Eminem Achieves Peak Intensity on ‘Music to Be Murdered By’

Eminem made a major comeback on 2018’s “Kamikaze.” His first words were, “I feel like I wanna punch the world in the fuckin’ face right now,” and the rest followed from that. Marshall Mathers, recharged and reanimated, returned with a vengeance, and worked his way through a hefty hitlist, dissing critics in an explosive onslaught of an album. Now, he has followed up with another surprise release, a double album modestly titled “Music to Be Murdered By.” Named after Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 compilation of the same name, and featuring interludes that sample it, the record builds on the momentum of its predecessor, with Eminem shifting focus, but remaining as intense as ever before, if not even moreso. This time around, his first words are “As much as I hate you, I need you,” and his lyrics are generally in line with the sentiment. Critics and opposition fuel Eminem’s fire. They spurred him to go all out on the last album, and having more than proven himself, he now moves past the dissing, but continues to thrive on the energy.

Rather than call out individuals, Eminem now just spews his venom all about. Half of the tracks are advanced exercises in braggadocio and trash talk. In the opener, “Premonition,” Em reviews the judgment leveled at him throughout his career, and strikes back furiously. One track in, he has made a case for the album title. “Unaccommodating” begins with a verse from Young M.A., who exudes attitude, but raps with a casually loose rhythmic flow, so when Eminem takes over, the spike is severe. At one point, he addresses his long standing beef with Machine Gun Kelly, and brushes it aside, but only in a characteristically defiant way, claiming, “I’m God and the Lord forgives even the devil worshippers.” He takes his vocal gymnastics to the extreme, getting increasingly intense, and leaving the listener awestruck.

“You Gon’ Learn” features a hook from White Gold and a verse from Royce da 5’9″ over a dynamic, colorful beat. Again, Eminem outshines everyone in the final act. In the end, he remarks, “It ain’t even worth dissing someone so offbeat that they can’t even figure out where / Their words should hit the kick and the snare,” upon which he slurs his last word to mimic what he describes. The album abounds with such clever little details. “Godzilla” is a definite standout, with the late Juice WRLD providing a chorus in his distinctive voice, and Eminem outdoing himself, culminating in a physics-defying speed rap. “Leaving Heaven” finds Em detailing the hardships he endured, and lashing out in the most mercilessly vulgar terms. The way he arranges geometrical arrays with his rhymes is truly impressive. Skylar Grey contributes an epic chorus as well as a hard-hitting production of her own. 

On “Marsh,” Eminem presents his surname Marshall as “martian,” as an explanation of his alien intensity, and goes on to boast about how extreme he is. On “Little Engine,” one of several tracks to sample Hitchcock’s, “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You,” Em’s provocations take the form of full horror rap, as he narrates an episode of psychotic violence. He follows a melody with his flow, skittering about like some combination of madman and machine, rhyming things like “carrot cake” and “Sharon Tate.” “Lock It Up” stands out for a feature from Anderson .Paak, who adds plenty personality, singing over a haunting backdrop. Em enters and once again adds a whole new dimension. He might have eased back on the dissing, but he still has some unkind words for former Slaughterhouse member Joe Budden. Elsewhere, he merely refers to previous beefs, slightly teasing targets without totally letting loose, as on “No Regrets,” which features a hook from Don Toliver and killer gliding bass from producer D.A. Doman. 

Two posse cuts make the mix. “Yah Yah” finds Royce da 5’9″, Black Thought and Q-Tip taking turns, old school style, around a chorus that samples Busta Rhymes’ 1996 track “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check.” “I Will” reunites the Slaughterhouse collective of KXNG Crooked, Royce da 5’9″ and Joell Ortiz, with only Joe Budden conspicuously absent. As usual, Eminem dominates. Other odd ends include the Ed Sheeran-featured “Those Kinda Nights” on which Em vividly recollects a wild night out in the early aughts with members of his old group D12, affecting deranged cartoon voices for dialogue along the way.

There are a few songs about relationships, and they share the same general anger and intensity as the rest of the content. “Never Love Again” finds Eminem expressing his frustrations in the aftermath of a romantic connection. “Farewell” is a hateful love song, the most direct fleshing out of the album’s opening lines. “In Too Deep” applies Eminem’s famous narrative craft to a story of love triangles, which gets his blood boiling at least as easily as his critics do. Two other songs, both dark in subject matter, rely especially on skilled storytelling. “Darkness” imagines the 2017 Las Vegas shooting from the perspective of the shooter, adopting a snippet from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” for the chorus, and sampling news clips about the shooting. “Stepdad” is chilling account of standing up to an abusive father figure. 

The main drawback of the album is the chorus treatment on several tracks, with Eminem donning silly voices and singing hooks that are either irritating or merely amusing. On the other hand, such displays are part of Eminem’s trademark kookiness, and give some continuity to a sound that has otherwise evolved considerably. The record places Eminem over modern beats that nod to current trends without descending fully into trap dissipations. While Em’s signature multisyllabic rhymes and madcap meters abound, his overall technique is further developed than ever before, with clockwork precision, breakneck speed, and a ferocity that takes on new proportions. With spectacles of bombastic bashing, and compelling stories narrated in painstaking detail, “Music to Be Murdered By” showcases Eminem at his wildest and wackiest.

Music to Be Murdered By” is available Jan. 17 on Apple Music.