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.





PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.