Words By Malik V.
What a difference ten years can make in the career of a hardcore and troubled rapper. Earl Simmons, a.k.a DMX, is currently wrapped up in several legal cases that range from animal cruelty to fraud, and is a far cry from the intimidating, almost gothic MC he entered the game as. Rewind ten years to 1998 back when the Dark Man was just putting his mark on the industry. While Puffy and Ma$e were wearing shiny shirts and Jay-Z was partying on yachts, X was barking ad-libs and rocking hoodies with Timbs.
X released his debut album, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot in May of ’98. With the record’s stripped down sound, and his violent, overly-aggressive raps, X made it known that he wasn’t down with Bad Boy or Roc-A-Fella, and didn’t need money, cash, and hoes to make a name for himself. DMX introduced us to his style with hits like “Ruff Ryders Anthem” and “Get At Me Dog”, but he also helped launch the careers of The Lox, and made producer Swizz Beatz a household name in the industry. 1998 was also somewhat of a prophetic year for X, setting the stage for his numerous run-ins with the feds. Just a few weeks after It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot was released and starting rising up the charts, X was charged with the rape of a 29 year old woman. He was cleared, but dude could never stay on the straight and narrow since then.
DMX also showed that he was a man of many mediums in 1998. He appeared alongside Nas in the Hype Williams-directed flick Belly as an up-and-coming thug trying to make it big in the underworld.
It only happens every so often, but DMX pulled it off in ’98. The man put out two albums in a twelve-month span, in his debut year no less. After dropping It’s Dark And Hell is Hot in May, X closed out the year by dropping Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood in December. Flesh of My Flesh was another hardcore, violent album, (just check out the cover, where X is drenched in pig’s blood for proof), with appearances from the LOX and Jay-Z, and with Swizz handling most of the production. The album’s biggest hit “Slippin” showcased X’s softer side, with a somber melody and emotional raps about his troubled childhood.
While Roc-A-Fella and the Bad Boy brand were in their breakout stages, Dog created his own label/movement. Soon after X came onto the scene, the Ruff Ryders followed. Though DMX and the Lox highlighted the record company, Swizz Beatz, Drag-On, and Eve all contributed, and showed their skills on the “Ryde Or Die” compilation albums. Back in the late-90’s, it seemed like every big-name rapper would create a crew and transform unknowns to stars, but the Ruff Ryders were the grimiest of the bunch.
It ain’t hard to tell, DMX ran 1998. Not only did he release two albums, both of them debuted at number 1 on the Billboard charts. X was a step back in the Hip-Hop timeline, after commercialized pop-rap took over gangsta-rap, which faded when Biggie and â€˜Pac died. In the midst of the Jigga man and Puffy, X was a reminder of a time when the game was simpler, less flashy, and a lot harder. Almost like an East coast â€˜Pac, the dog kept it gully, and never forget his Yonkers roots. DMX was a machine that year, with a movie appearance on top of the two albums. Earl Simmons might only be in the news for the wrong reasons today, but a decade ago, X was Rookie of the Year and MVP.