The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 279,000 album-equivalent units in its first week. Subsequently, Eminem became the first artist to have ten consecutive number-one albums in the US and one of six artists to have released at least ten US number-one albums. Also, the album reached the number one at 16 countries. Music critics praised Eminem's lyrical abilities and the improved production after Kamikaze, while criticism directed towards the album's formulaic song structure, lack of innovation, and shock value.
On December 18, 2020, Eminem released a deluxe version of the album, named Music to Be Murdered By – Side B, without any prior announcement. It includes the original album's 20 tracks along with 16 new ones. It includes a variety of features, with guest appearances from Skylar Grey, DJ Premier, Ty Dolla $ign, Dr. Dre, Sly Pyper, MAJ, and White Gold.
Recording and production
In 2019, A&R representative Mike "Heron" Herard of Shady Records pursued production contributions for a new album by Eminem. This was a departure from his usual process at his company BeatleHustle, which manages sample composers who send their beats to high-profile producers. Eventually, a group of producers had been enlisted for the project, including Eminem's longtime creative partners Royce da 5'9" and Dr. Dre, as well as the latter's colleagues – Dawaun Parker, Lawrence Jr., Dem Jointz, Mista Choc, DJ Silk, and Erik Griggs – and young, burgeoning producers – D.A. Doman (producer of Tyga's "Taste") and Ricky Racks (producer of Future's "Crushed Up").
According to a January 2020 Rolling Stone feature on the album's making, "Lawrence Jr. has been working sporadically with Dr. Dre since the rapper-producer left Death Row Records in the Nineties; starting in the summer, the drummer went into the studio with the rest of Dr. Dre's team to create a suite of tracks that ended up on the back half of Music to Be Murdered By." Lawrence Jr. told the magazine, "Dem Jointz is a producer, Eric Griggs plays keys, bass, and guitar, Dawaun Parker is a keyboard player and producer, myself, I'm a drummer. We know Dre’s instincts, and he’s the coach, the orchestrator."
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Music to Be Murdered By, which inspired this album's title and alternate cover
The album's title and alternative cover art share the same concept as the 1958 album Alfred Hitchcock Presents Music to Be Murdered By, which interspersed audio of the director Alfred Hitchcock's wry, dark humor into easy listening instrumentals arranged by Jeff Alexander. Eminem tweeted an image of the 1958 album cover featuring Hitchcock holding an axe and a gun to his head and stated that his album's alternative cover was "inspired by the master, Uncle Alfred!" Audio of Hitchcock's voice from the 1958 album is sampled in the interludes "Alfred" and "Alfred (Outro)" and the beginning of the track "Little Engine". Both the 1958 and 2020 albums end with Hitchcock stating, "If you haven’t been murdered, I can only say better luck next time. If you have been, goodnight, wherever you are."Mark Beech of Forbes magazine connected the alternate cover to this album's concept of murder and violence.
The album has three covers; the standard cover features Eminem posing with a shovel, wearing a suit and a fedora. The album's alternate cover features Eminem pointing a gun and holding an axe to his head. The physical CD cover features Eminem, hatless, posing with his hands behind his back. In the packaging, Eminem dedicates the album to rapper Juice Wrld, who died from an accidental drug overdose on December 8, 2019, and Eminem's former bodyguard CeeAaqil Allah Barnes who also died. Juice Wrld's feature on "Godzilla" marked his first posthumous release.
Music to Be Murdered By was met with generally positive reviews, according to HipHopDX journalist Aaron McKrell. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from professional publications, the album received an average score of 64, based on 17 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". The aggregator AnyDecentMusic? assessed the critical consensus with an average score of 5.8 out of 10.
Reviewing for The Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick said Music to Be Murdered By "offers over an hour of the world's greatest rapper blasting away on all cylinders", hailing it as "the first great album of 2020, so lethally brilliant [that] it should be a crime". Scott Glaysher of HipHopDX was also positive, and compared the album to Eminem's previous bodies of work, stating in his review that "Music To Be Murdered By is far from the star-studded, commercially sustainable album Recovery was, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. On this album, despite its handful of flaws, Em shows strong signs of adapting to the times through modern musical choices and smarter songwriting."Consequence of Sound's Dan Weiss was generally positive, and, about the album's themes, he said that "If he's figuring out from scratch how to be a compelling artist again, Eminem's improved the caliber of his beats and guests, taking stands against the right day-to-day injustices, toning down the tasteless (with the exception of the already-infamous Ariana line, of course), and rapping with the manic precision of someone who just snorted a whole sandcastle of cocaine and Vyvanse. If only a single minute of it was as hilarious or bracing as Chris D'Elia's impression of him." Similarly, Fred Thomas of AllMusic opined, "Music to Be Murdered By sees Eminem pulling himself out of Kamikaze's wreckage somewhat, though he still falls victim to moments of willful dumbness and a tedious self-obsession that's become par for the course. On the album's best tracks, there are still hints of the fire that made Eminem a rap legend."
Entertainment Weekly's Christopher R. Weingarten was more critical, stating that, "As a whole, Music to Be Murdered By is as hit-and-miss as anything Eminem has released this side of the millennium. But remove the skits, the relationship songs, the family songs, the morose gun control song, and the quirky Ed Sheeran club goof and you still have 36 solid minutes of the daffy, one-of-a-kind rap genius that keeps captivating true-school heads and longtime fans. Or, if you'd like, keep it all and you still have the most solid work he's done in a few years."NME's Jordan Basset was ambivalent towards the album's lyrical themes and stated, "He splits the difference on Music To Be Murdered By, indulging his immature ego (griping at bad reviews, stirring controversy for the sake of it) even as he offers salient social criticism and admits his missteps. He's ready to pass on hard-earned wisdom before running his mouth like he hasn't learned his own lessons. And he offers casual fans a hook or two before embarking on another lyrical work-out." Paul A. Thompson of Pitchfork said that the album "is not, strictly speaking, a good record—Eminem hasn't made one of those in a decade—but his latest boasts enough technical command and generates just enough arresting ideas to hold your attention."
The lyrics of "Unaccommodating", in which Eminem referenced the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, drew significant criticism, with many critics finding the lyrics objectionable. The mayor of Manchester denounced the song's lyrics, describing them as "unnecessarily hurtful and deeply disrespectful." The lyrics also drew widespread criticism from victims' relatives and others involved in the attack.
Roisin O'Connor of The Independent gave the album a negative review, and criticized the album by saying, "Eminem belittles the trauma of a then 26-year-old Ariana Grande for kicks on "Unaccommodating" by comparing himself to the Manchester Arena bomber. The sour taste of this track lingers well beyond the album's centrepiece, "Darkness", which is intended as a searing critique of America's toxic gun culture. Instead, his use of gunfire and explosion samples feels grossly exploitative."
In the United States, Music to Be Murdered By debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, earning 279,000 album-equivalent units (including 117,000 copies as traditional album sales) in its first week. This became Eminem's tenth US number-one album and made him one of six artists to have released at least ten number-one albums. The album also accumulated a total of 217.6 million on-demand streams for the album’s tracks. As of December 2020, Music to Be Murdered By had sold over 1,053,000 equivalent units, including 249,000 in pure sales.
Eventually, Music to Be Murdered By was the 9th best-selling album (in pure sales) of 2020 in the United States, with 287,000 copies.
The album debuted at number-one in other countries. It became Eminem's 11th number-one album in Canada, while debuting atop the Canadian Albums Chart with 33,000 album-equivalent units. The album remained at the top spot in Canada for four straight weeks, the longest for an Eminem album since Recovery. It also entered at number one on the UK Albums Chart with first week sales of 36,000 album equivalent units, making Eminem the first artist to release 10 consecutive number one albums in the UK. He also achieved a chart double with Godzilla debuting at number one on the UK Singles Chart.
On December 18, 2020, a deluxe edition of the album, titled Music to Be Murdered By – Side B, was released. It is a Side B version to the album. Similar to Eminem's previous two albums, it was released without any prior announcement. It contains a bonus disc with sixteen new tracks, with guest appearances by Skylar Grey, DJ Premier, Ty Dolla $ign, Dr. Dre, Sly Pyper, MAJ, and White Gold. The album's release was accompanied by a music video for "Gnat", directed by Cole Bennett. The music video for "Higher" premiered on January 23, 2021. Lyric videos for "Tone Deaf" and "Alfred's Theme" were also released. In May 2021, a remix of "Killer", featuring Jack Harlow and Cordae, was released.
The week the deluxe edition was released, the album saw a 1,125% boost in sale units from the previous week, moving 94,000 units. This brought the album back up to the 3rd spot on the Billboard 200 album chart in its 48th week, a 196 spot jump from the week previous, breaking a 50-year-old Billboard 200 record previously held by Bob Dylan with Self Portrait (1970) which made a 193 spot jump.
Side B was met with generally positive reviews.Robert Christgau appraised the release as "more proof that Eminem loves rhyme as compulsively as MF DOOM himself", adding that, "If he’s not as playful or surreal about it as Doom, he sure does enunciate better, with a timbral dexterity never quashed by the rock-inflected production style that Dr. Dre laid on him decades ago and oversees here." While highlighting lyrics from "Alfred's Theme", "Tone Deaf", "Black Magic", and "These Demons" on Side B, he also observed "more braggadocio and less delight in these words for their own sake than in the Side A's".
^"Czech Albums – Top 100". ČNS IFPI. Note: On the chart page, select 202004 on the field besides the word "Zobrazit", and then click over the word to retrieve the correct chart data. Retrieved January 28, 2020.