“Darkness” was released as a response to the recent epidemic of gun deaths in the United States. As of 2016 statistics, the U.S. was in the top 20 countries for death rate by firearms, with over 37,000 deaths. The ending narration pulls from news reports on nine shootings from the past decade across such states as Texas, California, Illinois, Maryland, and Nevada. Eminem explicitly wrote this song as a protest of not only the small ways in which society can enable shooters, but particularly the lax gun ownership laws which allow them to carry out acts of mass violence.

The song explicitly addresses the state of gun laws with lyrics such as, “Finger on the trigger, but I’m a licensed owner / With no prior convictions, so law says sky’s the limit / So my supply’s infinite, strapped like I’m a soldier.” The problem here appears to be the U.S. gun lobby and, by extension, a government incapable of enacting common-sense regulation to protect its citizens, which instead forces them to a state of learned paranoia. Eminem has drawn criticism from certain outlets for his message, given that while he clearly abhors the act of violence that was the Mandalay Bay shooting, his depiction of the shooter doesn’t criticize so much as objectively represent, and he instead criticizes the institutions that empowered his actions. Another song on Music to Be Murdered By, titled “Unaccommodating,” has Eminem rapping, “I’m contemplating yelling ‘bombs away’ on the game/Like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting,” a verse which many, including the mayor of Manchester, have called disrespectful.

Media has been quick to suggest that Eminem’s attention is misdirected, and that his depiction and discussion of violence is glorifying and counterproductive. However, he has openly suggested that this is part of a pattern of his causing controversy in order to undress social issues and create conversation. Eminem released a written message along with the album which says, in part, “In today’s wonderful world murder has become so common place that we are a society obsessed and fascinated by it…,” “…Certain selections have been designed to shock the conscience, which may cause positive action. Unfortunately, darkness has truly fallen upon us.”

The problem of gun violence is as widespread as ever, and I believe Eminem sought to elicit a reaction from media outlets on the issue, to showcase a system of discourse that he finds inadequate. A writer of a recent article on the song for The Atlantic ends by saying, “If Eminem jolts his fans into taking action to support gun control, that effect will have to be weighed against this grim fact: One of today’s best-selling musicians has humanized the perpetrator of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.” Yet, it is difficult to argue that a sense of alienation and dehumanization does not drive people to these horrendous acts of misanthropic violence in the first place. Overall, it seems that society’s reaction to “Darkness” is a key part of its larger message, which I will discuss in the fourth listen.