Following a lineage of legendary Big Apple artists before him, none in history exploded with the level of intensity and graphicness Earl forced upon the world on his debut It’s Dark & Hell Is Hot. The unheralded gift X afforded Hip-Hop was a rejuvenated sense of competition. DMX was, in a roundabout way, what Vince Carter was once seen as in basketball. He was a game changer and a game elevator; and yet ultimately an entity which never cracked the true potential his God-given talent. Hence the reason for dusting off the cobwebs for the return of TSS’ “Sibiling Rivalry” series. The following slides reveal X on collaborations with Ja Rule, Jay-Z, Mase and Nas – all of whom held NYC down during X’s prime years in their own right.
The rules are simple. Deciding who topped who on each song? Not so much. It’s time to arrive at a conclusion whether X stood superior when lined against his his peers from Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem, or faded away. It’s time to decide if X truly once ruled New York with a tattered crown and dog collar. More barking and rapping, less talking.
DMX Ft. Mase & The Lox – “Niggaz Done Started Something”
DMX: “How much darker must it get, how much harder must it hit/See if your hardest niggas flip, when I start a bunch of shit/I like pussy, but not up in my face, so gimme three feet/Cause when we creep, no more than three deep, niggas see sheep…”
Mase: “Yo, you know I got enough guns to wreck a nation/Any nigga wave a Tec at Mason, have a explanation/You bring your crew and em and I’m coin em/Then I’m beatin em down with aluminum/Then I’m puttin two in em/You can’t touch me, I’ve been devil sent, wanted for embezzlement/A lot of other things, but that’s irrelevant…”
Sheek: “Yo, ayo let’s get papers and pop Mo’ with holes up in skyscrapers/In condiminiums, overlooking our drug capers/New York City, know only way to play is gritty/I want cheddar, so we can front up in the 850…”
Jadakiss: “My 16’s be so real, you can feel em in your vain/Like Roemello’s pops from ‘Sugar Hill’/J be the cause for the kiss at your wake/Cartel lips, spittin clips at your face/We started from the bottom/You’ll see bad niggaz pardon, whatever/We can do it at the Garden/Word life, this shit is real, B/I’m makin niggaz blow trial even if they not guilty…”
Styles P: “Any y’all niggas done started something/Acting invincible like you God or somethin/If you God, then I’mma make salat til you rot/And if you a playa, then play for everything you got/And if you a thug, then start bustin off shots/And if you a dog, you better bite before you bark…”
Synopsis: Everyone did their thing; hence the reason an exception was made to include the LOX. But X in particular? Earl snapped. Outside of one particular line, I’m absolutely positive this is the verse Omar listened to whenever he’d raid dope houses on The Wire. Seriously, and no hyperbole here, X’s verse is one of the most graphic and rawest Hip-Hop will ever produce.
DMX – 1
NYC – 0
Mic Geronimo Ft. DMX, Ja Rule, The LOX & Tragedy Khadafi – “Usual Suspects”
DMX: “Y’all niggas don’t respect me but you fear me/And fear is better than respect, y’all niggas hear me…”
Ja Rule: “Damn if I die slowly, drugged out, broke and lonely/Like so many who pushed roadie before me/Ja hit ’em precisely, God just don’t make too many like me/Inadvertently shittin on the top 20…”
Synopsis: Comparing the two, Ja wins out by a bandana thread. More importantly, it’s a damn shame Mic Geronimo never amounted to more than what he did because songs like this were living proof he could hold his own amongst the likes of some of rap’s most notorious heavyweights.
DMX – 1
NYC – 1
DMX Ft. The LOX & Jay-Z – “Blackout”
DMX: “All you motherfuckers know, that I speak from the heart/Play like you don’t know, L.O.X. is gon’ bark/We can take it there, but to make it fair, get some more niggas/Styles, Sheek, Jay, we comin with like four niggas/Y’all niggas, best to stop playin, it’ll be the ones you forgotten about/That’ll get you shot in your mouth…”
Jadakiss: “And I see y’all niggas tryin to glance at the ‘Kiss/Cause I walk around with your whole advance on my wrist/Phonin’ your women, drunk off Coronas and lemon/And you know I’m still writin the mean, lightin the green/I need to buggie, even though I look, right in the Beam….”
Sheek Louch: “Yo when my gun bust, send niggas to the fish like Swanson/New York’s youngest Bumpy Johnson, I put fear in y’all heads/Sheek Louch, type of nigga gasoline y’all beds/And that’s warnin, if you all alive in the mornin, that’s fine/Now/I suggest you hit the block and get what’s rightfully mine/I want PC – see me? Tuck in your chains/I got niggas my pop’s age that lifestyle ain’t changed…”
Styles P: “I’m Pinero, so I hate a snake, rat, or a pig/I pop shit cause I’m the second best, the first was B.I.G…”
Jay-Z: “I’m a monster, I sleep whole winters wake up and spit summers/Ghetto nigga, puttin up Will Smith numbers…”
Synopsis: The LOX’s lyrics were included here off the strength they were just too disgusting to ignore. Let the record show, too, this is one of the hardest “no hook” rap songs ever recorded. However, after conducting some very serious soul searching, Jay gets the vote here by the slimmest of margins (although Sheek’s “got niggas my pops age that lifestyle ain’t changed” line may be the hardest line of the song).
I looked at it like this. X was Tim Duncan hitting the fall away jumper over Shaq in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Semifinals (or Sheek, Jada or P). Jay pulled a Derek Fisher with 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock to steal a victory which had to be reviewed countless times to make sure my eyes (ears) weren’t deceiving me. Yes, that’s how I envisioned this entire thing in my head. Yes, it probably doesn’t make sense to you. And yes, I just did the impossible and compared Derek Fisher to Jay-Z. Someone buy me a drink.
DMX – 1
NYC – 2
DMX Ft. Method Man, Ja Rule & Nas – “Grand Finale”
DMX: “Niggas that don’t know me see me and think I’mma rob em/Niggas that know me well see me and think I’mma problem/I’m just a nigga that’s misunderstood/But word to God I turn your last name to Underwood/Cause if I see it, I’mma take it and run with it, that’s me/What type of bullshit is this nigga on? That’s D…”
Nas: “And God’ll throw a beam of lightning down cause he feel us/May the next one, strike me down if I’m not the realest/The Mayor wanna call the SWAT team to come and kill us/But, dawgs are friends, if one see the morgue, one’ll live/To get revenge, and we ride to the end…”
Synopsis: Ja was technically only on the hook here, so he wasn’t considered. Earl gets the nod here because of a nugget not seen in the video. Listen to this song in the car. Then and only then will you receive the true appreciate for X’s verse.
DMX – 2
NYC – 2
Jay-Z, Ja Rule & DMX – “Murdergram”
DMX: “And letting off wasn’t nothing new to a nigga/Something to do to a nigga, Cause you is a fool nigga/I know your type, you hype, all up off that fake shit/You can’t understand why a man would have to take shit/Or steal shit, but this is that real, niggas kill shit, peel shit/I hit you in your head you won’t feel shit…”
Jay-Z: “Mothafuckers wanna kill me but don’t got the heart/To look me in the eyes with the nine and spark/Cause whether your for or against this/When I spit with murderous intentions, everybody goes everybody knows…”
Ja Rule: “You shot twice God bless to this the night/That alot of niggas fear the coming of their life/And you dead right be in hell looking for ice/Fuckin’ with Ja you bitch niggas talking shit/All on my dick y’all broke niggas making me rich…”
Synopsis: X’s opening line was an iconic “wait, what?” moment in rap history. And truthfully, depending on which day of the week, the argument can be made for any of the three having the standout verse. Seriously, ask me next month and there’s a chance I’ll say something else. Today, however, X wins out. Jay wearing a Dallas Cowboys tee made this a difficult decision though.
Double Synopsis: We were all cheated this album never came to fruition.
DMX – 3
NYC – 2
Mary J. Blige Ft. DMX & Nas – “Sincerity”
DMX: “Now there’s two ways we can do this, keep it real or front/I know you got what I need and I got what you want…”
Nas: “Chipped tooth don/Nasty, blue ice Timbs on/Screw it face, half moon part, my tattoos dark/On a scale of tough criminals, nothing to call me/I’m a rare individual, young and I’m bossy…”
Synopsis: I’ve been searching for the CDQ of this for nearly eight years with no luck. Despite X only having the opening bridge, Nas takes this installment with one of the rawest and underrated R&B/rap verses that’s hardly ever mentioned.
DMX – 3
NYC – 3
Busta Rhymes Ft. DMX & Jay-Z – “Why We Die”
DMX: “I kinda miss robbing and stealing/Cause it kept a nigga hungry, only eatin when I starved/I was ugly, so I robbed, no one loved me, shit was hard/Went to God once in a while when it got a little too hectic/He was the only one I knew that I respected…”
Jay-Z: “They say the good die young, in the hood where I’m from/I only got one question to that – why the fuck am I here?/I look to the air, I ask God, “Love me please,”/But in reality, only people that hug me is thieves…”
Synopsis: There have only been four artists in Jay’s life to ever push him to his creative limits. Kanye’s one of them. Nas, definitely. Biggie was obviously the most recognizable. And for a short period, DMX was as well. “Why We Die” was one of the great on-wax shootouts of the 2000s featuring a duo of scene stealing verses from Earl and Shawn. That’s what made choosing so difficult because by themselves, they’re no brainers. Together, it’s next to impossible – at least that’s the hole I’ve talked myself into. X’s was more graphic. Jay’s told the plight of the street hustler in a more detailed sense. Jay wins here, ever so slightly.
DMX – 3
NYC – 4
Ja Rule Ft. Jay-Z & DMX – “It’s Murda”
DMX: “Ain’t nothing funny about that/I see you up in a coma (I.C.U.), ain’t coming up out that/You hold on for too long and they ain’t pulling the plug for you/I’ll run up in the joint myself and dump another slug on you…”
Jay-Z: “What the fuck y’all want?/Daddio with the calico/Let the gaty blow leave you bleeding on your patio…”
Ja Rule: “It’s nothing but love between me, you, and these slugs/Hit him up wrap his body up in a area rug/Who holding the heat?/Who leaving niggas cold in the street?/Y’all know me, ya Co-D, Ja-Rule the O.G…”
Synopsis: Let’s cut to the chase. X won this entire song by threatening to run up in the hospital and shoot us if we were showing signs of improvement.
DMX – 4
NYC – 4
Jay-Z Ft. DMX – “Money, Cash, Hoes”
DMX: “And the response from the street/This was one dog that loves raw meat!/Just cause I, love my niggas/I shed blood, for my niggas/Let a nigga holler “where my niggas?”/All I’ma hear is “right here my nigga!”
Jay-Z: “Shit, I led a life you can write a book on/Sex, murder and mayhem, romance for the street/Man, and I tell ya, it’ll be the best-seller…”
Synopsis: Despite Jay’s lyrics coming to fruition years later with Decoded actually becoming a bestseller, X gets this one off energy alone. Plus, anyone who has ever heard this song in a social setting can attest to everyone chanting the quoted lyric at the top of their lungs. Hard to deny the fact that line would have any of us ready to run through a brick wall.
DMX – 5
NYC – 4
Mase Ft. Black Rob, The LOX & DMX – “24 Hours To Live”
DMX: “24 left until my death/So I’m gonna waste a lot of lives, but I’ll cherish every breath/I know exactly where I’m goin’, but I’ma send you there first/And with the shit that I’ll be doin’, I’ma send you there worse…”
Mase: “I’d do good shit like take kids from the ghetto/Show them what they could have if they never settle/Take every white kid from high class level/Show ’em what Christmas like growin’ up in the ghetto…”
Synopsis: X lapped Mase on this. In fact, Jadakiss’ verse may be the second best on the second best. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use “Take What’s Yours” off Harlem World because X only did the hook there.
DMX – 6
NYC – 4
Mic Geronimo Ft. Ja Rule, Jay-Z and DMX – “Time To Build”
DMX: “I’m a grimy nigga so I like my bitches cruddy/My clothes dirty, dick shitty, and my knife bloody/I did too much dirt to turn back now/I’m the reason my lil’ sister smoking crack now…”
Ja Rule: “Niggas increase the pain when they shout my name/Horrified by the thought of hot slugs and graves/Cause Ja is a sinister character loading that 44 caliber/Infrared aimed at your jugular…”
Jay-Z: “Yeah, fresh on the scene with a ‘fuck the next nigga’ demeanor/You know my work I bless and press more skirts then the cleaners/I’m damn relaxed cause you cats can’t stress the G/Ain’t enough jump in ’em to make you high enough to test me…”
Synopsis: Ja bodied this. Jay flipped his verse like it was ’89 standing outside of a Marcy Project apartment building. But X? With hindsight as a gift, seeing X’s life fall off the deep end is no surprise. And verses like this – while musically eye popping and replay-worthy – show why. There was something really wrong and demented with dude.
DMX – 7
NYC – 4
Nas Ft. DMX – “Life Is What You Make It”
DMX: “I got no time for games cause I’m all grown up/You wanna joke nigga? Laugh when you get blown up/See how funny it is when your kids ain’t got no father/Cause you played it sweet now you floating in the harbor…”
Nas: “Did dirt now I knew it would come back one day/So I’m on point, scrap, prepare for gunplay/Stared at one face, thought it was beef he looked familiar/Ready to blast, nigga gave me daps said I feel ya/Can’t believe how my life changed/From the hood, the first time in my life I can say I did the right thing…”
Synopsis: What’s funny is how within two bars X goes from claiming he’s turned over a new leaf to threatening to dump a body in the water. “Life Is…” is a unique entry revolving around the fact the hook still leaves a lot to be desired and the beat wasn’t anything to write home about; a detriment which has plagued Nasir for the better part of his career. Nas has delivered better moments in the past and I see it like this. Combine the best moments from his two verses and he brings one home for NYC here. Since we can’t, Earl takes a commanding lead.
DMX – 8
NYC – 4
N.O.R.E. Ft. DMX, Ja Rule & Yummy Bingham – “Stay Flawless”
DMX: “Put it on that ass like ain’t no tomorrow/And the nightmares’ll get you if you live passed the horror/Last nigga that dared to step was scared to death/Cause he knew it was the grace of God that spared his breath…”
Ja Rule: “Let’s run it back like one time like Hester/Niggas gon’ make me KRS ya…”
Synopsis: Putting this in perspective, “Flawless” was recorded after Ja and DMX squashed their beef (at least it gave us “Used To Be My Dog”). Both were long past their primes and to the point where neither mattered on a national scene. But since we’re scoring at home, close your eyes and imagine it’s 1999 and not 2009 when this was released. That didn’t make you think this was the DMX of old? Well, either way, X outdid Rule here.
DMX – 9
NYC – 4
Ja Rule & DMX – “Read About It”
DMX: “And now ya mama praying you better off in death than in life/But you in hell wishing that you stepped toward the light/Now you know, but it’s too late/Niggas don’t hear me though ’til it’s too late/All that ‘Yo, I’m sorry’ and ‘Yo, I didn’t know’/Is a waste of breath when your man is laying up in different clothes…”
Ja Rule: “Leather gloves, dark shades, a 12 shot gauge be my apparel/Lettin’ loose that sawed off double barrel/While striking your bone marrow/I can see your shadow starting to fade/Sprayed and now you laid to rest/Fragment of flesh missing from your head to chest…”
Synopsis: As a note, only the first two minutes were taken into consideration. Ja came out the gate swinging here and showcases a sharp contrasts to the style which morphed him into a superstar and did him in within only a matter of years. His showing made the decision more difficult than one would’ve liked and – in my eyes – went bar for for with X for the most part. In fact, Ja’s getting rewarded here. There’s a statement that hasn’t been said much over the past decade.
DMX – 9
NYC – 5
Ja Rule & DMX – “Gotti Style (I Shot Ya Freestyle)”
DMX: “But I bet now your man is thinkin twice bout who to fuck with/Shit is gettin bad, I’m robbin niggaz I grew up with/And I know it’s just a matter of time before I get shot/I’ma torture this niggaz little sister and make him watch…”
Ja Rule: “Ja’s to blame, I’ma let this world share my pain/In my demise you can put it on my grave/”Here lies a lost soul of rage, seen brighter days/And outta darkness done graduated, may he lay”/And this I swear, here in Hell we don’t play fair /Cross the line, with my nine I’ll be bringin you here…”
Synopsis: The “robbing niggas I grew up with” made the decision for me.
DMX – 10
NYC – 5
So there we have it – DMX taking 10 of the possible 15 entries. What does this prove? In the eyes of some, possibly nothing. For others, consider it conclusive evidence for a short period of time DMX was hands down the best rapper from New York. And an argument could be made he was the best MC blowing air into a microphone in 1998 and 1999 regardless of area code.
Had Stephen King composed a novel detailing a deranged, uber-emotional serial killer from Yonkers, New York, he would’ve patterned the character after DMX. He was that polarizing. The DMX we see today, however, is a shell of his former self; one attempting to keep his life on a somewhat straight path and avoid the pitfalls which derailed his career and personal life. Perhaps X’s biggest detriment was his brightest quality – himself. He never seemed capable of getting out of his own way and allow his success to work for him.
Instead, we see an artist who came up with X like Jay-Z and marvel at his consistency in a genre that hinges on “the flavor of the moment.” Jay survived in a game where the shelf life is shorter than that of a NFL running back. Yet, pay X that same respect.
He saved Hip-Hop in a sense when it desperately needed a facelift in the post-Biggie and Pac era. A few weeks ago Rick Ross dubbed himself “the flame that the game needed.” Well, DMX actually was such. He forced artists to return to the drawing board. That cookie-cutter bullshit was dead, at least in his eyes. Most importantly, he made an entire culture scared again.
And as Tupac Shakur once said, “fear is stronger than love.”