Sometimes, it’s a hard sell, talking about the fairly incredible musical achievements of DMX. For people who didn’t grow up when he was actually rapping, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear his name tends to involve… other things.
His exploits outside the studio have a tendency to overshadow what he’s been able to do as an artist, and to a point, it’s understandable, if not unfortunate.
What’s more though, and what will always be more, centers around what DMX was able to accomplish in the year 1998, and what he gave us in the form of, “Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood.”
The album arrived December 22nd of 1998. In May of the same year, he released his debut, “It’s Dark, and Hell is hot.”
In 1998 this was much less common.
In any case, DMX delivered twice in one year, with (reportedly) one million dollars dangled in front of him, were he able to record and release his second album by the year’s end.
He did. And he did so with aplomb.
In talking about the album, it’s difficult to begin without talking about the cover.
My first encounter with the album was at Best Buy when I was 11 years old. I recall being struck, if not concerned.
What in the world is THIS?
It’s terrifying, and that’s the point. Like, “It’s Dark, and Hell is Hot”, this album is an uncensored trip through DMX’s mind, which is a particular place, to say the least.
The album’s intro, (an early Swizz Beatz production) is unlike most rap album intros– it’s actually pretty solid. It’s hype for the locker room, or the soundtrack for some movie’s slow-motion montage in which everyone prepares for war.
This leads into, “Bring Your Whole Crew”, which DMX begins by saying, “I got blood on my hands, and there’s no remorse, I got blood on my…”
Well, you can go look up the rest.
It’s shocking. It’s crude. It’s also, not literal, but it’s DMX making his point. He’s letting you know up front that what he has to say is not for the faint of heart. For the next 70-some odd minutes, you will be right by his side as he struggles with his demons.
As the album progresses, it alternates between hype tracks like these first two, and slightly (“slightly” being used very mildly) more mellow outings, like “Ain’t No Way” and The Mary J. Blige assisted, “Coming From.”
The former is a collaboration with shock-rocker Marylin Manson. The song is fine, if not a missed opportunity. It feels more like something that a board exec cooked up because, “oh man, these two dudes are into evil, wicked shit, and we’ll get some of the rock and roll kids to buy the album if we put them together on a song!”
It’s a sequel to “Damien” from the previous album, and like most sequels, the original is better.
“Slippin”, however, might be the defining song of DMX’s career: his finest moment.
It’s hard to know where to begin in discussing it. It’s a sprawling, sorrowful, and brutally honest piece of introspection. Even if you have no point of reference for what DMX is talking about, it’s very difficult not to feel the pain in his words, and the heaviness that comes with what he’s saying.
“Slippin” is his life story. It’s every struggle, every heartache, and every pain he’s ever felt rolled into five and a half minutes.
“To survive? Well, that’s to find meaning in the suffering.”
Listening to it, is not necessarily a joyous experience. That said, you can’t help but be hypnotized by his performance, as you know that there’s not one ounce of faking in it. Much like 2pac’s “Troublesome ’96” in which 2pac literally sounds like he’s at his wits’ end following being robbed and shot in New York, there’s a very pervasive, outrageously intense energy that runs throughout the song. “Slippin” is as terrifying as it is captivating.
How does one pull themselves through what DMX is speaking to? How does someone carrying the baggage that he’s carrying, sustain and quote-unquote, “succeed”, in light of it?
I don’t have the answer to that question, and I never will. DMX might not either, and the fact that he continues on in light of any number of struggles that he battles against, speaks to his particularities as both a person and performer.
The album closes with its longest song “Ready to Meet Him”, in which DMX considers the specifics of what it would be like to meet his maker. The song itself begins with a spoken word prayer, not dissimilar to the interlude found on the previous album.
In light of what DMX spends a majority of the album talking about, it’s perhaps a little strange that he’s devoting this final song to God. It also makes perfect sense: the album is called “Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood,” a Christ allusion. DMX is many things, and contradictory is just one of them. Throughout the tribulations of his life, and the things that he’s gotten involved in, he still attempts to honor a personal commitment to a higher power. Even in moments where it’s clear that he is struggling, he makes his attempt, however successful, or unsuccessful he may be.
There’s a quote I saw once, one that may or may not have been regarding DMX’s struggles. I don’t remember it specifically, but it was something to the effect of, “do we find troubled people interesting, or, do we find people interesting, because they’re troubled?”
In listening to, and appreciating this album, I wonder about that. Personally, I find myself in awe of someone with DMX’s plight finding both their vessel, and a means by which he’s able to communicate and/or inspire, frighten, anger, or bewilder such a large and diverse listening audience.
There won’t ever be another performer like him, and here, he is at his most compelling: both his best and his worst.