Eminem has continued his recent tradition of surprising fans with new album drops: Music to Be Murdered By, released Friday, is both a Hitchcock reference and a promise from the rap diva to slay. How well Eminem fulfills that promise is already a matter of heated debate — just as it was with his 2018 surprise album, Kamikaze — but there’s no denying Marshall Mathers makes an impact: Within 12 hours of its release, the album was reportedly charting at No. 1 on iTunes in 53 countries.
The breakout track from the 20-song album is “Darkness,” a harrowing, disturbing takedown of gun violence, framed through the point of view of the perpetrator of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, one of the worst mass shootings in modern US history.
The motives of the Las Vegas shooter remain a mystery, but in “Darkness,” Eminem paints a picture of an isolated man with mental illness, “loathing in Las Vegas” but emboldened by the failure of US gun control legislation:
I got ammo for all the hecklers, I’m armed to the teeth ... Finger on the trigger, but I’m a licensed owner / with no prior convictions, so loss, the sky’s the limit
The track briefly includes reportedly recreated audio of gunfire and screaming crowds, and ends with an overlay of real news footage from the litany of mass shootings that have happened since the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. The accompanying music video further reenacts the Las Vegas shooter’s point of view (but not graphically) and ends with a call to register to vote to “help change gun laws in America.”
This isn’t the first time Eminem has used his platform to get political; 2004’s “Mosh” protested the Iraq War and was framed as a voting rights anthem, while his 2017 BET freestyle was a blistering anti-Trump invective.
The rest of Music to Be Murdered By is generally lighter, however. The album features several guest artists, including Ed Sheeran (who collaborates on “Those Kinda Nights,” a “doing it for the Top 40” number), Young MA, and Royce da 5’9.” It also contains frequent cameos from Alfred Hitchcock, whose 1958 parody album of the same name Eminem liberally homages.
the title and cover art for eminem's new album ‘music to be murdered by’ were modeled after iconic filmmaker alfred hitchcock's 1958 album of the same name https://t.co/36kV2Edzik pic.twitter.com/HmrhB29EJv— Genius (@Genius) January 17, 2020
The end of the album feels a little more like old-school Eminem, canvassing the usual series of beefs and responses to diss tracks. Though the album overall doesn’t feature nearly as much misogyny (or, thankfully, any of the homophobic slurs Eminem has been justly scorned for in the past), a late track, “Farewell,” heaps a litany of deadpan sexist scorn on its object. In conjunction with the rest of the album, it’s jarring — though as always, Eminem’s character heaps as much of that scorn and loathing upon himself.
Eminem also keeps up his long tradition of commenting on his divisive critical reputation, with an opening track, “Premonition,” that references his view that he just can’t catch a break from the critics:
Once I was played in rotation / at every radio station / They said I’m lyrically amazing but I have nothing to say
But then when I put out Revival [his critically panned 2017 album] and I had something to say
They said that they hated the awake me / I lose the rage, I’m too tame — I get it back, they say I’m too angry
Whether you love or hate Music to Be Murdered By, there’s no denying Eminem is still awake, and — according to him, at least — still has something to say.