2020 had one last twist in the tale. Eminem has surprise-released ‘Side B’ to ‘Music To Be Murdered By’, the sprawling album he chucked onto the internet at the start of the year. Like its companion piece, ‘Side B’ combines lopsided beats with self-referential lyrics, outrageous barbs and Marshall Mathers’ increasingly idiosyncratic delivery (he sounds like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation). Here’s what else we learned.
He’s still spending a lot of time on the internet
‘Music To Be Murdered By’ found Eminem bemoaning the fact that he can’t win with critics and fans, who are disappointed by whatever he releases: “I lose the rage, I’m too tame / I get it back, they say I’m too angry”, he spluttered on ‘Premonition – Intro’. He hasn’t taken his head out of the internet toilet bowl, it seems, and on B-side closer ‘Discombobulated’ has another moan. “Haters are funny, man,” he says on ‘These Demons’, though doesn’t sound much like he’s laughing, and then relays the feedback he receives: “’I want you to change, but don’t change’” / “’I want you to grow up, but don’t age’… ‘I want the new, but old Shady’ / ‘I want you to say what they won’t say’ / ‘Just don’t go too far – but go cray’.” Just log off, mate!
And he’s still feeling apologetic
On ‘Music To Be Murdered By’, Eminem apologised for a gross, homophobic joke he’d made about Tyler, The Creator on 2018 album ‘Kamikaze’. “Misplacing my anger enough to give… Tyler, the Creator the brunt,” he admitted on ‘No Regrets’, “Should’ve never made a response / Should’ve just aimed for the fake ones and traitorous punks.”
This time he apologises to Rihanna for a gross line included in a decade-old song snippet that leaked last week. On the song in question, he rapped of Chris Brown’s 2009 assault against Rihanna: “Of course I side with Chris Brown, I’d beat a bitch down too”. On new track ‘Zeus’, he offers a mea culpa: “Wholeheartedly, apologies, Rihanna / For that song that leaked – I’m sorry, Ri / It wasn’t meant to cause you grief.” In a lot of ways, Eminem comes off as an eternal teenager, but seems increasingly aware of when he’s crossed the line.
But he remains beyond the pale
Having said that, he does also cross the line on ‘Side B’. On the ‘Music To Be Murdered By’ track ‘Unaccommodating’, he made an infamously flippant reference to the 2017 Manchester bombing: “I’m contemplating yelling ‘Bombs away’ on the game / Like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting”. The line incited a massive backlash, which he addresses on new track: “I know nothing is funny ’bout thе Manchester bombing / But we got somеthing in common: both of us are alarmin’ / Foul, disgusting, and awful, so repugnant and ugly / I could give the Boston Marathon a run for its money.” Will he offer another apology on the next record? Is that the new tactic – make a grim joke, apologise for it, ad nauseam?
He’s haunting Billie Eilish
Contemporary Eminem is often compared to that Simpsons meme of a newspaper clipping of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at the sky, with the headline: “Old man yells at cloud.” ‘Kamikaze’ found him taking swipes at SoundCloud rappers for mumbling (from ‘Caterpillar: “the boom bap is coming back with an axe to mumble rap”), like your Dad moaning that Billie Eilish is just whispering, not singing. Incidentally, Eilish said in an interview last year that she “was scared of Eminem my whole life,” and always preferred Childish Gambino.
Here Eminem hits back, proving he’s not totally out of the loop. On ‘Alfred’s Theme’, he raps: “But really I’m just fulfilling my wish of killing rhymes / Which is really childish and silly, but I’m really like this / I’m giving nightmares to Billie Eilish.” Eminem is 48 years old.
There are a lot of COVID gags
The most notable thing about Eminem albums these days is how ephemeral they seem, as though they’re designed to cause a Twitter storm and then disappear into the ether. For all its horrors, coronavirus has inspired some great music (looking at you, Taylor Swift), but the best pandemic pop succeeds when it stays vague enough to age well: Swift’s isolation albums ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ reflect on themes of nostalgia and selfhood that will still be relevant in 50 years. On ‘Gnat’, Eminem opts for, “These bars are like COVID – you get ’em right off the bat”, which you perhaps couldn’t say the same of.
You can’t cancel Eminem
Well, of course. On ‘Tone Deaf’, Eminem celebrates his own insensitivity. Or, as he puts it: “What did you say? / Oh, I can’t hear you / I have an ear in-fuck-tion and I cunt finger it out… ‘Cause they won’t stop until they cancel me.” We repeat: Eminem is 48 years old. He uses this track to make a gag about Bill Cosby, who was found guilty of sexual assault in 2018 (“Does Bill Cosby sedate once he treats the cheesecake and the decent steak?”) and on ‘These Demons’ asks, “what rhymes with Pariah?” – the answer being Mariah… Carey, his ex-girlfriend. If there’s one thing that could get you cancelled, it’s dissing Mariah Carey two weeks before Christmas.
But you can’t cancel a man who so revels in juvenile humour and generating outrage. We’ll almost certainly be having this conversation in another 12 months. See you then!