The Definition of X: Pick of the Litter
hen DMX came out with his whole “dog” (pit bull, really) persona, barking on records ‘n shit, it felt like a gimmick at first—until X seemed to internalize it, to the point where it appeared that he really thought he was part man, part dog. He went past alpha male and came out the other side as something completely different. Maybe it’s because he’s a little crazy (N.B. his ’06 BET reality series, “Soul of a Man”)—and that’s without even addressing the dichotomy in his art, the balance (or at times, lack thereof) between lines like “Runnin’ around here like some brand-new pussy, about to get fucked” and “I really need to talk to you Lord.”
Prayers and a few “softer” songs aside, X’s first compilation, The Definition of X, is a shot of pure testosterone; this is music for aggro boys (which explains, to a great extent, all of his references to “pussy niggas” and, sadly, “faggots”—nothing is of greater importance to X, it would seem, than masculinity and, ahem, hardness). He became the king of the hardcore rappers on the back of this, and for good reason. At both his best and worst, DMX is pure id, and he’s used that to great effect on his best singles, such as 2000’s “Party Up (Up In Here),” an unstoppable anthem that still manages to be a dark, mean record.
X doesn’t always nail it to the wall like Stacy Lattisaw. “The Rain” is repetitive to a fault (blame DJ Scratch), while “It’s All Good” proves that just because a) Swizz Beats is your producer, and b) you’re sampling Taana Gardner’s legendary “Heartbeat,” doesn’t guarantee a good record. (Also: someone as angry[-sounding] as DMX should not record sex songs. Ever.) “Here We Go Again” has the anger, to be sure—“Throw it back in my face, dog? Well, fuck you too!”—but is missing the propulsive energy of X’s best tracks, and thus sits limp coming out of the speakers. That’s exacerbated by the near-hyperactivity of “No Love 4 Me,” which immediately follows.
If you were paying attention to NYC hip hop at the end of the ‘90s or early ‘00s, you know plenty of these songs, many of which are certifiable classics: the sportbike classic “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” (“Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down, open up shop!”); “What’s My Name?,” which might as well be subtitled “X’s Theme”; the horn-spiked “X Gon’ Give it to Ya”; and the militaristic “Who We Be,” for starters. As opposed to softies who had more crossover hits (cf. Ja Rule, Fabolous), history’s gonna remember DMX: for a hot moment, he owned hip-hop (four consecutive Billboard #1 albums), and he should’ve been, ‘cause when he’s at top form, he’s that good.