Eminem’s latest album, Music to Be Murdered By, at times leaned heavily on one of the rapper’s time-honored attributes: a dependence on shock value. In its two most attention-grabbing moments, he raps from the perspective of the Las Vegas gunman who killed 58 people in 2017 (“Darkness”), and throws in an off-hand line making light of the bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, also in 2017 (“Unaccommodating”). As one might expect, some listeners were upset.
On Thursday, Eminem responded to criticism of the record’s subject matter in an open letter posted to his Instagram account. It features a rivulet of blood running down the page, for those looking for additional, if unsubtle, imagery.
In the letter, Eminem begins to elaborate on the themes behind the album, and stops well short of making an apology. Instead, he writes that Music to Be Murdered By is “not for the squeamish” and is “designed to shock the conscience.” He also suggest that many of the critics may be missing his finer points: “Please listen more closely,” he writes. “Goodnight!”
The letter came nearly a week after the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, responded with harsh criticism for the Grande-referencing line. “This is unnecessarily hurtful and deeply disrespectful to the families and all those affected,” he said, in a statement released to the BBC.
“Darkness” also raised criticism upon its release due to the fact that it recreated the sounds of a mass shooting, and because it potentially humanized the shooter. Eminem’s intent was to psychoanalyze the shooter at the center of the Las Vegas mass shooting; it ultimately comes with a gun control message, but criticism still rolled in.
“For Eminem, acknowledgements of our shared humanity may occasionally happen in the abstract,” Jon Dolan wrote of the album for Rolling Stone. “But specific instances in his music are still hard to come by.”