In 2018 Eminem released a lead single from a new album that featured him calling another rapper a ‘faggot’: so far, so usual. But this time a variety of factors came into play – the subject of the diss having come out the previous year, the shifting boundaries of acceptability in hip-hop, Eminem’s decreasing relevance in the scene – and he was forced to backtrack 10 days later, something vintage Slim Shady would never do. It felt like a sea-change moment, but really just crystallised a situation that had been brewing for a while, one in which the rapper is stuck awkwardly between old and new.
On Music To Be Murdered By he seems to loosen up a little, focussing less on proving himself and more on having fun. His flow has loosened up too, replacing the constipated stutter that characterised his 2010s performances with something more rubbery and dynamic. This in itself makes it the best Eminem record in many years, and tracks like Godzilla and Little Engine are a full-scale comeback. The former contains a rapid fire climax (faster than the infamous section of ‘Rap God’) over a cruising beat by DA Got That Dope For Guaranteed Millions, while the latter is full of defiantly wacky lyrics and serves as a musical reunion with mentor Dr Dre.
This isn’t to say the album is all of this quality: his penchant for bad hooks and worse puns (“I’m talkin’ euthanasia, like kids in Taiwan”) derails the worthwhile subject matter on Stepdad, while Ed Sheeran collab These Kinda Nights shoots for a club-friendly DJ Mustard sound and just comes off awkward. There are some interesting stylistic experiments elsewhere on the record: the R&B vibe of In Too Deep, which really works, and the reggae flavour of Farewell, which really doesn’t.
The album ends with I Will, which features the members of Slaughterhouse trading bars over a dusty beat. Kxng Crooked just about comes out on top, but the whole track is full of the spirit of competition that Eminem thrives off and the verses bear that out. Music To Be Murdered By succumbs to temptation a few times, with a pop concession here and a lacklustre verse there, but it’s the clearest sign yet that there’s a future for Eminem as well as a legacy.