As we mentioned last week, we’re bringing back our Artist Week with a tribute to DMX on the 15th anniversary of his classic debut, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot. Why dedicate a week to a rapper who’s been seen more of a car wreck and a punchline in recent years than a legend? The answer is easy: every rapper aspires to be DMX.
Let me explain.
Every rapper ideally strives to change the game. To make unflinching, uncompromising music that will force the masses to shift towards the artist instead of the artist trying to compromise to fit fan bases on the way to becoming the biggest star in the world.
That’s exactly what DMX did in 1998.
DMX released It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot on May 12th, 1998 and singlehandedly changed the course of rap history. If you recall, rap was in a state of timidity where nobody wanted to be the first rapper to bring violence back to mainstream music after rap lyrics had been so closely tied to the deaths of Tupac and Biggie*. Instead, we’d been treated to Diddy’s shiny suits, karaoke remakes and flashes of excess. And quite frankly, it sucked. Even Jay-Z was feeling the pressure to make glossy music and getting criticism for “selling out” with a Diddy-produced album.
Things were looking bad for Hip-Hop.
But 1998 changed all of that.
In January, DMX stole the show on The Lox’s “Money, Power, Respect.” In February, he released his first single “Get At Me Dog,” that was so intense MTV banned it. By the time “Stop Being Greedy” and “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” hit, DMX was a full-on movement and nothing would be the same again. He single-handedly brought grimy music back to the mainstream and saved us before Diddy did a Bad Boys version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
The album went platinum** in June after “Ruff Ryders Anthem” took off and launched him into superstar status. By the end of 1998, DMX was the biggest rap act in the world. But beyond that, he was also arguably one of the best rappers out, too. It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot isn’t just notable for its sales and mainstream appeal; it’s also a piercing look into the mind of a guy who was living as close to the edge as possible. Unfortunately, he would eventually fall over the threshold into self-destruction, but at the time he channeled his demons into maybe the hottest single year of any rapper ever.
If you’re wondering about his impact, just look at the young rappers who namecheck him as an influence. Everyone from Kendrick Lamar to J. Cole reference his impact. Anyone who was a teenager in 1998 can remember the year he had and how he was the biggest badass on the block***
So sit back, relax and enjoy the memories of Dark Man X’s incredible run to stardom. It’s DMX week everyone. Sh*t’s about to get real.
* — In some ways, like the first action movie you saw after 9/11, DMX helped rap heal and move on from the tragedies and embrace darker music again. He showed us that it was okay to embrace violent rap music without damaging the reverence we had for Biggie and Tupac’s passings. In some ways, DMX helped us all cope from the losses.
** — Let’s not forget his follow-up Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood went platinum later that year making him the second artist to go platinum twice in one year. The other? Michael Jackson. Think about that for a second.
*** — I’ve always equated DMX to Stone Cold Steve Austin. They were both bald badasses who shifted the way people absorbed their respective media. They were no-nonsense and unconventional but took off like no one before. While they may not be household names in the same vein of Hulk Hogan or Jay-Z, but you will never be able to deny that in their peaks, nobody was ever hotter. Plus they cursed a lot. A lot a lot.