Thursday, 30 June 2011
A 16-year old fan of hip-hop right now probably has no idea what the hype behind DMX was about 12/13 years ago. Its tough to imagine that this washed-up, holiday-in-jail, tax-evading failed actor used to be one of the most exciting things in hip-hop, not to mention one of the most consistent.
DMX was in a position to be one of the biggest artists in rap, and probably would have been had the wheels not fallen off so badly that he was left using prison like a timeshare holiday agreement. Honestly, the guy has been in and out of jail more than some of the guards on shift-work.
But let's forget all that. Let's forget that it's 2011 and a DMX article won't be read by a single soul. Let's take it back to 1998. The year DMX became the biggest emcee in New York.
Following a decent run of hype following some guest spots (most notably on LL Cool J's track "126.96.36.199", which subsequently became more famous because of the LL/Canibus beef (sidenote: Canibus won that by the way)) Earl Simmons' debut LP "Its Dark & Hell Is Hot" was released to an absolutely rabid frenzy of support. It was heralded by some as New York taking the power back, but by most it was just an agreement that this wierd guy who growled and barked (and looked like a really dodgy mechanic who would smack you in the face if you didn't tip him) was actually running things.
There was no-one before and has been no-one since who has had a style as abrasive and aesthetically underground as his, but still managed to captivate the mainstream middle-class pop-rap audience just as much as his core fanbase.
"Get At Me Dog" and "Ruff Ryder's Anthem" were huge street hits, as was "Stop Being Greedy", and he followed that aforementioned debut album up quickly with his second LP later in the same year. "Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood" just continued the bludgeoning. Then the Ruff Ryders came with a compilation album...then came his third LP. The guy was basically hip-hop's 'everyman' voice. That is, if by 'everyman' you mean the nutter standing at the end of the bar waiting for someone to glance at him so he can start some shit.
But for all of his success and his huge hits, his career came crashing down just as swiftly as it was established. Its continue crashing since, like a dickhead drummer playing hell with the hi-hat (stop me with these horrendous similes whenever you're ready).
However, enough of the background info, this is about DMX's slow-burning classics. In amongst "Party Up (In Here)", "X Gon Give It To Ya" and "Slippin", there was a trio of album tracks that spanned the best four LPs he released before he went on the wane. They were astonishingly dark for a major label rap artist, not least one who had a huge fanbase and a burgeoning film career, and it was both surprising and refreshing. Even today they still sound new and raw, and get repeat listens from myself on my desperately-trying-to-hold-onto-hip-hop-past iPod library.
The three tracks were called Damian I, II & III, and they recounted DMX fighting his demons, literally. The beats were harrowing on each of them, with the second featuring the en-vogue media hate-mogul at the time, Marilyn Manson, on the chorus. DMX was never a smiling, happy emcee rapping about his relaxing life and loving family, and a lot of his other material felt cold yet emotional. But these were different.
The first Damian is about DMX scolding himself for always picking the wrong route and cursing why he doesn't have a "guardian angel". The "guardian angel" (by the name Damian) then suddenly turns up out of the blue and promises D the world, which is greatly appreciated by our Ruff Ryding friend. However, it becomes apparent over the song that Damian isn't the angel DMX was hoping for. Instead, we're treated to a bloodbath, with Damian instructing Earl to kill off anyone that gets in their way, even people considered friends.
The second one and third continue this trend, with the story developing further, and going into murkier territory as it carries on. The best part of all this is that, in amongst all of this, DMX has chosen to voice this devilish guardian angel with a lisp and a happy disposition, which just happens to make proceedings all the more stark.
Its superb stuff and I pray for the day that a commercial rap artist on a major label would ever have the bollocks to do something like this again. But instead, we're stuck with DRAKE. And sorry, Drake, but you're just a fucking bitch. If you agree, enjoy this small collection and listen to it at full volume on your headphones while rocking back and forth in the corner of your bedroom.
DMX's Damian (1998-2001)
2. The Omen (Damian II) (feat. Marilyn Manson)
3. Damian III