Rapid fire out a window, screams and spattered blood follow. The chilling song closes with a cacophony of news reports about mass violence — the final indications that Eminem is portraying the gunman behind the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, the 2017 attack on a Las Vegas music festival that killed 58 people and injured hundreds more. The perpetrator fired down from a high-rise resort suite before ending his own life, police said.
A message pops up as the music video fades to black.
“When will this end?” it asks. “When people care.” Then there’s the call to action: Register to vote.
The parting words are part of the front-and-center message in “Music to Be Murdered By,” Eminem’s surprise album released early Friday morning. “Darkness” is accompanied on the musician’s website by a list of groups that work to prevent shootings and help their survivors, and a plea to find out “how you can help or learn more about putting an end to senseless gun violence.” Many of the organizations Eminem highlights advocate stricter controls on firearms.
Macabre cover art for the rapper’s 11th album — what looks like blood dripping next to a picture of Eminem holding a hatchet and gun to his temple — sits pinned atop his Twitter account with the words: “It’s your funeral …” The design echoes Alfred Hitchcock’s album of the same name, an inspiration Eminem confirmed with a tweet-nod to “the master, Uncle Alfred.”
It’s the star’s most recent embrace of political stances that may divide his followers. Not long before the 2016 election, he surprised fans with an eight-minute song called “Campaign Speech” that showcased his disdain for Donald Trump. He drew both raves and criticism in 2017 when he followed up with a freestyle that called the president a “racist 94-year-old grandpa” who will “probably cause a nuclear holocaust” — and told listeners to choose between him and the Republican leader.
Eminem is also a vocal critic of the National Rifle Association, the powerful opponent of gun control measures.
“This whole country is going nuts, and the NRA is in our way," he rapped in iHeart Radio appearance in 2018, according to Time. “They’re responsible for this whole production/They hold the strings, they control the puppet/And they threaten to take donor bucks/So they know the government won’t do nothing and no one’s budging.”
He went on to accuse gun owners of loving their weapons "more than our children.”
Eminem’s latest venture into controversial political territory drew praise from advocates for tougher restrictions on guns.
“Grateful to @Eminem for calling attention to our nation’s gun violence crisis and [ways] to solve it,” tweeted Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action — part of Everytown for Gun Safety, one of the organizations that Eminem encourages people to contact on his website.
Grateful to @Eminem for calling attention to our nation’s gun violence crisis and waya to solve it. A link to the music video on Eminem's website encourages viewers to contact or visit several gun violence prevention organizations, including @Everytown. https://t.co/MdKJNU3YaA— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) January 17, 2020
The album and the rapper trended on Twitter as people buzzed about the 20 tracks dropped overnight — just as unexpected as Eminem’s 2018 release, “Kamikaze.” The narrative in “Darkness” got particular attention.
Eminem “just about brought me to tears with this track,” one enthusiast said.
But others found “Music to Be Murdered By” offensive, zeroing in on a lyric from one song that seems to reference the 2017 bombing at a U.K. concert of pop star Ariana Grande. For some, the allusion made light of mass violence.
“But I’m contemplating yelling ‘bombs away’ on the game / Like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting,” Eminem says in “Unaccommodating.”
Figen Murray, who lost her 29-year-old son in the bombing in Manchester, called the song “totally pointless” on Twitter. Another parent of one of those killed told the Manchester Evening News that Eminem’s 2018 freestyle performance referencing the terrorist attack was “disgusting” and “disrespectful.”
Some who came to Eminem’s defense online Friday pointed to his past efforts to help victims in the Manchester attack. The Manchester City Council thanked the singer after he shared a fundraising appeal.
But critics still traced the lyrics to a long-running knack for the provocative.
“Eminem has always sought to shock in whatever way possible,” said James O’Brien, a presenter on the talk station Leading Britain’s Conversation. “I really don’t like this but that is just me being of an age and an outlook where artists setting out to be deliberately shocking … very occasionally they get to me and I am actually shocked.”