DMX: The Great Depression

J. Victoria Sanders

The Great Depression

Label: Bloodline
US Release Date: 2001-10-23

DMX was hip-hop's newest miscreant in 1998, snarling into an arena that has since lent itself to bling-bling blathering and bad hooks. He was a ravenous entertainer and emcee when he stalked the streets and radio airwaves with "Get At Me Dog", ready to prove his bark as sharp as his bite after waiting several years to get at a mainstream mic. Known as a DJ in Yonkers, where he was raised, he had made some ripples before he pawed out of obscurity from his appearances on DJ Clue tapes and cameos with Mase and L.L. Cool J, among others. His brooding brown eyes, intimidating staccato flow and the hardcore weight of his material revitalized the legacy of edgy cockiness and lyrical precision that had made Tupac made famous.

The testosterone-filled pseudo-Rotweiller offered insightful rhymes about the mishaps in his life and slight glimpses into his hard-knock life with intimate, if puzzling, open letters to God and the world. He seemed oblivious to the contradictions of God and violence, or God and promiscuity -- but because he was so distinctly himself and seemed quite content to fluctuate between DMX (the alter ego named after a digital music machine) and Earl Simmons, his contradictions were not seen as glaring examples of him fronting for his fans. He was simply accepted as a hybrid of sensitivity, raw passion and ruthlessness. But as success was lavished on him, and each of his albums went on to enter at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, there was a shift in DMX. Not necessarily for better or for worse, but it was a keen sense of off-kilter, unbalanced material.

When he is Earl Simmons, the eerie music stops. He wants to talk to the audience for a minute. The serious energy of his tone means it's going to be deep -- considerably deeper than rhyming about being harder than every other emcee on the planet. Though he moved between both personalities flawlessly on his first two albums, by the time . . . And Then There Was X was released it was hard to take the fluctuation of his personal conversations with his savior seriously when coupled with the outrageous, relentless barking and growls that overwhelmed much of his material.

During the four years he has penetrated the mainstream, he's remained as insightful as he was during his rough days as the misunderstood emcee with his dog and only friend, Boomer. The problem DMX/Earl Simmons faces now is defining, in the words of his first single, "Who We Be". If he is the dog, then he should be true to his canine qualities. But it must be hard to do that after selling 15 million albums and living the life he once knew nothing about.

There is evidence in The Great Depression that DMX is closer to being the man he really is. He has stuck with the formula, to embody the oxymoron of being in love with the Lord and still going off on his street rage ramblings. The recurrence of God and Religion on DMX's fourth album makes it a safe bet to assume that Earl Simmons will soon go the way of Mason "Mase" Betha and forsake hip-hop in favor of the pulpit. But with this sporadic effort, fans of hip-hop's first dog find him sharpening his teeth on a few crisply produced tracks from newcomer Black Key and mentally meandering over several tracks about haters who just want to be like X.

Whether he is the dog or the man, DMX still spits fury like he did on his first few albums -- the passion is just misdirected. The shallow delivery on songs like "Shorty Was Da Bomb" and "Ima Bang" prove that DMX no longer has a lot to be angry about. He wants to reminisce on what he felt like when he was still yearning for stardom. Quite simply, the hunger is gone. If canines tend to run in packs, DMX is now the lone, mangy mutt, barking at passing cars and foaming at the mouth at whatever crosses his path. The man who once symbolized the darker aspects of street life and revitalized hardcore rap, if only for a few years, is now an illusion. At the crossroads between the performer and the man, DMX can't seem to decide which he prefers.

The pulsating tracks "Who We Be" and "We Right Here" are great dance tracks, but they certainly aren't DMX at his most passionate. They are, at best, flashes of DMX reminiscing on that eager artist who had enough pent-up aggression from a harsh life to spew anecdotal lyrics for days.

On The Great Depression, DMX just wants to be heard and understood. He appears to merge his fury and pain best on "I Miss You", which features the lovely lilting voice of Faith Evans. He speaks sincerely about his savior and eulogizes his grandmother in the sharp, touching way only Earl Simmons can. But the most depressing thing about this album is that DMX's passion for rhyming seems to have been eclipsed by his success. "I speak for the meek and the lonely, weak and the hungry, speak for the part of the street that keep it ugly", he rhymes, but it's unclear on his latest effort if DMX, the machine, can truly speak for his original constituents. If this album is any indication of what the future holds for DMX, he might be better off delivering some of his rhymes for a congregation instead of pursuing a hip-hop career.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.