In his surprise “Side B” deluxe edition of Music To Be Murdered By, Eminem packs some critical facts into 16 tracks. Sprinkled with Alfred Hitchcock’s spoken word interludes, topics from COVID to clout are covered in true Marshall Mathers idiosyncrasy.
Side B should really be renamed as ‘Reformation’. That name seems more fitting as it would follow the alliteration of the Relapse, Recovery, and Revival albums. What’s more, critics argue that these were the eras where Eminem gained mixed reviews. It’s true that the subsequent Kamikaze and Music To Be Murdered By (MTBMB) surprised fans with some classic tracks. However, in Side B, Eminem subtly brings back Shady, reclaims his reputation, and unmistakably sends shots to those who had it coming. The songs are riddled with early-Eminem nostalgia, as well as some ironically contrived modern beats.
Die hard fans know that Eminem never comes short of paying his subliminal dues. In fact, there is a lot to be said about the type of people who have the guts to challenge him. For instance, there’s this on-going antic of how being dissed by Em implies that you’re lucky. Whether it’s new beef or shade, fans get excited over publicized feuds between artists. This notion is especially emphasized when Eminem is involved – because his fans know that he shows no mercy.
In “Zeus,” after referencing other rappers that he refers to as ‘trash,’ Eminem rips into one of his rivals. “She thinks machine washed me // Swear to God, man, her favorite rapper wish he’d cross me.” These are hits towards Machine Gun Kelly who he’s had beef with for the past couple of years. Importantly, their rivalry and beef resulted in MGK jumping into an entirely new genre. In “Gnat,” MGK slander is introduced yet again. “They come at me with machine guns” Em raps, “like they’re trying to fight off a gnat.”
In “Book of Rhymes,” Em bites back at a number of people he’s been waiting to respond to. One line is a diss to the new wave of hip hop and rap – ‘mumble rap.’ Many think that Em is targeting Lil Pump in this line, “You have an enormous chain, but a stormless brain.” This certainly goes to show Em’s growing dissent towards artists like Pump who have ridiculed the rap game.
Toxic Ties (Relationships)
Disses to his mom and Kim are nothing new. They are internationally recognized as the two women who have caused Em the most pain. With this in mind, Eminem has established his lack of trust in relationships. However, his difficult past with the women in his life allowed him to express himself in his music. As follows, Em carries this subject in “Guns Blazing” ft. Dr. Dre and Sly Pyper, as well as “Black Magic” ft. Skylar Grey.
In “Black Magic” we are guided through a storyline that shares similar ambience to “Kim.” It’s another tune about a disastrous love affair. Moreover, Eminem’s traditional wordplay sets the tone early in this song. He raps “We’re an unlikely pair, like two different Nike Airs // but I’m the same size she wears // so I think we’re soulmates.” This double entendre of being soulmates and ‘sole’ mates of the same shoe size is very tongue-in-cheek.
Additionally, his love is personified as black magic, as Grey croons, “dark water, surrounds me like no other // she’s got my heart in chains.” Evidently this love is shown as something that is so clearly dangerous to a fault, but he can’t seem to get enough of it. This idea is emphasized in another double entendre, “I got her back but I’m spineless, so when she stabs me in mine…” In other words, this is textbook relationship toxicity. Two people that aren’t a good match and others wonder why they’re still together.
COVID, in its petri dish nature, has had one benefit for many artists. For one, it’s been a great start for budding artists to start their creative endeavors. Additionally, it’s given current artists the climate to explore their craft a bit more and possibly introduce covid as a concept in their music. As for Eminem, covid was definitely an anticipated diss track target. With conspiracy theory undertones and general discontent for our forced adjustments, Em embraces covid as a concept while also ridiculing it.
“Gnat” features a music video directed by Cole Bennet, and it’s the ultimate covid gag. To begin with, Em alludes to the idea that his lyrics are polarizing and infectious – much like how covid is. Em starts off with, “They say these bars are like COVID // you get ‘em right off the bat.” To emphasize, he’s well aware of the effect his music has on generations – positive or not – especially in the early 2000’s. Comparing his lyrical ability with the rapid rate of covid is an unexpected yet unique thought.
When he raps “I am sick and I am not gonna cover my mouth next time that I cough” it’s obvious that people will first think of coronavirus. But this line is actually packed with more ammo. Saying that he’s ‘sick’ is slang for being cool/insane, and not physically sick. Equally important, not covering his mouth when he coughs is a metaphor of rebellion. It represents Em being raw and not filtering himself to fit into the mold of a ‘model artist.’
Blame, Shame, and the Demands of Fame
Demands of being a better national influence and being less ‘crass’ are to this day, still being echoed ad nauseam. Conversely, certain fans believe he’s lost his youthful spark and is just yelling at a cloud. By and large, Eminem has always faced an audience with higher standards. Therefore, both fans and critics alike demand and declare more. Though he expresses himself as honestly as possible, he still feels like he can’t win them all. But who can?
In “Book of Rhymes,” the tensions and demands of fame are interwoven with the subliminal messages discussed before. Em raps, “My floor is y’all fool’s ceilings,” as a defense towards his prominence as a reputable rapper. This idea of how no matter how much the newer artists will try to reach the top, he will always be one step ahead. Furthermore, he then voices and mocks his critics, “What happened to Slim? He was no cap with the pen.” This is a reference to critics that refuse to let go of the peroxide-blonde haired Eminem nostalgia; rejecting any other version of him.
“These Demons” ft. MAJ is specific to this topic, regarding the public’s endless demands. Em once again voices the critic’s POV: “I want you to change, but don’t change // I want you to grow up, but don’t age // I want the rage, but don’t get too angry // I want the new, but old Shady.” Either sick of his vulgar lyrics or demanding it’s not vulgar enough, Em is stretched out thin. Consequently, Em’s anger and frustration derives from the hypocrisy of his fans – even those who claim to be loyal. “These demons” refer to his subconscious pressures and fans telling him the limitations of his own work.
A popular subject in hip hop and for good reason, racial injustice unfortunately remains a looming reality. Whether it’s racial profiling or police brutality, only a small fraction of the stories have made the headlines. Since the majority of these stories don’t receive widespread attention, artists take matters into their own hands. This results in powerful social movements such as BLM. But with its intention being unity, on the flip side of the same coin, it also shed more light on the divide between people.
This is evident in a line from “These Demons.” Em raps, “Some people protest, some people riot // But we ain’t never escapin’ this virus.” Presenting the different priorities that people have, Em put into lyrical form that tragedies like to come in pairs. As if racial injustices weren’t enough, a pandemic made its way as a brutal backdrop. It’s important to realize that this combination of atrocities is what further adds to the public’s anger and confusion. As a result, this, more often than not, leads to more chaos.
In “Zeus,” Em pays homage to some of the black lives lost at the hand of police brutality. This serves as a reminder that this country has a lot of work to do in its efforts to rise above injustice. Responsible in his role as a white rapper, Em raps, “And all that we want is racial equality // R.I.P. Laquan McDonald, Trayvon, and Breonna.” He uses his privilege and platform to speak on these issues and hopefully turn some lightbulbs on.
Cancel culture will never exist for Eminem. Not because he tries his best to stay relevant. As a matter of fact, he pays close attention to how the music industry is changing and adapting. He just doesn’t feel pressured to follow trends for the sake of being in the herd. With that being said, Em has proven time and time again that his music is self-indulgent. Of course he wants his fans to be satisfied, but never at the cost of his own opinions. It has to feel right for him, first.
Additionally, something that Eminem takes great pride in is his ability to write his own music. It’s not just the delivery of words or the tone in which you say them. Em believes in owning his craft in writing and rapping – a habit formed from his early days that he still maintains. “Tone Deaf” is a diss to mumble rappers and in a sense, a stubborn self-awareness. Eminem speaks on his decision not to change his tune or try and adapt to how rap or hip hop is today. Being “tone deaf” to mainstream musical trends is what Em takes pleasure in accomplishing.
“Higher” embodies authority and reformation altogether. It’s a sentiment of growth – pertaining to his lyrical and personal success. The last two lines of the chorus are as follows, “All I know it’s every time I think I hit my ceiling // I go higher than I’ve ever f****n’ been.” This highlights the idea of how Eminem keeps breaking his own records. This is truly an embodiment of being your own worst enemy. To clarify, this line represents authority as a double edged sword. No matter how successful you get, you have to keep one-upping yourself. This is because growth and public interest are always changing (think of how many iPhones have been chronologically made).
So when Em produces what he or the crowd believes to be his best work, what usually ends up happening? Some fans love what they’re getting – either because they love the quality of his work or because they are hardcore fans. Others, however, criticize him for not producing better work each time – they expect more. In other words, this sentiment embodies Eminem as a product. His fans are his consumers, and they constantly need him to produce music to their satisfaction.
Rhapsodical & Methodical
Having multiple stage personas weaving in and out of his musical career have been subject to constant criticism. The Slim Shady alter-ego invokes a provocative and obnoxious presence. A hilariously deranged and twisted subconscious, this persona was what actually skyrocketed Em’s career. The common Eminem persona – his stage name – is a neutral identity that gives us classic, influential rap. Finally, Marshall Mathers offers us a more personal, realistic encounter. This is where we learn about his humble beginnings, his struggles with his mom, Kim, Hailie, and drug abuse.
Side B was released in late December of 2020 – as a surprise album (deluxe version of MTBMB). The concepts introduced in the album are carefully representative of the ongoing events that occurred last year. A history lesson compacted into an album, if you will. His public responses to critics and unfit competitors are of course, nothing new if you avidly follow his discography. Neither is his general discontent with global or political matters. In Side B, Eminem falls nothing short of delivering his opinions and daring to be a storyteller.
Eminem is arguably the most controversial rapper alive. Wearing many hats, his vocal personalities include being a mentor, a psychopath, a father, and a hooligan. Unafraid of the looming dread of time, he continues to create masterpieces. And when people want a comeback, he does not disappoint. One thing’s for sure – his strides in hip hop have made a remarkable impact on his career as a rapper.