At one point in time a snarling, growling, angry, violent dog off of his leash was the biggest star in the world. Yonkers native DMX burst onto the scene, diverting attention from the ’80s samples and uptempo dance tracks of post-Biggie Bad Boy back to the gutter.
Although his life has taken an unfortunate path as of late, Dark Man X a nuclear explosion onto the landscape of the late-90s hip-hop world.Take time to recognize a phenomenon that changed the course of hip-hop in his time, and for a while held the world in the palm of his calloused hand. This is The Primer: DMX.
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1. “Get At Me Dog”
The importance of this song and video cannot be overstated. The story has been told over and over again. Young black millionaires were rapping incessantly about being young black millionaires while dressed like baked potatoes in shiny metallic suits. Fans, even if they didn’t know it, were hungry for something with a little more edge than Diana Ross samples. Enter Dark Man X. “Get At Me Dog” caused a palpable shift in the beat-rhyme continuum that made it okay to be grimy again.
2. “Ruff Ryders Anthem”
“Somethin’ new.” Those were the first words uttered on “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” and they could not be truer. Swizz Beatz’ rustic manipulation of Triton keyboard sounds paired with X’s bare bones couplets did not sound like anything hip-hop fans heard before. The riot inciting chorus is the stuff mosh pits are made of.
3. “How’s It Goin’ Down”
Even a dog needs some company every now and then. DMX, at his pinnacle, was able to appeal to the streets by mauling nearly every track with a relentless, and violent approach in his delivery and content. What made him the biggest act in music, however, was his ability to also be a sex symbol and appeal to the ladies. “How It Goin’ Down” was his first direct appeal to his female fans, and it worked well. Even with a saccharine songstress accompanying him on the hook, X managed to make a “girl” track that wasn’t corny, and still encompassed all of the hardcore street elements of the rest of his tracks.
The bald head, unchecked aggression, and unpredictable personality had a world still in shock at the loss of a legend anointing DMX as the next Tupac. DMX did have something in common with the fallen great, but it wasn’t the aforementioned superficialities. The common thread between X and Pac was their vulnerability. The characteristic isn’t more evident anywhere else in the Ruff Ryder’s discography than in his classic track “Slippin’.”
DMX has had to contend with his demons throughout the course of his personal and career. On “Damien” he contends with one in the literal sense, as the proverbial devil on his shoulder speaks with a bullhorn while the angel on the opposite shoulder looks on with horror with a duct-taped mouth.
6. “Party Up (In Here)”
Before this became the party starter at your local two for one Jaegerbomb college bar, “Party Up (In Here)” would set clubs on fire at any major city club or urban night anywhere in the country. The lyrics are the same high-intensity, graphic, violence that the Yonkers native perfected, but the hook is as infectious as a pre-schooler in the winter.
7. “No Love For Me”
This is not an example of a song that Swizz Beat ruined. The then 20-year-old upstart’s signature faux scratches and repetitive string plucks were the perfect backdrop for X and Ruff Ryder protégé to rip to shreds. The second single from his second album released in 1998 was pure energy, and it lit up the clubs and streets alike.
8. “What They Really Want”
DMX and Sisqo sounds more like a bad idea for a sitcom than a hit song, but somehow it worked. X named checked his favorite ladies on this Nokio-produced banger that was the soundtrack to some of my greatest memories as a young clubgoer. I wasn’t yet old enough to drink, but the Xs on my hand couldn’t stop the X in my ear from fueling x-rated thoughts of any scantily-clad woman in my periphery.
9. “Stop Bein Greedy”
A demented fun house beat provides the backdrop for DMX to display his split personality on “Stop Being Greedy.” Half of him is confident and cool; the other is disturbed and stressed. The internal struggle is what made X so beloved, and ultimately so lamented.
10. “Prayer II”
DMX had prayers on each album, evidence of the divergent forces that stretched the dog until he broke. On the same album that he claimed to have “blood on [his] dick, ‘cause I fucked [a] corpse” he had his most heartfelt prayer. His tear-jerking rendition of this appeal to a higher power from the documentary Backstage remains one of his most memorable performances.