COVID, Breonna, Rihanna: A guide to Eminem's new album

Here are the topics, themes and references on Eminem's surprise "Music to Be Murdered By" companion piece

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Eminem released his second album of 2020, "Music to Be Murdered By – Side B," on Friday. The 16-track set is an accompaniment to "Music to Be Murdered By," which was similarly released without warning in January. 

The album finds Eminem rapping about a host of topics, from COVID-19 to his veteran status in hip-hop, while rattling off references to Colin Kaepernick, Harvey Weinstein and more. 

Eminem performs "Lose Yourself" at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Here's a quick guide to what to expect on Eminem's latest. 

Pandemic rhymes: There are a host of references to COVID-19, quarantine and the pandemic throughout the album, making "Side B" a true product of 2020. One example, from "These Demons," in which he addresses both the Black Lives Matter marches and, er, other forms of 2020 protests: “This pandemic got us in a recession, we need to reopen America/ black people dying, they want equal rights, white people want to get haircuts.”

Sorry, Rihanna: In "Zeus," Em offers a rare apology, and it's directed toward Rihanna, his frequent collaborator and one-time tour-mate. Last year, a previously unreleased Em verse was leaked to the internet which found Em siding with Chris Brown after his 2009 assault on the singer. "Long as I re-promise to be honest, and wholeheartedly, apologies, Rihanna/ for that song that leaked, I'm sorry, Ri, It wasn't meant to cause you grief, regardless, it was wrong of me," Em raps. 

Uncle Alfred: Like its predecessor, "Music to Be Murdered By" draws inspiration from (and shares a title with) Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 spoken word album. Hitchcock's sampled voice appears in several interludes on the album, and "Alfred's Theme" is built around a sample of "Funeral March of a Marionette," French composer Charles Gounod's 1870s piece that would later become the deceptively playful theme song to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." 

Eminem's "Music to be Murdered By: Side B" arrived at midnight on Friday.

Dr. Dre raps: Eminem's mentor Dr. Dre drops a verse on "Guns Blazing," one of his few vocal appearances since his 2015 album "Compton." On it, Dre seems to address his ex-wife Nicole Young, who filed for divorce from Dre earlier this year after 24 years of marriage. "Here, my dear," Dre raps — a reference to Marvin Gaye's 1978 album, royalties from which were funneled to his ex-wife following their divorce — and he compares her to Ginger, Sharon Stone's character from "Casino." 

Hip-hop love song: Like Common's "I Used to Love H.E.R." — and Em's own "25 to Life," from his "Recovery" album — "Favorite B----" is a love song where the subject is hip-hop itself. In it, Em has soured on his one-time sweetheart, and longs for better times with the love of his life. 

Taunting Secret Service: In "Gnat," Em puts together some rhymes that could earn him another visit from Secret Service. (Em previously got in hot water with Secret Service over some of the material on 2018's "Kamikaze.") "Mic, pencil get killed," he says on "Gnat," which sounds an awful lot like "Mike Pence will get killed." He goes on: "If you're hypersensitive, I wasn't referencing the vice president, chill/ I mean my penmanship at times tends to get ill, violence but with skill/ that's why I hints what I write ends up with the mic and pencil gettin' killed." Whether that explanation stops him from getting a knock on his front door remains to be seen.   

Another Mariah reference? Almost: On "These Demons," Em nearly references one of his favorite subjects, Mariah Carey, but stops short of mentioning the chart-topper. "I got a question, what rhymes with Pariah?" he asks, but then switches directions. "Um, uh, Lego?" he answers, and Chapter 642 of the pair's feud is avoided, for now. 

Aging: Throughout the album, Eminem references getting older, and the ways internet commenters and young fans have turned their backs on him, trashing his new work while praising his old material. In "Zeus," he warns younger stars such as Drake, Future and Migos that it will eventually happen to them, too — and in the same song, he exacts a little revenge on one-time ally Snoop Dogg, who was dismissive of Em in a July radio interview ("last thing I need is Snoop doggin' me, man, dog, you was like a damn god to me/ man, not really, I had "dog" backwards," Em says). Still, Em's best lyric about aging comes on the song "Tone Deaf": "I'm 48 now," he says, "that 5-0's startin' to creep up on me like a patrol car." 

"Higher" learning: The Eminem-produced track "Higher" has a familiar stomp that is reminiscent of "The Eminem Show" standout "Til' I Collapse," which was never released as a single but ranks as one of Em's most popular singles online and is nearing 1 billion streams on Spotify. ("Lose Yourself" was his first track to achieve that lofty milestone.) 

Pop culture rollcall: In addition to references to (obvious) targets such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, Eminem gets serious by mentioning a host of victims of police violence on the album, including Laquan McDonald, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor and more, whom he lists off in "Zeus." And in "Black Magic," he references Colin Kaepernick: "“I ain’t gon’ stand for that (expletive), like Kaep for the National Anthem,” Em raps.

"Music to Be Murdered By – Side B" is now available on major streaming services.