Apple Music absolutely, unequivocally paid for itself this week when it helpfully suggested that I listen to DMX’s latest album, Redemption of the Beast. Setting aside the ongoing controversy over its allegedly unauthorized release, I am pleased to report, after listening to a few songs, that one thing DMX has decided not to do is change anything at all about what he does. DMX is great. When not participating in surprisingly funny self-deprecating videos (acting just like you on roller coasters; learning to use Google; changing the way you think about Christmas songs), DMX has become best known in recent years for bizarre run-ins with the law, most famously for his 2004 arrest at JFK after he attempted to impersonate a federal agent after crashing his SUV through a security gate. I always imagined that the conversation went something like this:
DMX: “I’m an FBI agent.”
Actual law enforcement on the scene: “Um, aren’t you DMX?”
DMX: “Who? No. Federal agent” [barely-stifled growl]
Actual law enforcement on the scene: “I’m pretty sure you’re DMX.”
DMX [thinking]: Goddammit, X, don’t bark, whatever you do, don’t bark.
Actual law enforcement on the scene: “Look, you’re going to need to come with us.”
DMX: “Grrrrrr, ARF ARF ARF!”
DMX [in handcuffs]: “…dammit, every time.”
A host of drug problems, mental illness issues, and a surprisingly diverse list of assorted legal troubles gradually caused him to fade from the limelight, and he most recently received a six-month prison sentence for unconscionably failing to pay nearly a half-million dollars in overdue child support. With anecdotes like this dominating the DMX-related headlines, it’s easy to forget that he has sold an incredible 17 million albums over the course of his career, making him the fifth-best-selling rapper in the Soundscan era. How did X manage to do that? Easy: with gems like these.
“Party Up (In Here),” …And Then There was X, 1999
Growls: maybe 1? probably
Number of lines that rhyme “kryptonite” with a slang term for male genitalia: 1
Representative line: Listen, yo a– is about to be missin! / You know who’s gonna find you? (Who?) Some old man fishin!
Synopsis: You definitely know “Party Up,” a horrifyingly violent song that somehow manages to sound cheerful and upbeat to enough double as the jam of choice of ill-advised frat pregames everywhere and the song most likely to delight the 26-and-up crowd and start an awkward, half-hearted moshpit at the next 90s bar night you go to. Mostly famous for delivering one of the most succinct takedowns in hip-hop history:
You wack, you twisted, your girl’s a h–
You broke, it ain’t yours and everybody know
Your old man say you stupid, and you be like [mocking tone] “So?”
“I love my baby mama, I never let her go!” [derisive snort]
It takes DMX only four bars to make “Ether” sound like a sing-along on internationally renowned open-invitation sleepover soundtrack 1989. Bonus points for the nonsensical outro in which he shouts out, in order, his “Ruff Riders,” his “big ballers,” his “fly ladies,” and his “street-street people,” and then abruptly ends the song with an explosion, likely because that’s how most conversations come to an end in his practical experience.
How it makes me feel: Like I can bench-press a small- to medium-sized sedan
“Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle Remix),” Chocolate Starfish and The Hot Dog Flavored Water, 2000
Barks: like 47, I give up
Growls: one, but it’s really good one that puts the fear of God into your soul
Gunshots: none; you can’t have it all
GIGANTIC DMX SCREAMS IN LIEU OF ACTUAL LYRICS: 3 (AUGHHHHHHHHHH!!1!!)
Representative lyric: It’s just that D s—, D’s short for do what I wanna do / And that’s what I’m gonna do, right here in front of you
Synposis: Here’s a thing you had no idea you’d read about today: Limp Bizkit! Wait, please don’t close your browser window. Set aside the pretty-racist name of the remix. Do not listen to anything that Fred Durst or the just-cashing-his-check Method Man have to say in the first two verses (though you should take a moment to laugh when Durst screams “Where the f— you at, punk? Shut the f— up!” Wait, how am I supposed to answer that question?). Just skip directly to X’s verse and try not to think about starting a brawl with strangers at the grocery store when he finishes with “Y’all n—-s ain’t running a f—in’ thing but your mouth, WHOOOOO.” While Durst then reemerges for a very unwelcome verse four, if you make it through that you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully eloquent outro in which Durst repeatedly screams “F— THAT S—” about nothing in particular while DMX intermittently barks in agreement. I like to think that this was a real conversation the two men held during the recording session, perhaps commiserating over the line at Whole Foods.
How it makes me feel: Maximus facing down Commodus in the Coliseum, if Maximus had Wolverine’s claws shoot out of his knuckles as the assembled crowds gasp in amazement
“Tear It Up,” The Dirtiest Thirstiest, 2004
Detailed plans for a home invasion: 1
Representative lyric: We gonna ride this motherf—er ’til the wheels fall off.
Synopsis: Before Young Jeezy released Thug Motivation 101 and officially took the King of Ad-Libs title in 2005, DMX was the reigning champion, and this throwaway track was the apex: some rapper (???) named “Yung Wun” paid Lord knows how much money to have DMX mail in a four-bar hook, bark a couple times during the intro, and growl in between verses. That’s all. And it still manages to make you want to go out, cop a ski mask and some gloves, and rob a bank. The beat sounds like the baddest, coolest high school band you’ve ever heard, and you even get to enjoy brief appearances by David Banner and Lil’ Flip, last seen, respectively, on the side of a milk carton and managing a Quizno’s in Galveston.
How it makes me feel: THIS. IS. SPARTA. [does 10,000 push-ups]
“Where The Hood At,” Grand Champ, 2003
Barks: none. Come on, dog!
Invitations to perform unwelcome sexual acts: 4
Representative lyric: I AM THE HOOD, I AM THE STREETS, YOU B—- A– N—-
Synopsis: This absolutely gigantic beat is so, so good that even the Dark Man himself doesn’t quite know what to do with it at first; the intro is just a rhythm-free whirlwind of profanities overlaid with racial slurs. The producers seem confused too, seemingly randomly using the censor machine to edit out words like “reload” and “slugs” but not, you know, any of the above. DMX’s unflinchingly fiery delivery is at its finest here, and it allows him to turn just about any phrase into an anthemic hook. With the right beat, he could absolutely make a hit record that features him ordering a cheeseburger (projected lyric: “Grrrrrrr, make that TO GO, and make it WELL DONE [barks]”). All that said, even for DMX, the lyrical content of this song is…troubling, with graphic smatterings of gratuitous homophobia and transphobia paradoxically interspersed with enthusiastic endorsements of, um, prison rape. DMX is a lot of things, but paradigm of tolerance he is not.
What it makes me feel like: Liam Neeson in Taken, but with power tools instead of hands
“Ruff Ryders Anthem,” It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, 1998
Barks: none; major letdown
Gunshots: like 2389 (all numbers approximate)
Multi-step plan?: yes (stop; drop; shut ’em down; open up shop)
Representative lyric: Look what you done started, asked for it you got it / Had it, should have shot it, now you’re dearly departed
Synopsis: Early, hungry, out-to-prove-something DMX is asking me a lot of questions that I don’t know the answers to, and probably don’t want to know the answers to.
What the f— you gon’ do, when we run up on you?
Oh crap…I admittedly have no idea.
Think you holdin’ weight? Then you haven’t met the apes.
Who are the apes? I strongly feel from his tone and general demeanor that I do not want to meet the apes. Another rather abrupt coda here in which X suddenly cuts the music and screams “TALK IS CHEAP, MOTHERF—-ER” over the sound of automatic gunfire. I’m not convinced that this wasn’t an actual interaction with another human that happened while DMX was recording the song, and they decided to keep it because, well, it seems to fit with the overall theme and all.
How it makes me feel: like I can dumbbell-press two small- to medium-sized sedans
“Get It On The Floor,” Grand Champ, 2003
Gunshots: 0. Why are we even here, Earl?
Acts of domestic terrorism threatened: 1
Representative lyric: Now n—–s never even knew the devil had a kid / But he does and when you hear the buzz of the chainsaw, he’ll know what I split your motherf—ing brains for
Synopsis: You might think that the total lack of typical DMX auditory accoutrements would make this song a disappointment, but then he starts the track by screaming “LET’S GET IT ON,” and all is forgiven. What follows is four minutes of DMX making multiple threats to use power tools on my vital organs, at one point also noting his willingness to blow up the George Washington Bridge, for some reason. This song nicely features a correct usage of comparator pairings that would make his English teacher proud (“There’s never been a one-on-one / Nor has there been a problem, I dissolve them like salt”) and a nuanced discussion of the distinction between various homicide crimes (“My M.O. is manslaughter, kid / Cause on the real, I done wet more motherf—-ers than water did”).
What it makes me feel like: some combination of Avon Barksdale, hyperintelligent dogs who can read and who recognize Michael Vick’s face, and The Thing from Fantastic Four
“One More Road to Cross,” …And Then There Was X, 1999
Gunshots: HOLY CRAP A MILLION
Number of felonies admitted: I’m not a lawyer, but approximately 9(depending on whether X’s activities occur in a state that recognizes felony murder liability for the death of a co-felon)
Representative lyric: You play with my life, when you play with my money / Playin around but this’ll be the last time you think somethin’s funny
Synopsis: Abandoning for a moment his usual nonspecific lyrical bravado, X share with us a few anecdotes from his everyday life. Much like Taylor Swift discussing the joys of shopping with her father in “Best Day” or carrying groceries with her beau in “Stay Stay Stay,” DMX casually recounts to us the time he had to hunt down a drug-dealer associate of his who was skimming off the top that night, and, later, his most recent attempt to rob a liquor store which went horribly awry after the stockboy in the back, hearing the commotion, came out with an AK and killed both his fellow employee and DMX’s accomplice as DMX himself, hit but alive, barely escaped an untimely end. Whew! Another afternoon in the life of a world-famous recording artist.
How it makes me feel: Jack Bauer with an operational electrical outlet, a modified lamp cord, a tied-up terrorist, and ONLY FIVE MINUTES TO FIND THE DETONATOR
“X Gon’ Give It To Ya,” Cradle 2 The Grave (OST), 2003
Barks: 2, immediately
Multi-step plan?: yes (rock; roll; let it pop; go let it go). X is big on process suggestions.
Representative lyric: THIS RAP S— IS MINE, MOTHERF—ER. IT’S NOT A F—ING GAME. F— WHAT YOU HEARD. IT’S WHAT YOU HEARIN’.
Synopsis: Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Hot take alert: forget DMX’s discography, this song, too often forgotten thanks to its relegation to the soundtrack for a reprehensibly bad movie, is one of the best songs of all time. I don’t know what X is going to give to me, or deliver to me (should I attempt to find it on my own), but it’s pretty clear I don’t want to find out, either.
You against me, me against you
What the fuck you gon do?
All I want to do when he screams “DON’T GIVE UP, YOU’RE TOO STRONG” is put on a full suit of Nike Combat gear and star in a glistening, sweaty training montage in flatteringly low light. I could listen to DMX read classified ads and get fired up.
How this makes me feel: A Grant Theft Auto character who accumulated enough stars to call in the tanks, successfully steals a tank, and then takes on the F-16s overhead
“What’s My Name,” …And Then There Was X, 1999
Barks: I think there are some but it’s hard to hear? I dunno, a rule of thumb with X is “probably”
Number of relatives you’ll have remaining after DMX is through with you: 1 (grandma)
Representative lyric: I lost my mind! / And I’m about to make you lose yours too, from far away, one time [BOOM]!
Synopsis: “You think it’s a game? You think it’s a f—ing game?” It strongly appears that DMX thinks that we think it is a game. The title choice is a little absurd, given that the song begins with him shouting “D! M! X!” If the point was for him to inform the listeners of his name, I would argue he should have the the song play out a little longer before providing that information. Shouts out to everyone who’s tried to hurriedly set the mood in recent years by calling up the cutesy Drake/Rihanna track of the same name on Spotify, only to click TOO FAST and then having to instead explain THIS to their significant other as it blasts out of their Jambox. I would note that it makes me laugh every time when he uses one line to menacingly scream “I’m not a nice person,” as if there were a serious debate over this issue, but doing so would make me fear for my safety.
How it makes me feel: after dumbbell-pressing two small- to medium-sized sedans, I tear them apart with my bare hands and eat them for some reason, while staring unblinkingly into the eyes of the terrified stranger who agreed to spot me.
Look, DMX does not seem like the nicest guy, the best dinner party guest, or the most appropriate role model for your children. And while at one point he was considered the heir apparent to the Best Rapper Alive title, he never quite managed to live up to that moniker. But! If you’re looking for a man who can dependably stock your best workout playlists, threaten you with bodily harm in ways you didn’t even know existed, and provide you with a steady stream of non sequitur invocations of canine analogies, X was, is, and probably will forever be your undisputed best bet.