Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2 In 1: Revisiting DMX's "It's Dark And Hell Is Hot" and "Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood"



Although he got his start back as far as 1991, including a spot in The Source magazine's Unsigned Hype column and a notable single in "Born Loser" (which will be included below), the true start of DMX in my view began with Mic Geromino's classic "Time To Build", which also included Jay-Z and Ja Rule:




When 1997 arrived, with each guest appearance, he got better/aggressively refined and the buzz surrounding him grew stronger heading into 1998.








When you look at all of these songs, you can see why the buzz surrounding DMX was strong and this was already an impressive track record when it comes to guest appearances. I know my intro to this post will be more shorter than I thought, but I'll have a lot to say about his 1998 debut, "It's Dark And Hell Is Hot", and to say it was hyped well and heavily anticipated would be an understatement. Let's begin!!


Release date: May 12, 1998 (I bought this from Circuit City on 7/4/98, and it's the same CD I own today.)




1. INTRO
PRODUCED BY IRV GOTTI & LIL' ROB

This has always been one of the dopest intros I've ever heard and it was simply a GREAT way to begin such an anticipated album. Nuff said. (Note: I normally don't rate "intros", but I'm making an exception in this case.)
*5 out of 5*
 


2. RUFF RYDERS' ANTHEM
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ

 "Stop, drop/Shut em down open up shop/Oh, no, that's how Ruff Ryders roll!"


Oh man, I still remember myself and others going absolutely crazy when we first heard this classic anthem. When I see and/or hear the words "Ruff Ryders", this banger immediately comes to mind. The album's intro already got things started on a hype note, and it was a nice move to have this follow it. Amazing.
*5 out of 5*



3. FUCKIN' WIT' D
PRODUCED BY PK

"What's on y'all niggas minds, fuckin wit me/I know somebody has told you bout fuckin wit D/Stuck in a tree is what you will be like a cat/And I'm the dog at the bottom, lookin up and what's that/Your worst nightmare...."

"You hear my shit all in the street, I'm kinda hot right now"

"Since I run wit the devil, I'm one wit the devil/And I stay doin dirt so I'm gon come wit the shovel"


Yes indeed, at this point, his music was all in the street and he was more than "kinda hot", lol. Fast paced but an incredibly dope banger.
*5 out of 5*



4. THE STORM (SKIT)

5. LOOK THRU MY EYES
PRODUCED BY PK, CO-PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE

This was the first of a few introspective songs on the album, but this one carried an aggressive twist. X was likely one of the only MCs who could bring an aggressive style to an introspective track and make it work. 
*5 out of 5*



6. GET AT ME DOG
FEATURING SHEEK
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE



First and foremost, this was and still is a classic banger and a GREAT choice as the album's first single. Secondly, much like hearing "Ruff Ryders Anthem" for the first time, this is another one of X songs that I went crazy for, no doubt. And thirdly, X did throw "half a bar" to K-Solo in a feud over who was the actual creator of the song "Spellbound". I won't go too much into that, however, the only thing I'll say is while K-Solo had a few decent/good verses in his, uh, career, he was never a match for X on the mic. GREAT stuff here and that "scary movie" line in the 3rd verse is one of my favorite lines, lol. (Note: I never believed this song started as a "2Pac diss".)
*5 out of 5*



7. LET ME FLY
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE

"Either let me fly or give me death/Let my soul rest, take my breath/If I don't fly, I'm gon die anyway/I'm gon live on but I'll be gone any day"


That hook says all you need to know about this one. It does have an introspective vibe on the same level as "Look Thru My Eyes".
*5 out of 5*



8. X-IS COMING
PRODUCED BY PK

I want to address the "rape" line from the second verse. I didn't approve of it in 98 and I still feel the same in 2014, it was not funny nor entertaining. Otherwise, this song all around was vintage DMX over a bangin' PK production.
*4 out of 5*


9. DAMIEN
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE

X was one of very few artists who switched up his voice on a song, to a point where you didn't know whether it was him or not. It actually didn't take me a long time to figure that out like Biggie's "Gimme The Loot", lol. Furthermore, in hindsight, this "Damien" series was quite the creative concept in nature by X. I was reading a review that stated "DMX was either talking to the devil or it was the devil within himself", even though in the song X says Damien wants "to be his friend". It's entertaining and captivating at the same time, to be continued of course.
*5 out of 5*



10. HOW'S IT GOIN' DOWN
PRODUCED BY PK

This was truly a good joint for the ladies and it wasn't out of place on an album like this (it balances things out). Believe it or not loyal reader, my mom was a big DMX fan back in the day and she still likes this song today. 
*4 out of 5*

11. MICKEY (SKIT)

12. CRIME STORY
PRODUCED BY IRV GOTTI & LIL' ROB

X flexes his storytelling muscles here to successful (and hilarious) results. The story is easy to follow and understand, complete with an ending that'll make you say "man" like X did, lol. The sample courtesy of Edwin Starr's "Easin' In" gives this one a smooth touch too.
*5 out of 5*



13. STOP BEING GREEDY
PRODUCED BY PK

"These other rap cats will give a nigga room!"


And when you go back to how hot X was in 98, those other rap cats had no choice but to give him room, no question. "Y'all been eatin' long enough now stop being greedy/Let's keep it real partner, give to the needy", true words coming from a hungry, aggressive MC on this banger.
*5 out of 5*



14. ATF
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE

Oh man, the only flaw with this one is that it was TOO short. X brings it again with the storytelling, this time on the run from the ATF. Give this joint 2 or 3 more minutes with either the same or a different ending, it's a surefire "5 out of 5".
*4 out of 5*



15. FOR MY DOGS
FEATURING BIG STAN, LOOSE, KASINO, AND DRAG-ON
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE

I remember not being too crazy about this one back then, but after a while it grew on me a little more. This was a showcase for the guests (including the debut of Drag-On) and all involved brought different yet decent styles to the table.
*4 out of 5*


16. I CAN FEEL IT
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE

This Phil Collins sampled song, courtesy of "In The Air (Tonight)" gives this one an introspective feel. It was also another one that I wasn't crazy about at first, but after a few listens it grew on me.
*5 out of 5*



17. PRAYER (SKIT)
This first prayer was the most moving of them all.



18. THE CONVO
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE

One word to describe this song is deep. I consider this a prequel of sorts to "Ready To Meet Him", which will come full circle when we get to the second album.
*5 out of 5*


19. NIGGAZ DONE STARTED SOMETHING
FEATURING THE LOX AND MASE
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE

I've never seen this confirmed anywhere in 98 or since, but I always had a feeling this song was made in either 96 or 97, specifically regarding Mase, because he sounded different and a little more aggressive here than anything he did on Bad Boy Records. Furthermore, Styles, Sheek, and Jadakiss came through with dope verses, but man, X KILLED this joint with his closing verse and it remains my favorite X verse ever. Definitely one of MANY dope collaborations in 98 and an awesome way to close this album.
*5 out of 5*

 


Note to aspiring artists: when you have a strong buzz complete with a respectable track record of guest appearances, AND a hit single blazing radio and TV, THIS is how you make a debut album. DMX fired on every cylinder you could possibly imagine with this 5 star album, his best ever. This album exceeded every expectation I had when I first bought it and some 16 years later, it still holds up today and has aged WELL (dated, I don't think so). Also, X came at a time when a more aggressive vibe and sound was needed in hip hop and he filled that void so well it's not even funny. I also recall an issue of The Source in the summer of 1998 that had a picture of this album cover and at the bottom it said: 

THE STREETS HAVE SPOKEN
PLATINUM


It deserved it, as well as the 251,000 units it moved in its first week, and the 4X Platinum certification it received on December 18, 2000. This was without a doubt one of the top 5 best albums of 1998, one hell of a debut. Classic.





Release date: December 22, 1998 (I bought this the week after its release from Target, December 31st.)



1. MY NIGGAS (SKIT)
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

This was a brief, yet dope way to start the album. "Some niggas that you don't wanna try, my niggas".


2. BRING YOUR WHOLE CREW
ADDITIONAL VOCALS BY ANTHONY "PK" FIELDS
PRODUCED BY PK


"Now I'm gon have to get you kid and split your wig wit the machete/I bring beef to niggas and string em out like spaghetti"


Hot DAMN what a fast paced banger this was/is. X was still aggressive as ever here, not missing one step.
*5 out of 5*

"I just love when a nigga bring his whole crew/It's just a bigger piece of cake for me to chew a hole through!"



3. PAC MAN (SKIT)

4. AIN'T NO WAY
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

X was on such a roll at this point (more on it later) that there indeed was no way anyone could stop his flow or shine. Very good stuff here.
*4 out of 5*


5. WE DON'T GIVE A FUCK
FEATURING JADAKISS & STYLES
PRODUCED BY IRV GOTTI & DAT NIGGA REB

The crew had no time or patience for "fake friends" or those who were down at some point, but overall couldn't ride for the cause. This would later define the Ruff Ryders ---> "Ryde or die".
*4 out of 5*


6. KEEP YOUR SHIT THE HARDEST
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

An apply titled banger. X certainly had no problem keepin' his shit the hardest, no doubt. This joint wouldn't have been out of place at a party either.
*4 out of 5*


7. COMING FROM
FEATURING MARY J. BLIGE
PRODUCED BY PK

A wise man once said "if you don't know where you come from, you damn sure don't know where you're going". That one line is the main premise here. X and Ms. Blige had good chemistry too.
*4 out of 5*


8. IT'S ALL GOOD
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

This was clearly a step down from "How's It Goin' Down" and the ONLY low point on this album. Let's move on.
*3 out of 5*


9. THE OMEN
ADDITIONAL VOCALS BY MARILYN MANSON
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

I refer to this one as "Damien II", cause that's essentially what it is. It picks up where the first part left off. The first time around we saw X embracing Damien, here he's seemingly trying to distance himself from Damien, even with all the "help" he's getting. I really like the running storyline and it's a bit better than its predecessor. And yes, Marilyn Manson on the hook added a little something too.
*5 out of 5*



10. SLIPPIN'
ADDITIONAL VOCALS BY TAMRYA GREY
PRODUCED BY DJ SHOK



I still don't understand why this song was censored on the album, but it's SO good that it's forgivable. This is the most introspective song on the album which finds X at his most reflective.
*5 out of 5*

   
11. NO LOVE FOR ME
FEATURING DRAG-ON
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

Oh man, I really liked this one right here, especially the hook. X and Drag-On were feeling it on this one.
*4 out of 5*


12. DOGS FOR LIFE
PRODUCED BY DAME GREASE 

"Now who I am is who I'll be until I die/Either accept it or don't fuck wit it/But if we gon be dogs then you stuck wit it"


That opening line perfectly describes this song. It's all about unconditional love and even with those conditions, X got love you if you got the same love for him.Vintage DMX? I think so.
*5 out of 5*



13. BLACKOUT
FEATURING JAY-Z & THE LOX
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

Oh man, without a doubt the best song on the album. 5 top notch MCs (still in their primes) bringing straight lyrical heat over a DOPE Swizz track and all 5 verses were TIGHT as hell. Listening to this classic again made me realize that while they had success there, Lox were simply too hard for Bad Boy and it comes as no surprise, with hindsight, that they left the label when they did. This is also one of more (sadly) forgotten collabos in hip hop history and with all the dope ones we got in 98, this was right at the top of the list.
*5 out of 5*

  
   
14. FLESH OF MY FLESH, BLOOD OF MY BLOOD
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

I always thought this was a very good song, nothing more to it. I always liked the simple yet somewhat catchy hook in "Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood/All my niggas get down like what", even if it did make me laugh a few times, lol.
*4 out of 5



15. HEAT
ADDITIONAL VOCALS BY SWIZZ BEATZ
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

X again flexes his storytelling muscles on this one. Want to know what this man is like when the pressure is tight/when the heat is on, this is it right here. Dope song.
*5 out of 5



16. READY TO MEET HIM
PRODUCED BY SWIZZ BEATZ

After the second "Prayer" installment (another moving one too), we head right into this excellent song to close the album. Now remember when I said during the IDAHIS review that things will come full circle on here after "The Convo"? At the end of that song, X shouts "it was you that opened my eyes so I can see/it was you that shined your light on me!", closing that convo, then he basically confirms he's "ready to meet him". I don't consider this blasphemous at all and as you listen to it closely, X is not talking to God as we know him, but rather he's talking to "his" God, if you understand where I'm coming from. You get the impression he's confessing his sins, but in the end he's aware of the things he's done, learning valuable life lessons in the process. You'll also notice that he doesn't utter one curse word throughout this song, which makes it that much more powerful overall. 
*5 out of 5*




DMX made history by being the second hip hop artist (the first was 2Pac) to release two successful albums in the same year. He was SO hot at the time that the demand for him was remarkable, necessitating this release. Trust me, this was not a collection of songs that weren't good enough for his first album. With the exception of "It's All Good", the remainder of the album is DOPE and in my view, I still consider this to be his most underrated album. I also want to comment on the production, which was done mostly by Swizz Beatz. This album represented some of his finest work ever behind the boards, plus he more often than not brought out the best in DMX. It moved 670,000 units in its first week, going on to earn a 3X Platinum certification, which is impressive all around. Just like his debut, this one has aged well. DMX, thank you. 4.5 stars. 




(Note: Continue to stay tuned, because I'm considering revisiting the rest of his discography.)

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