Eminem’s “Music To Be Murdered By” May Have Longevity
Rapper Eminem once again dropped a surprise album, “Music To Be Murdered By,” on Friday, along with the video that calls for changes to gun laws. What followed was the usual mixed to negative reviews for the new Eminem album. For instance, Forbes went with the headline: “Eminem Makes The Same Mistakes on ‘Music To Be Murdered By.” NME’s headline: “Shock rapper continues to grow old disgracefully.” This is nothing new. Believe it or not, Eminem has never released an album that didn’t receive some negative reviews. His average career score on Metacritic, a website that aggregates reviews, is 64. His highest score was 78 for The Marshall Mathers LP. Ironically, The Marshall Mathers LP is consistently cited as one of the best hip hop albums of all time. So what gives? Why do critics dislike Eminem so much?
It’s undeniable that Eminem is one of the greatest rappers of all time. Is he in the top five? I am not sure. But he’s certainly in the conversation. His music has proven to have longevity, and like most songs that do, they only get better over time. Twenty years later, “The Real Slim Shady” and “Stan” are better then they were back in 2000. Yes, nostalgia plays a role here. In 2000 I was in high school. I just started smoking weed, drinking, and hanging out with friends at house parties. The Marshall Mathers LP is very much so part of my high school and coming of age story. At the time, however, it was a controversial album.
Slant Magazine gave it 1 1/2 stars. The opening of Slant’s review: “I’ve heard people call Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP a work of musical genius, yet socially inept. These comments seem to completely disregard the fact that the craft of music, in general, rests largely on its intended purpose. The question shouldn’t be whether the musical merits of the album outweigh its content, but rather, how someone so talented could be so repugnant.” Spin Magazine said of The Marshall Mathers LP, “Funny how so much controversy can spring up over an album that is, musically, not all that noteworthy…. what could have been a brilliant statement, instead elevates Eminem to the rarified air of true platinum rappers: i.e., those that drop outstanding rhymes over frustratingly mediocre beats.”
Twenty years later and The Marshall Mathers LP is up there with Nas’ Illmatic, Dre’s The Chronic, Biggie’s Ready to Die, and Tupac’s All Eyez on Me. And believe it or not, those albums also had their share of mixed to negative reviews. In Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life, author Steven Hyden discusses how our perception of pop culture, including the music we like, is naturally shaped by our upbringings. This explains why blue-collar Americans in New Jersey and Pennsylvania favor Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi and why people on the West Coast favor West Coast rap and those on the East Coast, well prefer East Coast rap. It can also explain why music critics, sometimes unknowingly, may not like or appreciate the music they did not grow up around and have trouble understanding.
Just yesterday, I was scrolling Twitter and saw a congressional political reporter tweet, “a journalist next to me asked me who Dick Durbin was.” Dick Durbin is a U.S. Senator from Illinois and has been since 1997. Before that, he was a U.S. Congressman for 14 years. Yet, a presumably young congressional reporter did not know that and probably should not be covering a congress that is going through an impeachment process. Likewise, music reporters and critics who may not understand Eminem and where he is coming from, may not be the right people to review and understand where Eminem is coming from. A lot of people on twitter and many critics have called out “Music To Be Murdered By” for it’s the use of gunshots as they are traumatizing and can be seen as glorifying violence. However, none take into account Eminem’s relationship with gun violence and where he came from.
It is easy for us to call out Eminem for his use of gunshots. It is traumatizing. Many of us grew up in communities where gun violence wasn’t as prevalent. When it does occur, it’s a shock, and the sound of a car backfiring can send someone who went through a school shooting right back to that moment. However, Marshall Mathers grew up north of 8 Mile Road in Warren, Michigan, where the sound of gunfire occurred much more frequently. The sound of gunshots and the use of it in his music may be different than those who grew up in more affluent communities not used to fun violence. It really isn’t our right to judge his relationship with gun violence.
Lastly, we are living in a hyper-sensitive, highly divisive time. We demand those in the entertainment industry to speak up and speak out against various injustices, yet when they do, we criticize them. We either do not like how they spoke out, or we disagree with what they say. This, in many ways, makes us focus on the right now and not understanding the impact their art may have in the future and on our culture as a whole. What is the effect “Music To Be Murdered By” will have five, ten, twenty years from now? None of these critics know. There are plenty of albums that do not get their recognition they deserve when they first come out, only to be recognized much later on, as Eminem points out with Michael Jackson’s Bad.
Only time will tell whether “Music To be Murdered By” will be culturally significant. What I do know is Eminem is culturally significant and this album will be discussed for years to come. In the meantime give it a listen and let us know your thoughts: