Eminem has always made his living on two things: honesty and comedy. That is, you know when he’s bull-shi**ing and when he’s telling the truth, and when he’s being straight up, he’s capable of making incisive statements about America that few other people can, like that anthemic verse in “White America”: “So many lives I touched / So much anger aimed / In no particular direction / Just sprays and sprays”.
This is an important set of lines in terms of his new album, too, because Music to Be Murdered by in a nutshell is a concept album about violence, with a significant bent toward mass shootings and the sorts of national news violence of which we’re likely to get wind as denizens of this nation. Insofar as this is an important theme on the album, then “Darkness” should be held as the centerpiece, a five minute, 37 second “journey into the mind of a psychopath killer,” predictably delivered as if in earnest in ’Nem’s mind but given eerie singularity for its rendering as a rap star who shoots up his own crowd at a concert.
It’s important to note right off the bat that this definitely isn’t GREAT music. “Darkness” features a chorus that’s sung by ’Nem himself, with singing being something he correctly doesn’t do very often. As a feature tune, it’s ham-handed, with the emotions matching the subject matter to a questionable extent at best, and the content of the song itself, the shooting, basically a garish stab at theatrics without a cinematographer’s attention to detail, which he seems to be attempting with all the Hitchcock references. Ultimately, as has typically been his lean throughout the years, “Darkness” will open up the door, through vanguard, for other rappers to talk about mass shootings in their songs in a way that’s really immediate, as if it’s an atrocity of which anybody is capable at any time, a malady in ’Nem’s case which would have of course been presaged by “I’m back,” from the Marshall Mathers LP, his most cohesive album.
Music to Be Murdered by, on the other hand, is definitely not a cohesive album. It is at times an amazing album, as on the mind-bending vocal acrobatics which close out “Godzilla” (at one point somebody comes in and tells him to stop rapping, as if saying everybody gets the point you can flow better than them), and the beat for “Yah Yah,” whose “Mr. Porter” progenitor might register for some as Kon Artis from D12, Eminem’s first rap group. But that flow on “Godzilla” lacks clarity and purpose — he’s basically just showing off, sort of like John Coltrane just playing a bunch of notes in no particular order just because he can.
And this is not to say that Music to Be Murdered by completely lacks emotion. But the emotion is psychotic. Eminem is still mad at the critics, pretending to laugh but really coming off pretty peeved at getting lukewarm reviews, and he’s still mad at his primary father figure as evidenced by “Stepdad,” a song too entertaining, gripping and good to allow for any arguments of manufactured rage on the part of the artist. “Stepdad” is a gruesome song on a gruesome album, an album that features the lines “If the world had a di / It would fu** the earth”. Music to Be Murdered by finds Eminem juvenile, petulant, psychotic but still astonishingly verbose, a slew of ideas and techniques completely blind to his family and his responsibilities, but disturbing like a horror film, and just real enough to get us listening in and scratching our heads for a year and change. This is the skeletal remnants of hip-hop, the art form gutted and turned inside out for you to see its paper tiger efficacy, its vehicle into the hearts of man where Eminem seems to have never wanted to go in the first place.