DMX
Year of the Dog…Again
2006
B+



dMX is the ultimate alpha male and, right now, hip-hop needs X desperately; he’s so much more than raps about ho’s and the crack game. Sure, he’s still repping Ruff Ryders and still as street as you wish you were. But he’s also still one of the most fascinatingly conflicted rappers alive.

A friend of mine recently suggested that the only promo budget a label needs for a DMX record is the bail money. “Doesn’t it seem like every time [he]’s about to release a new album, he gets arrested?” He subsequently added that “other rappers mention God in their CD booklets, but DMX actually records himself praying.”

Year of the Dog…Again closes with “Lord Give Me a Sign,” which from lesser rappers might sound soft, but rapped in X’s harsh growl is far from it. Here’s its opening:
I really need to talk to you, Lord
Since the last time we talked, the walk has been hard
Now I know you haven’t left me, but I feel like I’m alone
I’m a big boy now, but I’m still not grown.
It’s a rare moment of self-inspection by X—one of hip-hop’s most hardcore rappers laying it bare, revealing himself as vulnerable and just as much in need of guidance as (if not more than) anyone else. There’s nothing fake here. Hearing DMX like this is more shocking than a thousand “Stan”’s.

Those who think X is a one-trick pony, all guttural barks and Swizz Beats production, aren’t paying close enough attention. “Walk These Dogs,” featuring new female rapper Kashmir (think a more aggressive Rah Digga), is a bangin’ track produced by Dame Grease (remember him?), all kindsa NYC-dancey (it samples a Teddy Pendergrass song). It sounds of disco but not from or like disco, and it’s like little X has done before. Scott Storch handles a pair of tracks, “Lord Give Me a Sign” and the lackluster “Give ‘Em What They Want.” That’s not to say that Swizz Beats isn’t still an integral part of the fam—he gets four cuts here, including first single “We In Here,” damned near the DMX manifesto. (Five years ago that might’ve been the equally aggro “I Run Shit,” but commercially that’s sadly no longer the case, as evidenced by the fact that Year of the Dog…Again is X’s first album not to debut at #1.)

Along with some new members of X’s crew (R&B vocalist/hook-singer Janyce, rapper Jinx), the guests here are few: Busta Rhymes is lukewarm on “Come Thru,” Amerie adds some vocals to “Dog Love,” and Jadakiss and Styles P prove why they’re still some of NYC’s MVPs on “It’s Personal.” This is one major-label hip-hop album not about the guests, but it makes sense: DMX has enough personality to more than fill an album by himself, and he needs the room. Don’t crowd him. Year of the Dog…Again gives X the room he needs to breathe, stretch out, strut, and occasionally attack like the pit bull he is. Crucially, he shows all the sides of his personality, making this one of hip-hop’s most well-rounded albums of recent vintage.



Reviewed by: Thomas Inskeep
Reviewed on: 2006-08-11
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