What do you say about a brotha who has the name of a dog tattoed on his back, close to three million records sold of a debut album, and the hottest sound and image on the street? You’d call that man DMX. ‘One Love Boomer’ the tat reads, shoulder to shoulder, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot is the first effort still in Billboard’s top twenty, and kids around the world are growling, barking, rhyming in short bursts of rough ghetto energy, anything to imitate an artist they would have no problem calling hero.
And now he has a new album. For an unprepared public, this game started less than a year ago when a deep-throated, bandana-wearing brotha started spittin’ hot shit on cuts like LL Cool J’s “4,3,2,1” and Mic Geronimo’s “Usual Suspects.” Then came two unforgettable verses: the first on Mase’s “24 Hrs. To Live;” the second on The Lox’s anthem “Money, Power, Respect,” a sixteen bar ball of fire that DMX said he wrote “a couple of years ago.” It was the perfect artistic set-up for a game that was coming out of Puff Daddy’s self-proclaimed “Hammer era” into a harder, more broken-bottle, strife laden world where heart, credibility, strength, and attitude meant just as much as brightest suit or hottest girl. Heads were ready for tales of real life, stories of struggle and survival, pain and the ability to get by, the kind of urban tales DMX had always thrived at. “I think society is finally ready to deal with reality,” DMX said last February, a few days before his first album was to drop, “so for that reason I ain’t got no choice but to blow!” And blow up he did. Worldwide. “Get At Me Dog” was the song that did it, a spit-fire piece of uncompromising aggression that became the universal anthem of hood life, months before labelmate Jay Z called anybody’s life hard knock.
But while everyone couldn’t get enough of DMX’s call and response, couldn’t stop listening to the head-nod energy of “Stop Being Greedy,” couldn’t stop “Fuckin’ Wit’ D,” or thinking about the introspective good vs. evil battle of “Damien,” this hardest-working-thug-in-show business was working. Working on a new book of verse and rhyme that would give his people what they wanted. More X. Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood is more DMX. More dogs. More rhymes. More tales to tell. More barks and growls, more hos and bitches, more niggas and neighborhoods. More beats. And more love. Much more love. Who else but DMX would bathe in a tub of blood and call it an album shoot? Who else but DMX would stare out, naked and ready to blast the world, with his hands in prayer? And yeah, Damien is back, The Lox is back, Jay Z is back. But now there are some new kids, because Ruff Ryders — DMX’s Ruff Ryders — is the hottest crew in the world.
Take one listen to the intro, “My Niggas,” the first of ten tracks the young beat phenomenon called Swizz will produce, and you’ll get an early feeling, that for DMX, this rap shit ain’t no game. “Just ’cause I love my niggas I shed blood for my niggas!” Two minutes later you’ll hear some horrified strings and the wail of a brotha ready to bring it on. “Bring Your Whole Crew” will provide the first memorable lines of a 70+ minute album. “I got blood on my hands and there’s no remorse I got blood on my dick ’cause I fucked a corpse,” X spits while giving you a drive-by tour of the mind of one of the most energized and manic artists this game has ever seen. “Ain’t No Way,” then finds the Dark Man taking a page out of the book of the great B.I.G., and ghetto-harmonizing on a hook laced with some of Swizz’s robotic horns. “I love it, I love it,” he says on the fade-out, right before the Lox kill it on the Yonkers posse cut “We Don’t Give A Fuck.”
“I want Flesh Of My Flesh to be like my connection to the community,” he says. “I want to say what’s on my peoples’ minds, soak up all their pain. I’ve learned that when I take it all in, I can make one brotha’s pain be understood by the world.” Well, heads are gonna understand something after they hear coming-of-age tale called “Coming From,” featuring none other than Ms. Mary J. Blige. “My journey’s been a rough one I’m not sure when it began But the way it’s lookin’ I kinda know when it’s gonna end” Created by PK, another young producer-phenom in the Ruff Ryders camp, “Coming From” is a beautiful piece of ghetto blues. It’s all in there: stuttered drum lines and staccato piano notes, heart-exposed lyrics with a mournful chorus, all combining in a classic message of learning and upliftment that could only come from the mind of a first-rate urban poet. And DMX says what he feels. Always.
His real name is Earl Simmons, and as a child he spent his days and nights alone, wandering the streets of the School Street Projects of Yonkers, NY by himself. Despite having five sisters, Earl says he had a very lonely childhood, a painful reality that led to an inner strength, a strong introspective side, and an undying bond for dogs. Real dogs. His two pit bulls (Bandit and Bobbi) go with him everywhere including the recording studio and his Boomer tattoo is a dedication to his best dog-friend that was run-over by a car. If you meet DMX, and listen to his rhymes, you hear the same person. He talks as he rhymes, with the same rhythm, cadence, and strength of feeling that has made him so captivating for thousands of fans and friends across the globe. You can hear Earl on the mellowed-out “Slippin’.” Laid over a melodic Grover Washington, Jr. sample, “Slippin’ ” is the spoken thought of a man who has contemplated a life with little opportunity, a life with more than one rock-bottom, but a life that’s nothing but his own. And don’t get it twisted, there will be no excuses. “To live is to suffer, but to survive, well, that’s to find meaning in the suffering.”
“If you think this reality is positive then you’re wrong,” he says, “because there are not too many communities in the hood. there’s just a bunch of individuals. But all that matters to me is if niggas know I’m speaking for them – because I am them. See, I’m just starting to realize that I’m good you know, and realize the power I have.” To influence others? “Naw, I’ve always been able to influence others,” he laughs, “it’s just that now I know I may have done some bad things, but I’m not a bad person.” At least not the one Marilyn Manson is trying to bring to the dark side on the eerie “Damien” sequel called “The Omen.”
“The Omen” with a beats-per-minute slower than a dying heartbeat, continues the dialogue between our hero and the Grim Reaper over a simple drum and snare. Marilyn Manson brings his psychedelic alternative growl to the track and fuels this hip-hop anti-psalm. And who knows how it’s gonna play out with an artist who has often said he’s made a deal with the devil and covered his album booklet in the blood of a pig?
Back in the day, DMX had a single deal with Columbia Records. It resulted in nothing more than a white label single called “Born Loser.” Now that same brotha has put out two full-length albums in less than a year under the Ruff Ryders/Def Jam banner, and the days of being ignored are an eternity away. It’s Dark & Hell Is Hot is fast on its way to triple platinum status and may go down as the most impressive rap debut ever. But Flesh Of My Flesh’s “No Love 4 Me” will probably say it best. It’s here that Swizz spreads some Japanese string plucks over a kinetic club-ready beat and lets the Dark Man fly. As he also does on the guitar-heavy title cut: “Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood All my niggas get down like what?!?” the rough and ready Dark Man asks us, no doubt without the need for any real answers. And it’s the perfect anthem for another year of ill stage shows.
See, the hardest thug heads have been known to shed tears in the dark corners of DMX’s from-the-heart shows, all attention is on stage, and all crowd beefs are squashed by the visceral power of the man on stage. “If you turn away, you might miss something, dog,” he says.
“It’s better to have someone being drunk and listening to your shit,” DMX says, “as opposed to being drunk and going out blasting because he can’t take it no more. You got your point across yo, but you also got life.”
DMX is more than a rapper, he’s an entertainer and a leader who understands the power and influence he has been blessed with. An album with a “Prayer” is no accident for DMX, it’s designed to be the emotional climax of a trip through the subconscious of a young black male. In opening himself up, DMX believes he can save the souls of those he cares most about. And for that, he’s a unique individual. Just listen to “Ready To Meet Him,” the final song of Flesh Of My Flesh. It’s a profound pre-millennial spiritual that will rank the Dark Man with some of the game’s more infamous soul searchers. KRS-One and Chuck D have been there. The great Rakim has been there. ‘Pac and Big had the spot on lock. Now DMX enters that rarefied place.
Lord you left me stranded, and I don’t know why Told me to live my life, and now I’m ready to die
Ready to fly I cry but I shed no tears You told me you would dead those fears It’s been years
Snakes still coming at me Just missing Sometimes I think all you do with me is just listen
I thought that I was special That’s what you told me
Hold me Stop acting like you don’t know me
You know the Dark Man X, and if you don’t, now you know. Millions already do.
Don’t be afraid, just be ready.