eminem has always dealt with difficult subject matters and violence in his music, but his handling of such is so inconsistent on this album that it is hard to ignore. For every graceful and contemplative song, there’s two toxic and borderline disturbing to accompany it.
It also doesn’t help that the album clocks in at just over an hour. Long albums are never an issue (my favorite album of all time, Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” clocks in at about 78 minutes), the inconsistency of the album creates an absolutely exhausting experience.
Eminem is certainly taking a step in the right direction with “Music To Be Murdered By,” but a much more polished, graceful, and consistent project is going to be needed for him to return to the glory days of Slim Shady.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Godzilla (feat. Juice WRLD), Darkness, Lock It Up (feat. Anderson .Paak)
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: Farewell, Those Kinda Nights (feat. Ed Sheeran)