It is not, strictly speaking, a good record—Eminem hasn’t made one of those in a decade—but his latest boasts enough technical command and generates just enough arresting ideas to hold your attention.
The thing you have to remember is that Eminem was on Rawkus’ second Soundbombing compilation. Before he ever shook hands with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, Marshall Mathers battled Project Blowed members and Chicago’s future candidates for alderman. This, after all, was a nasally white rapper from Detroit with a rhyming dictionary and a taste for horrorcore. His first EP from 1997 was sort of staggering, but didn’t exactly scream “TRL.”
If you ran the simulation a thousand times, it would never spit out the actual results: the tens of millions of records sold, the merchandising and the Academy Award and the million little cottage industries. But that’s what happened, and so by 2000, the nasally white rapper from Detroit with a rhyming dictionary had a diamond-selling album that pissed off Bill Clinton and his former group The Outsidaz in equal measure.
It’s tempting to dismiss the endurance of Eminem’s career as the half-life of celebrity, and the man himself as a relic from the Clinton- and Bush-era boom years. But Music to Be Murdered By, released without warning last week, is defined by a certain kind of defiance, and even a peculiar integrity. It’s a messy, sometimes lucid example of a hyper-technical style of rap that fell out of favor and is now creeping back into vogue. It is not, strictly speaking, a good record—Eminem hasn’t made one of those in a decade—but it boasts enough technical command and generates just enough arresting ideas to hold your attention.