We last heard from Marshall Mathers in album form in the summer of 2018, when he surprise released his 10th album, Kamikaze. At the time, NPR Music's Rodney
Carmichael said it seemed like the famously tongue-in-cheek terrible child had "lost his sense of humor." About a year and a half later, Mathers has indirectly responded with another surprise album, asking: "What's there to laugh about?"
Music To Be Murdered By, Eminem's 11th studio album, was a midnight surprise dropped quietly in the wee hours this morning, packaged with assists from Black Thought, Ed Sheeran, Q-Tip, Anderson .Paak, Juice WRLD — the 21-year-old Chicago rapper who died on Dec. 8 — and others. Among them you'll find skits; the voice of Alfred Hitchcock (from whom Mathers cribbed the album's title) and a cross-section of popular hip-hop's varied, favored production styles. But it's the video released in tandem, for the song "Darkness," that appears to be the album's centerpiece and fulcrum.
Eminem isn't renowned for his subtlety, and you'll find none here. (Evidence elsewhere further suggests his sense of humor has not matured.) "Darkness" is a tough watch. In the six-minute-long video, Mathers writes from the first-person perspective, reminiscent of "Stan," of what turns out to be the shooter of the Route 91 massacre in Las Vegas. The video follows in parallel, filming from a video game-style first-person as the shooter transitions from preparation, to the act, to self-inflicted end. Its coda is a cluster of televisions beaming the U.S. flag, with the question "when will this end?" superimposed.
The track arrives at about the midway point of Music To Be Murdered By, surrounded by songs operating under far less gravity, mostly animated by Mathers' perpetual ambivalence and frustration towards... well, everything. But mostly it seems, and as always, himself. Don't wait for a punchline.