In short, from the beginning and as usual, Eminem allows himself to be read on many different levels. In fact, he is stuck between his need to maintain a sassy Rap God image, but also his desire for – his obsession with – respectability.
The man who used to mock pop culture and its symbols now invites Ed Sheeran onto Those Kinda Nights, continues his collaboration with singer Skylar Grey on Leaving Heaven, takes up easy listening sounds on the disastrous Farewell, and fuels increasingly futile rivalries on Premonition Intro. But he knows who to surround himself with, and summons legends for the track Yah Yah (his good friends Royce Da 5’9, Black Thought, Q-Tip and collaborator Denaun), and develops a complex cinematic rap woven from interludes (Alfred, Stepdad...) and excerpts of convoluted conversations, well-staged by renowned producers such as Illmind, Dr. Dre or The Alchemist.
All is not lost, Eminem still has something left in his tank. So much so that Music to be Murdered By enjoys a welcome deluxe version where Eminem abandons gratuitous technique, focusing on lyrics and performance. Perhaps it is when there is less at stake, when he is freer, that he is at his best. Book of Rhymes (produced by DJ Premier), the massive She Loves Me, or the destabilising Tone Deaf would almost have us say that this is the better tracklist. And, after all, why not?