On 'Exodus,' DMX Finally Finds Meaning in His Suffering
Published Jun 01, 2021Though DMX fans are still mourning the death of the veteran rapper in April, they will surely take solace in his excellent new posthumous album, Exodus. Its name and themes are not only biblical but also familial, as the Yonkers rapper named his youngest son after that Old Testament book. It's the return to form Ruff Ryder diehards have been waiting for after years of diminishing returns like 2006's Year of the Dog… Again (the rapper's first album to not debut at No. 1 or go platinum) and 2012's Undisputed (on which his flow was downright arthritic).
Exodus finds DMX showcasing remarkable versatility alongside many of his peers, including vulnerability on the album's brawniest tracks. Both "That's My Dog" and "Hood Blues" find a braggadocious X suddenly letting his voice all but fray from emotional strain, as he hits a tone between anger and agony. His fearless honesty in those moments help him reach new artistic heights, as he floors listeners with hard earned wisdom. "Hood Blues" in particular will sate fans nostalgic for the acidic spitting that made X an instant gangsta rap great in the '90s. Moments before prying open his heart on that track, he rhymes the "apartheid" of his childhood neighborhood with how its thugs "hogtied" victims, succinctly reestablishing his street-poet bona fides.
Part of X's renewed vigor is clearly due to the all-star guest roster longtime collaborator (and Exodus executive producer) Swizz Beatz recruited for these 13 tracks. The feeling is palpably mutual for the Griselda gangsta protégés who, on "Hood Blues," engage in cipher one-upmanship with X. Their backdrop: a jazzy instrumental that lumbers with the gait of a Rottweiler circling their quarry (and features the same Lee Mason & His Orchestra horn sample Madlib and Pace Won famously employed prior). Aside from X, Benny the Butcher cuts deepest on the track with rhymes about flip-phone poverty and clasping his dirty hands in prayer, picking up where X left off on '90s hood odes like "Slippin'." It not only usurps the revered (yet overrated) "4,3,2,1" as the best posse cut the Dark Man has ever been on — it also features his rawest rhymes since "Get at Me Dog."
Longtime collaborators the LOX are also inarguably inspired while spitting alongside X on "That's My Dog." Its standout moment: Styles P viscerally rapping about a blade that isn't deadly because of its edge, but rather the rust that would infect a wound. X's Belly co-star Nas and one-time nemesis JAY-Z, meanwhile, supply "Bath Salts" with second-nature spitting befitting their elder statesmen status. Better still: DMX's recent Verzuz partner-in-rhyme Snoop Dogg slathering buttery rhymes on "Take Control." Swizz and D12's Mr. Porter together sample Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" for the song, interspersing horn stabs from that R&B classic to contrast a sprawling pitter-patter flow from X akin to what he used on "How's It Goin' Down," making "Take Control" a worthy sequel to that It's Dark and Hell Is Hot sex jam (though it lacks that earlier track's narrative ambition).
It is indeed heartening to hear X go toe-to-toe again with the peers who commercially surpassed him. And yet, fans who remember how he toiled in obscurity for years will also delight in the Exodus tracks featuring even bigger stars from other genres. Alicia Keys yearningly sings on "Hold Me Down," for instance, as X etches a tome about God's love somehow surmounting Lucifer's allure. "Letter to My Son" features a hook from R&B titan Usher and fluttering violins serving as an ideal foil for DMX's plainspoken fatherly dedication to his youngest son, the album's namesake (it's clear on the preceding "Exodus Skit" that young Exodus clearly inherited some of his dad's charisma, playfully chanting "Go daddy!" in a tone that will warm and break listeners' hearts). Then there's "Skyscrapers," which not only boasts a towering (in every sense of the word) hook from U2's Bono, but also gut-wrenching bars from X about coming to terms with his colossal, yet troubled legacy: "I just wanna be heard, fuck the fame / My words will live forever, fuck my name."
By chronicling the redemptive rise and bittersweet resolution of DMX's plot-twist ridden third act, Exodus not only fulfills the tall order of giving a long-overlooked great a fitting send off. It's also the sound of hip-hop's Job finding meaning in his suffering — and, thankfully, peace thereafter. (Def Jam)