It must be hard being Marshall Bruce Mathers III, or so he’d like you to believe. According to him, and everyone who has defended him for the past decade, he’s a rapper who actually cares about things like rhythm schemes and the proper use of syllables in a given bar; he’s been regularly breaking records for “fastest rap verse” over the past few years (one can assume because nobody else working cares about this sort of thing, and rightfully so). And because of his insistence that rap shouldn’t evolve as an art form and should cater to a slim number of real fans, he’s been labeled a “hip-hop purist” who the younger generation just can’t seem to understand. But the success of lyrical rap acts such as Lil Wayne, YBN Cordae, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and the like sort of prove that this is a bullshit talking point, one that fails to account for the real issue at hand: Eminem has been making mediocre music for a while now, and his recent grievance that he doesn’t get the respect he deserves is both A) objectively and abjectly false and B) a distraction (or perhaps deflection) from the rapper’s late-career deficiencies. Yes, the man can say a lot of nonsense words really fast in a certain order and in a manner one could conceivably regard as impressive — but it has gotten to the point that the technical aspects of his craft have completely overtaken listenability. Take, for instance this string of nonsense sentences: “How can I have all these fans and perspire? / Like a liar’s pants, I’m on fire / And I got no plans to retire and I’m still the man you admire / These chicks are spazzin’ out, I only get more handsome and flier / I got ’em passin’ out like what you do when you hand someone flyers.” Again, things rhyme and are syntactically located in the right place, but there’s no meaning, merit, or worth to robotically going through a thesaurus to prove you’re the last great white hope for a genre that has clearly moved on from childish word games such as these.
So while this mode of strictly BARS Em has been around ever since he sobered up at the end of the 2000s, this vigorous attempt at championing artistic regression only really manifested with Kamikaze, where he dunked on his critics and adversaries with the type of finesse one could expect from a schoolyard bully. Music to Be Murdered By — an odd title, since it seems to suggest the sonic stylings presented will be so bad they could kill — serves as another reminder that all these young haters can barely string a bar together to save their life, that the best hip-hop was produced roughly 25 years ago, and that if you hate Em, it’s because he’s still too edgy for you. He re-hashes this ethos like a running checklist of thematic “to-dos” on “Unaccommodating,” notably making fun of the mentally ill (“I’m Kanye crazy,” Em insists as if that’s even remotely humorous) and invoking imagery of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing in the manner you would expect from a 47-year-old man who wants to be seen as “controversial.” On “Mash” he ad-libs a bunch of auto-tuned high-pitch cries to imitate the new kids while stating that “y’all can just suck a penis / I’ll do the opposite / Eat you pussies like cunnilingus,” the kind of rap threat that should help to remind you who you should be rooting for in this situation. Even “serious” tracks like “Darkness,” with its solemn piano bass-line and political subject matter, fall flat in much the same way that most of the material on his 2017 disaster Revival did: you can’t just aim for importance and expect greatness to follow. Throw in a played-out, contrived song about killing a step-dad (set to the most angsty guitar riffs you can imagine), a few unexpected features from artists who weren’t born four decades ago (Juice WRLD on “Godzilla” is a nice change of pace, though relegating his contributions to the track’s chorus feels like yet another attempt from Shady to not allow for even one second of melodic rap to appear on his album; Don Toliver popping up later is a different story entirely), and a few posse cuts with some boom-bappy Q-Tip production — one kind of wonders why Em doesn’t just drop the current act make a whole project built around this — and what you’ve got is over an hour’s worth of recycled ideas and material that unmistakably feels like it could indeed murder you, death by sheer boredom. Woe for Marshall, indeed.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 2.