The year 1998 was a great year for hip hop, Jay Z dropped his 3rd studio album Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, The Lox made their debut with Money, Power, Respect, and then the Dark Man himself, DMX dropped two legendary albums. One album was, Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood & the other one was It’s Dark and Hell is Hot. Although they were both classics, I’m here to speak on only one, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot. This album is a personal favorite of mine for many reasons. When the album first released I was four years old. For obvious reasons I didn’t hear it when it first dropped, but when I turned nineteen, I just so happened to come across a bootleg copy of the CD. At that very moment my whole perception on DMX changed.
The album starts off with X being interviewed by Ruff Ryder CEO Darrin Dean (Swizz Beatz’s uncle). They’re going back and forth while X is trying to assure him that his crew is the illest out and by the end of his album he proves his point. Following the intro, we jump straight into what X is most known for Ruff Ryder music (no pun intended); the “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” The third single off of the album’s music video was rowdy to say the least, four wheelers were out and the atmosphere just seemed genuinely fun.
This album is very dark and gritty, you can really feel that on the tracks “Look Thru My Eyes,” “Let Me Fly,” “Damien,” and many more. If you’re a big X fan, you know that he has constant battles with his spirituality and faith. In the song “Damien,” he goes into depth about his battles. In the first line he states: “Why is it every move I make turns out to be a bad one? Where’s my guardian angel? Need one, wish I had one.” After his request of the guardian angel, he just so happens to receive the complete opposite. Damien is actually portrayed as the devil in this song and he has X doing a lot of mischievous things just so he can blow up in the rap game. This song is so genius, he’s constantly switching flows throughout the whole song and changing his voice every few bars. DMX displays elite talent on this track – this is personal favorite of mine just off of the creativity behind it. Another song where X dives deep into his faith and spirituality is “The Convo.” Like in “Damien,” X is actually having a conversation with God, but this time around he’s telling God all of the bad things he wants to do and God is trying to change his mind. Once again X is changing flows and his voice throughout these bars. Man, that shit is amazing to hear. Ironically enough, on the prior track, he actually recites a prayer for the listeners. Let’s be real here, what rapper do you know will talk about killing, using drugs and selling them then turn around and pray for you? The answer is none. DMX is a legend and its stamped.
“Why is it every move I make turns out to be a bad one? Where’s my guardian angel? Need one wish I had one.“
Along with “Damien,” X had several other songs on this album showcasing his storytelling skills. The next one that comes to mind is “Crime Story.” On this track, he details him robbing and killing someone, then fleeing from the police. X even pays homage to Jay Z by referencing “Streets Is Watching” on this cut by dropping this quote: “Like Jigga said, niggas test you when your gun goes warm so I keep em scattering like roaches, when the lights turn on.”
“Like Jigga said, niggas test you when your gun goes warm so I keep em scattering like roaches, when the lights turn on.”
I would never be able to forgive myself if I didn’t speak on one of my favorite DMX songs of all-time, “How’s It Goin’ Down.” As you may know, Drake sampled this single for a track on his album Views. It starts out with a phone skit, where a man is accusing his girl of cheating with DMX which was hilarious. Then cutting right into the song, X goes into details about a rendezvous he is having with a chick that already has a man and child. What makes this song that much better is that they shot a video so you could now visualize the story he is telling, how can you not love the 90’s hip hop scene?
The album closes out on a very high note. It ends with what my man Taji would call a “posse cut”. One of my favorite DMX-LOX collaborations, “Niggas Done Started Something.” The track opens up with the bully Sheek doing his thing, then Ma$e comes through and bodies shit. After Ma$e, Jadakiss and Styles P starts ripping, following them is X as he puts the nail in the coffin. I know this is about DMX, but Styles P’s verse was so damn hard, he’s easily one of the most underrated.
Back on topic, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot is a certified classic. It went quadruple platinum in 2000 and sold 251,000 copies in the first week. Also in 1998, X starred in the classic movie Belly along side Nas. Say what you want about the decisions he’s made over the years, but his name is etched in stone as a legend, top five dead or alive in my opinion. He dropped 7 studio albums and 5 out of those 7 albums went platinum. DMX was on an uncanny run he dropped 2 platinum albums in one year and followed that up with 3 more platinum albums right after that. You can call him 100 things but you can’t say he is not consistent, in the words of the honorable Jim Jones; “men lie women lie numbers don’t!” X is very under appreciated in the rap game for many reasons, but one thing you cannot take from him is his talent and DMX is a talented motherfucka’. Some of the things X brought to the rap game in the late 90s is exactly what the game is missing right now in this day and age. His witty, energetic, storytelling abilities set him apart from a lot of rappers and I think its safe to say there will never be another DMX. Like many other rappers he substance abuse and legal problems, I hope that he gets the help that he needs. NORE says on his podcast all the time “We gotta give our legends flowers while they can still smell them and trees while they can inhale em.” Oh, I almost forgot this nigga sold out a whole continent! You probably think I’m bullshitin’-you I am, but his 1999 Woodstock performance had so many people it look like he was performing in front of the world, literally. He had tons of charisma, salute to Dark Man X!