Mike “Heron” Herard keeps an email list of roughly 200 of the best producers making music today. As the founder of the company BeatHustle, he routinely sends these producers potential samples made by a team of crack musicians; some of these loops have made it on to hit albums from Beyoncé and Migos. Last year, instead of feeding raw material to hitmakers, Herard reversed the process. “Hey, I’m emailing in my role as an A&R at Shady Records,” he said. “We’re looking for beats for an Eminem record.”
That album, Music to Be Murdered By, arrived suddenly last week. Multiple beats on the album came from Herard’s email request, including “Godzilla,” a steamroller anchored by a hook from Juice WRLD that debuted at Number Two on Spotify’s Top 200, “Those Kinda Nights,” a pop-radio-ready cut with a hook from Ed Sheeran, and “Farewell,” which builds around a sample of the classic Jamaican single “No Games,” by Serani.
Hip-hop’s mainstream has mostly abandoned the virtuosic displays of speed and diabolically shifty rhyme schemes that made Eminem popular at the end of the Nineties, but he continues to rack up Number One albums anyway — Music to Be Murdered By is on track to become his 10th by a wide margin. “You have flavors every week [in hip-hop] — the mumble rap, this thing, the other thing,” says Lawrence Jr., a drummer and producer who has worked with Eminem for more than a decade. “Eminem is John Coltrane in a world of Kenny G. While some people don’t know the difference between those two, a lot of people still do.”
Production duties on the 20-track Music to Be Murdered By were split between Eminem’s longtime collaborators — Royce da 5’9″, as well as Dr. Dre and his associates, a group that includes Dawaun Parker, Lawrence Jr., Dem Jointz, and Erik Griggs — and newcomers on hot streaks: D.A. Doman, who has been in high demand since producing Tyga’s comeback hit, “Taste,” and Ricky Racks, the man partially responsible for Future’s “Crushed Up.”
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. “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,” Lawrence Jr. explains. “We know Dre’s instincts, and he’s the coach, the orchestrator.”
“We’re a jam band of producers,” adds Parker, who is credited as a co-producer on six Music to Be Murdered By tracks. “That’s what makes us unique when we’re coming up with a groove.”
The ensemble created musical beds heavy on jagged drums and eerie synthesizer lines; the vocals were mostly cut separately. Eminem, Lawrence Jr. says, “rarely gets in the studio with us. He comes in sometimes — not to be like, ‘Do this, do that,’ just to vibe a little bit. We create the music. They deal with the vocals, whether it’s him by himself or him with Dre, [on their own].”
Heron’s experience working with Eminem is similar. “I’m not sitting here with [Eminem] like, ‘You need an uptempo beat from a kid based in Miami right now,’” Heron says. “He’s the artist, and I’m just here lugging around cans of really cool paint that I think he’ll like.”
If Dr. Dre’s crew-based approach brings to mind old-school record making — “Put John Coltrane and Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock and Paul Chambers together, you’re gonna get magic,” Lawrence Jr. says, “and it’s the same thing with this unit” — Doman’s experience reflects a more modern mode of production: He makes batches of beats, often alone, night after night after night.
But in truth there might not be that much difference between these two styles. “We’re making so many things, a lot of stuff is getting recorded at different and various times, and a lot of the experiences blend together,” Parker says. He remembers when Anderson .Paak showed up to cut vocals that appeared on the menacingly singsong “Lock It Up” — “We wanted to do something that had a bounce beat, something on the less-complex side,” Parker recalls — but most of the music-making is a blur. That’s not surprising when you consider Lawrence Jr. says he worked on over 400 musical ideas for Eminem’s Relapse album alone.
Similarly, Doman doesn’t even remember the sessions when he made “Godzilla” and “Those Kind of Nights,” though he thinks they’re from “late 2018, early 2019.” “I make one [beat], move on to the next one,” Doman says. He sent them off and only discovered he was about to be on the next Eminem album when the rapper’s team asked for paperwork.
Doman’s third credit on Music to Be Murdered By is more recent: He wrote the hook of “No Regrets” in November. Unlike the club weapons Doman has been known for recently, “No Regrets” is a rap ballad, full of plangent guitar and distorted 808s. “I sent it to two other demo singers I usually work with, but it didn’t quite work out — it didn’t quite get the emotion that I was singing it with, even though I can’t sing well,” Doman says.
On the third attempt, the songwriter Jim Lavigne managed to do the demo justice, and he suggested that Doman ask Don Toliver — who’s signed to Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack label — to record the chorus. “I hustled at the 11th hour to get Don on it; he hopped on five days ago,” Doman says.
Doman is now a proud recent addition to an informal club of producers with Eminem placements. He’s not surprised that the rapper is still headed for Number One at age 47. “Now, so many rappers are melodic; that’s something new,” Doman says. “But if you’re great at rapping, there’s always gonna be a place for you.”
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