As a wrestling fan of many years, one of the coolest chants to hear is “He’s still got it!” The crowd acknowledging a returning wrestler and their ability to still get it done after all that time is something that makes me smile everytime. There’s something about an elder statesman coming back and reminding everyone who they are.
Wrestling need not be the only medium that should apply to. The music industry has this feeling as well. Snapping a dry spell is something I’ve covered before with acts such as Heavy Water Factory and Stabbing Westward, and seeing these long-standing artists come back in a way that feels like they never took time away from the craft is heartwarming and reassuring.
This is not, however, the case for Detroit legend and maternal pasta enthusiast Eminem, and his newest disc, Music to Be Murdered By. Designed to be a shout-out to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, the album is the wrong kind of chilling and not that thrilling, and to boot, it’s only so fulfilling. As a master of the craft, Eminem has a reputation to live up to, and in his execution, it’s fine for the most part. But too many guest stars as cooks ruin this stew, and some of the shock value crowbarred in by Slim Shady himself gets to be a bit much, even by Eminem standards.
The strongest showing on the record is “Godzilla,” featuring a chorus sung by the late Juice WRLD. Whatever black magic Eminem tapped into for his lightning-fast “Rap God” is clearly not totally spent, as he somehow breaks the words per second record set in the 2014 work. Add a catchy hook with an equally tasty bass line, and this track is, well, a killer. A close second for the track of the album is “Stepdad,” in which Eminem calls upon his alter ego Slim Shady without actually invoking the ultra-violent Hyde’s name. It’s full of angst and vitriol, with the lyrical storytelling prowess we’ve come to expect from 8 Mile’s most infamous denizen.
In my notes on my first listen, I noted several songs that I enjoyed the production and instrumentation on, but was less crazy about the song as a whole. Such tracks included “You Gon’ Learn,” “Those Kinda Nights,” “Yah Yah,” and “Marsh.” On all but one of those tracks, there are guest spots by artists such as Royce Da 5’9” and Ed Sheeran. There isn’t a damn thing wrong with guest spots, but these tracks, and the album as a whole, feels like an “everyone in the pool” affair that does more harm than good to the final product. On the topic of guests, Young M.A. on “Unaccomodating” and Don Toliver on “No Regrets” were among my least favorite cameos.
For an album honoring the late Alfred Hitchcock, there are several songs that just clash with the overall theme of the record. Such numbers include the pick-up track “Those Kinda Nights” featuring Ed Sheeran, the R&B love song “Never Love Again,” and the reggae-flavored “Farewell.”
No stranger to controversy, Eminem has a couple of shocking lines and samples littered throughout the album, and said moments are in poor taste at best, and outright shameful at worst. In “Unaccomodating,” there is a sample of a bomb explosion after the line “But I’m contemplating yelling ‘bombs away’ on the game / Like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting.” This couplet references the Manchester stadium bombing in 2017, a tragedy for which Eminem raised a reported $2 million in relief funding in the days following the incident. What’s worse is, this isn’t even the first time he’s referenced the attack, as a stanza from his freestyle “Kick Off” name-checks Grande and the bombing again, ending with the line “I’m not gonna finish that, for obvious reasons.”
Then why the fuck would you bring it up in the first place?
But we’re not even done there, as following the monstrous track “Godzilla” is “Darkness,” a disturbing song which interpolates Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” The song starts as a self-hype track, a la “Lose Yourself,” but the performance in question turns out to be a mass shooting, specifically the Las Vegas shooting from 2017, noted as the deadliest mass murder in US history. Metaphors about razor-sharp rhymes and loaded lyrics are taken to their absolute extremes, and it ends up horrifying in the worst way possible. Once again, the tragedy in question has been source material for Marshall before, this time from “Greatest” on his Kamikaze album.
While I am all for social consciousness, the way that Eminem carries it out with the above two tracks is irresponsible and offensive. When Slim Shady was in his prime, these kinds of jaw-dropping lines still weren’t OK, and in a post-9/11, post-Sandy Hook America, they damn sure aren’t acceptable. What’s worse is that we know that Eminem is better than this, or at least he can be. If he’s trying to draw awareness to gun culture and firearm regulation in America, as the music video for “Darkness” would suggest, is this really the way to go about it, especially given his lofty reputation?
Controversy aside, this album does very little for me. “Music To Be Murdered By” suffers from being shocking for the sake of shock, and even the most seasoned shock artists have enough respect to not go outright low. The production value may be great, and the cast of characters assembled is a sizable mixed bag, but this disc has a couple of bangers, a few shrug-inducers, and then tracks that range from insecure to too much.