Christmas came early this year: Eminem surprise-dropped a new album in the early hours of December 18

Rumors have been swirling for about a month that Eminem was going to drop a new album. Eminem fans were reading the tea leaves, and some of it sounded insane, like “Stan” insane … but whaddya know, they were right. Music to Be Murdered By Side B dropped in the wee hours of Friday, December 18. (The fans had also guessed it was coming on December 18, Friday being his normal day to release albums.) It happened so early that I woke up to the news, and I wake up very early. The YouTube reactor-channels were going apeshit, trying to absorb the album in one sitting.

A music video for one of the songs – “Gnat” – dropped simultaneously. Eminem’s been BUSY.

The album is the “sequel” to Music to Be Murdered By – released in January of this year, before 2020 went off the rails. So that means: Eminem dropped two albums in one year. Both by surprise, with no warning.

Here’s Eminem’s 2020, month by month, and while this may seem obsessive, please consider the number of items on this list. It’s less than 10 actual sightings. He’s like a snowy owl. Or a spirit bear. Being as famous as he is – and being THIS invisible – is no small feat.

First up: Music to Be Murdered By was released on January 17, 2020 – with no advance word, not even a teaser. He’s not really active on social media. In between projects, he completely vanishes. So suddenly: an ALBUM. The album was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 spoken-word with accompanying creepy music album of the same name. Eminem paid tribute to it in multiple ways (clips from the original album, as well as replication of the cover.)

As has become his custom, Eminem did almost no promotion for the album. He did release one video, an insane video for the insane song “Godzilla”.

So that got a lot of chatter. He did only one interview about the album that I can think of, and that was not with the mainstream press. He ignored the mainstream press. The interview he did was a DOOZY, and GLORIOUS, and the NERDIEST-NERDY he has ever been: he was interviewed by Kxng Crooked, a rapper who has his own YouTube talk show called “Crook’s Corner”. Because Crooked is who he is – a formidable lyricist in his own right – the two just nerd-ed out on lyrics, and went song by song through the album. It’s fantastic. Here it is, if you’re interested.

Eminem is barely on social media. He has a Twitter and an Instagram, but he posts maybe once a month, if that. (I love, too, that he has 30+ million followers on Instagram and he follows … zero. FLEX.) Any time he posts, it makes little waves in not just the fandom, but social-media-watchers in general. You post that rarely, and what you post has bigger impact. See? He’s smart. So without any advance promotion – like ZIP, NADA, ZERO, Music to Be Murdered By debuted at #1, and went on to be one of the best-selling albums of the year. Worldwide. I think it’s Top 10 in the UK. It was nominated for just one Grammy (music video). He didn’t win. He hates the Grammy’s, anyway. And so Eminem doesn’t need the mainstream press to do well. One wishes – or I wish – he would do more press, to generate buzz, to get people to listen who might not otherwise listen – but he’s a weird man and he does things his own way. Music to Be Murdered By is a fascinating and risky album.

So. That releases in January. Two months go by, with YouTube reactors going crazy reacting to it, going song by song. Eminem, however, remains totally silent. Doesn’t say a word, outside that “Crook’s Corner” interview. This is probably self-protective but it’s also extremely powerful, if you think about it.

In February, as a total surprise, Eminem showed up at the Oscars and performed “Lose Yourself”, for which he won the Oscar ….. in 2003. Nobody knew he would be there. (Of course people DID know, but nobody talked. His PR is airtight. If something leaks, for the most part he leaks it himself.) He hadn’t gone to the Oscars in 2003 when he won. He stayed home with his young daughter, because she had school the next day. I am not making this up. So nobody knew why he suddenly decided to show up, and – Martin Scorsese’s confused face notwithstanding – everyone seemed happy he was there.

Scorsese’s face got the most press, because the press is stupid. If you only focus on that – and ignore, say, Leonardo DiCaprio giving Eminem a standing ovation – the whole PLACE giving him a standing ovation – then you’re cherry-picking and creating your own little narrow-minded hostile narrative. Stupid. The only thing Eminem said about his appearance had to do with other people: He Tweeted that it was good to see his “Uncle Elton” (one of his best friends) and also he “got to hug Salma Hayek.” And there’s a photo of the moment: Salma Hayek spilled water on him backstage, and was horrified and apologetic. Then they hugged and posed for pictures.

Look at their faces. Lol.

The Oscars are important, though, because – outside of the Crooked interview – it was the only time Eminem was actually seen by the public in the entire year of 2020 (until December, that is). That was IT. Not one photo. Not one image of him out and about, wearing a mask. No paparazzi photos. Nothing. HOW does he manage this? I get he lives in Detroit, and so the paparazzi aren’t really there … but you would think someone with a cell phone would capture him at the grocery store or something? But nope. Nothing. Is it true he never leaves his house? I suppose in 2020, as is true for most of us – those who are doing the RIGHT THING, that is – he didn’t really go anywhere.

Then comes March and everyone goes into lockdown. Right before lockdown, Eminem appeared on Mike Tyson’s podcast, and gives a FASCINATING interview, more open than he has ever been in an interview, ever. Because I’ve seen them all. I posted about it here. I imagine this was recorded earlier, during the “Godzilla” shoot (a video in which Tyson has a cameo). But it launched in early March. Then everything changed and everyone hunkered down at home.

During the months of quarantine, he appeared as a guest artist on two tracks, the first with Kid Cudi, which was exciting.

In his verse, Eminem goes after politicians and he goes off on the selfish motherfuckers – my word, not his – who won’t wear masks:

Fuck’s going on man?
Bunch of half-wits up in office.
Half of us walking around like a zombie apocalypse.
Other half are just pissed off and
Don’t wanna wear a mask and they’re just scoffing.
And that’s how you end up catching the shit off ’em.
I just used the same basket as you shopping.
Now I’m in a fuckin’ casket from you coughin’.

He also did an incredible duet with Jessie Reyez on her debut album, which dropped in March.

So … that was light from the caves.

He was there though, active behind the scenes in voting drives in Detroit – helping to organize opening up empty stadiums to make it easier for people to vote en masse, while still social distancing. He also has been sending food all along to the overworked healthcare workers in Detroit. None of this has been given any publicity. The only reason we know about the second one is because a nurse posted a picture on Instagram of the spaghetti meal (“Mom’s spaghetti” anyone?) delivered to the hospital by Eminem.

Other sightings-but-not-sightings:

He allowed Biden to use “Lose Yourself” in Biden’s final campaign ad before the election. (Eminem almost never lets his music be used – for anything – so it was, how you say, eloquent, that he said Yes to Biden.)

And then there was Obama: in the last two weeks, Obama posted a video on Instagram where he talked about the music that inspired him the most. Jay-Z and Eminem were the two people he name-checked, and then Obama freakin’ recited “Lose Yourself”. (4 or 5 years ago, a video surfaced of Obama listening to “Lose Yourself” backstage before making a speech, so Eminem fans already knew Obama’s love of the song.) Still, it was surreal to watch this:

This brought Eminem out of hiding: he posted a little “thank you” emoji on Instagram.

But again: even with all this – we never *saw him*. We never saw his face. He didn’t post selfies of himself puttering around at home, like other celebrities did. He didn’t post anything. Occasionally he’d shout out a friend who had a birthday. So it was kind of like: WHAT IS HE DOING? WHERE IS HE? Imagine being as famous as he is and never being seen for 8 months. How do you even MANAGE that?

He was in the news in April for a terrifying reason: a lunatic fan broke into his house in the middle of the night, smashing a window in the back of the house, crawling through, and then making his way to Eminem’s bedroom. Eminem was asleep. He woke up and the guy was standing by his bed. !!!! I’m not going to say the guy’s name because fuck him. At first Eminem thought the dark figure looming over him – !!!! – was his nephew but he quickly realized it was not his nephew. He said, “Who are you?” The guy said, “I’m here to kill you.”

The man pays thousands of dollars in security a year. I hope heads rolled after this debacle. Eminem could have been murdered in his sleep, as those security guards were on the property but … not paying attention, not actually doing their jobs?

Thank goodness this crazy man didn’t have a weapon. Eminem got out of bed, and talked with the guy. At least that’s what we’ve heard. If there was some kind of physical scuffle, we haven’t heard about it. Eminem talked calmly with the guy, and slowly led him out of the house. It’s a huge house. What transpired between them on that long walk outside? How terrifying this must have been. Once outside, the slacker security team who by then knew the house had been breached tackled the intruder, holding him until the police arrived.

Mathers never made any public statements about this terrifying event. Total radio silence. None of his posse posted about it either. I imagine if you’re inner-circle you know not to ever reveal anything about this extremely obsessively private man. The breakin was reported on the news, with nary a comment from Eminem. Rumors flew. That Eminem fought the guy, that there was a scuffle, that Eminem was awake, that he was asleep … We only got the details about the guy being in Eminem’s bedroom and him saying “I’m here to kill you” from the clip of the preliminary hearing, when the cop who arrived on the scene took the stand. Eminem was not at the preliminary hearing. (The trial for this maniac is set for April of next year.)

So imagine any other star going through such a terrifying potentially fatal event. You don’t think they’d give an exclusive interview to People about it? Eminem said nothing. Fascinating.

It’s just been weird in this year where so many celebrities have been so visible, on Instagram, on YouTube, staying connected, doing play readings, singing “Imagine” (oh dear) … to have Eminem be just invisible. You almost wanted him to post a picture of himself holding a newspaper with the current date on it – just to confirm he was still alive.

This all led to the rumors that he was working on something. He was silent because he was holed up in the studio.

On December 5th, Eminem showed up – again, totally with no warning – in a very funny SNL skit, a spin on the famous “Stan” video. Pete Davidson plays “Stu”, stalking Santa in an increasingly unhinged manner. Kate McKinnon plays the Dido role from Eminem’s video. And then … at the very end … Eminem.

My favorite detail is that he is wearing a Run DMC Christmas sweater. (Eminem inducted them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

Everyone went crazy. And not just Eminem fans. Everyone. To Eminem fans, it was like “HE’S ALIVE.”

Conspiracy theories raged. In the skit, he sits by a Christmas tree and opens a present. Nothing is as it seems, nothing is just surface-only. Tea leaves were read feverishly: did this mean he would be giving US something for Christmas? i.e. a new album??

I rolled my eyes at this at the time. Come on, nerds, chill out.

But the nerds were right. The SNL appearance, which apparently was thrown together in just a couple of days, was a smart move, in retrospect. Eminem only makes smart moves, when it comes to publicity. He has it down to a science now. Beyonce is the same way. Nothing happens that she doesn’t choose to have happen. And so: literally just a week before Eminem drops a new album, he shows up on SNL, after months of silence, and everyone starts talking about him … he’s top news the week BEFORE the album drops. If he had appeared on SNL in October, or even November, it wouldn’t have had the same dual-impact.

More to come from Fort Knox Eminem.

On December 10th, a photo “leaked”. I’m sure by Eminem himself. Eminem fans know all the photos and we all know when we haven’t seen one before, and this one was new. In the photo, Eminem’s beard is long. (Not crazy about the beard.) It wasn’t a candid photo. It looked like a still from a video shoot. I mean, it was CLEARLY a still from a video shoot, a video no one had seen before.

The Eminem YouTube fanbase went apeshit. Speculation was that he might be putting together a video for one of the songs off of Music to Be Murdered By – released almost a year before. He had only released the one, “Godzilla.” But others thought: Nope. He’s clearly releasing a whole new album AND he is filming a whole new video for a song on this whole new album. Other pictures leaked, which could conceivably have been alternate photos for the cover art of Music to Be Murdered By. Eminem with a cawing bird on his shoulder, identical to a photo of Hitchcock in the same pose.

So … nobody knew for sure. Maybe Music to Be Murdered By, part 2, was coming? Or … was it long-overdue promotion of that first album?

On all counts: the nerds were right. The new photo was from a video shoot (for the song “Gnat” – posted above), and there was a whole new album, AND the picture of Eminem with the bird was for the new album, not just an alternate for the “old” album, “old” being 11 months ago. You got all that?

The whole Hitchcock connection has been fascinating and since film critics ignored the album – which surprised me – I mean … it’s Hitchcock, Jesus, that’s your wheelhouse, that’s your BEAT, isn’t it? I wanted to write something about it for my Film Comment column, and it was on my pitch list, but then Film Comment shut down (sob). Eminem has been connecting himself to Hitchcock for 20 years. He has been referencing “Norman Bates”, comparing himself to Norman, since the beginning of his career. Psycho references abound. Not too hard to figure out why. Eminem’s relationship with his mother is also … troubled. Eminem refers to Alfred Hitchcock as “Uncle Alfred” and this makes me so happy.

Dr. Dre was obsessed with Hitchcock’s original album, which he tripped over at random. He wanted to do something with it. Passed it on to Eminem. Who also got obsessed with it. Music to Be Murdered By is peppered with clips from Hitchcock’s album, including small skits of women screaming, shovels pushing up dirt, all that scary Hitchcock shit Eminem so loves. Hitchcock’s voice is the first and last voice you hear on the album. And it all connects to hip hop in a double-entendre way. “Murdered” isn’t killing someone, although that’s the main meaning of the word. In hip hop parlance, to be “murdered” means to kill it on whatever track you’re on. “He came on that track and just murdered everyone else.” Eminem said once of Young MA, who appears as a guest artist in one of the songs on Music to be Murdered By (part 1): “I saw that freestyle she did – and she just calmly murdered everyone, without even raising her voice.” In other words: clear winner. Nobody can touch her. So every time Hitchcock says “Music …. to be Murdered By“, Eminem has created the context for this beautiful double meaning. You will be MURDERED by Eminem’s songs. You will LOVE being MURDERED by his MUSIC.

I haven’t written about the album – although I have written a lot about him this year – for whatever reason, he helped me get through 2020. But it’s a really good album, with some great guest spots.

And now … another album has come out. I haven’t listened to it yet! The day it dropped was the day of the marathon NYFCC voting. 6.5 hours! As everyone was going BONKERS on YouTube. I’ll catch up with it once I file the two pieces due this week.

In a terrible year, Eminem released two albums. He went into hibernation during lockdown and put the second one together, perhaps with some of the tracks he left off the first album. He always records more than end up on any given album. Maybe he felt a sense of purpose, mission, an urgency. (Which has generally been true: In the last 3 years he has released four albums. That’s WAY beyond his normal pace.)

Maybe he knew we all needed the distraction. Maybe he knew coming through for his fans – not the press, not the critics, but the fans – is one of the responsibilities of being an artist, especially in dark challenging times.

Music to be Murdered By – Side B is here. 16 new tracks! I can’t wait to dig in.

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2 Responses to Christmas came early this year: Eminem surprise-dropped a new album in the early hours of December 18

  1. Larry Aydlette says:

    Thanks for this, I’ve admired but not really gotten into Eminem. But I’ll check this out

    • sheila says:

      Larry – hey! Have you read Christgau on Eminem? They’re archived somewhere on his site. I think he did full-length reviews of MM’s first three albums. His review of Marshall Mathers LP is so good. He’s not un-critical but he takes the time to try to get what Eminem is doing.

      I’ve now listened to the new album a couple of times and am loving it. He’s goofing off a lot – more so than on the one that came out this past January. Much of it is very funny – with his typical insane complex rhymes and homophones. Lots of murmured asides – gasps and laughs and flat-out disagreements with himself – Christgau calls Eminem’s “asides” the reactions of “innocent bystanders” – a phrase that kind of stuck in my head. It’s so true. He does these asides to take the edge off his more inflammatory remarks AND to be like “haha I’m just messing around.”

      My favorite song at this current moment is “Favorite Bitch.” lol I’m sure people will call it misogynistic – but what they will be missing is the song is not about a woman – he rarely writes about women – but about the music industry and the rap game, in general. The rap game is cheating on him with someone younger (the new rappers coming up), and she’s left him, and he’s furious about it. After all he’s done for her! After all the good times they’ve had together! They used to have “booty calls” in the studio, and everything was perfect and fun. How could she leave him?? He’s done with love, it’s OVER. The song is so clever and personal.

      The Rolling Stone review was absolutely ridiculous with a couple of incorrect easily fact-checked statements – one in the tagline – which have since been corrected due to being mocked on social media – like, why assign someone who doesn’t even know this man’s career to review his stuff? It’s so disrespectful. I get that reviewing an album one day after you’ve heard it is challenging. But there’s got to be people who actually know Eminem’s career a little bit better – to try to put into context what he’s doing. Oh well. I know it doesn’t matter. But it’s frustrating!

      And it’s so weird to read a music critic who sounds like a Victorian prudish lady, holding his nose at the assignment. How would this person have handled the Sex Pistols? The Stones? Iggy Pop? You listen to an Eminem album and what did you THINK you were gonna get? It’s fine not to like it, of course. But the disrespectful and sloppy tone of the whole thing is so irritating. I know Rolling Stone isn’t what it used to be, but still.

      Half of the stuff the critic pulled out for criticism in the song “Gnat” were jokes – or at least satire – ironic commentary on Trump’s bullshit during this Covid crisis- This went completely over the critic’s head. Eminem has been so critical of Trump that the Secret Service showed up at his studio to interview him and ascertain whether or not he was actually threatening the President. This critic clearly didn’t know this – even though it was reported in the news and Eminem has rapped about it a couple of times – so the critic was like “Eminem’s parroting Trump’s misinformation about Covid, so now let me pontificate from on high and provide the correct information about Covid just in case any of his easily-duped fans actually think you can get Covid from bats, poor things.” – NO. Eminem is MOCKING Trump for putting OUT that misinformation.

      I give up. They shoulda called me. I am not uncritical either – some of his beats are less than stellar – it’s a general flaw in his work – but at least I have a basis of knowledge about him – for context – and also just respect for someone who’s been around forever.

      it’s kind of a silly album – lots of silly circus-like beats – “Tone Deaf” is hilarious. I like silly Eminem.

      He is definitely not everyone’s “thing.” But I’d be curious to hear your thoughts!

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