A tale of two MCs
On January 17th, two famous rappers dropped new albums. One arrived without a hint of warning. The other had been announced just nine days prior. Both are chart-topping white artists who fully admit that skin color contributed to their success in a realm in which they are a minority. Neither is shy about detailing struggles with chemical dependency and the havoc it wreaked on their lives. And there the similarities end. In fact, for two records of the same genre, they stand worlds apart. Quite literally.
The unforeseen Music to Be Murdered By, with numerous references to mass shootings and Alfred Hitchcock voice-over samples, is the 11th LP of Eminem’s eminent career. Mac Miller's posthumous Circles came out almost two years to the day on which he would have turned 28. The lyrical ruminations allow listeners to peer into each artist’s psyche from the vantage point of self-reflection and their place in the world as they see it. The results make for a fine character study.
Before his accidental drug overdose, Miller spoke and wrote openly about the importance of continuing to grow and evolve both personally and musically. His soul laid bare, a number of lyrics here seem prescient when recorded, heartbreaking in retrospect. The overall takeaway is an uplifting, warts-and-all honesty. With a serious assist from Jon Brion's astute production, not to mention Miller singing nearly as much as he raps, Circles unfolds as a soulful R&B album arguably more so than hip-hop. His sixth LP stands as another step forward in the life of a young man trying to figure it out, yet fully aware he had a long way to go.
Meanwhile, after the opening track featuring beats by Dre, Eminem takes musical cues and guest artists from the scene both past and present while touching on topics sometimes more than 20 years old. Mr. Mathers also appears most interested in showcasing his speed-rap, which frankly, in hip-hop parlance, he murders. The clever, turn of phrase brilliance he continuously employs works both to his advantage and detriment. After listening to Miller's heartfelt approach, Em's references to Ariana Grande’s 2017 Manchester concert fall flat. (Side note: Grande was also Miller's girlfriend at the time.) So too do his continued shots at critics, a recurring theme throughout his catalog. The ever-present anger, as has long been the case, is occasionally off-putting. It's one thing to be a 20-something trying to make a name for yourself. It's another to be on your way to a record 10th straight chart-topping album and still bitch about the same things. I guess if it ain't broke, don't fix it. That said, Music to Be Murdered By is his best work since 2013's The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Chock-full of one-liners most mortals would kill to coin a fraction of, repeated listenings are a necessity simply to parse out the dexterous density housed within.
Both albums serve a purpose. You want to get hyped and listen to a man take the English language where few others can? Call Slim. You want to get contemplative and hear a man enduring the downs but looking for the ups in life? Dial up Mac. The immortal legend seems intent on making sure you don't forget his place in the hip-hop pantheon when his time on Earth eventually concludes. The deceased rapper just wanted to take it one day at a time. Personally I’ve never been the biggest Mac Miller fan. I’ve enjoyed Em since high school. Yet Circles is the one that keeps bringing me back. One day is all we're assured of anyway.
Mac Miller - Circles
Eminem - Music to Be Murdered By
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