This year is barely eight weeks old, but Redemption of the Beast will likely be the worst rap album of the year.
It's important to note that DMX is opposed to the release of Redemption of the Beast. The details aren't crystal clear, but the issue seems to be over whether he owed one or two albums to Seven Arts Entertainment, the label that released 2012's Undisputed. While the issue remains unresolved, DMX, his management, and longtime collaborator Swizz Beatz have all publicly disavowed the record, and threats of legal action against Seven Arts have surfaced.
The kerfuffle over the album is a microcosm of how everything but DMX's music has overshadowed his music over the past several years, leading Gawker to dub him a "full-time public spectacle, part-time rapper". The "Legal Issues" section of his Wikipedia page is so extensive it has to be grouped into ranges, and he has made far more headlines for arrests and bizarre behavior -- running naked through a hotel, offering to box George Zimmerman, etc. -- than he has for rapping.
Still, it's a good thing that DMX has disavowed this record. It's at least proof that he still has his wits about him. Simply put, Redemption of the Beast is awful, a collection of what are essentially demos that were slapped together along with some dreadful album art. This year is barely eight weeks old, but this will likely be the worst rap album of the year.
On Shady XV, the recent retrospective from Eminem's label, there is an early version of Em's hit "Lose Yourself". The lyrics to the demo are entirely different -- generic platitudes about sand in an hourglass and a long stretch of filler rhymes, including seven of eight consecutive lines ending with the word "it". What "Lose Yourself" became, an uplifting narrative with characterization, a story arc, and memorable lines (word to mom's spaghetti), is a testament to the power of redrafting. Not even the best writers hammer out a perfect finished product on the first try. They make what author Anne Lamott calls "shitty first drafts", and then they revise them, blowing them up and rewriting them time and again until they shine.
The best way to approach Redemption of the Beast is as a series of first drafts, sketches of songs hastily colored in with ad libs and tired lyrics, poorly mixed and mastered, the beats all elbows, DMX's voice thin and lethargic. For all that the fatigued snares and tinny, stand-in instruments add, he might as well have rapped over a metronome -- that might have helped his delivery. You can hear him regularly run out of breath or stumble over the lyrics, most of which inhabit the tired range between fight-rap generics and vitriolic misogyny.
DMX sings his own choruses on several tracks, and they're as cringe-worthy as you would expect from watching his a cappella YouTube train wrecks. "Get Up and Try Again" finds him crooning a near-unintelligible chorus that sounds like a stand-in track meant to be replaced with a real singer. Given the general lack of quality, and that some of these tracks have been on YouTube in their current form for years, only the most oblivious fan could consider this a real album at all, let alone a listenable one. It's an exercise in grim patience, and when combined with the fact that the second disc of the "deluxe edition" is just a repackaged version of Undisputed, it feels like the most onerous of cash grabs.
Redemption of the Beast may not accurately reflect on DMX as an artist if he didn't want it released, but it's ultimately his already-shaky legacy that will suffer. Hopefully, the long-teased project with Swizz Beatz will quickly relegate this to the scrap heap because Redemption of the Beast is going to do nothing but hasten DMX's long slide into a barking, growling, crooning caricature of himself.