In their latest Great Hip-Hop Debates podcast, XXL’s EIC Vanessa Satten, Jack Thriller, Dj Suss One, and Torae, debated whether younger heads needed to be schooled on the history of the culture. It was mostly in direct response to a recent controversy surrounding a tweet referring to Nas as Esco, which young-Twitter immediately jumped all over, accusing XXL of making an error [infuriating older heads in the process]. One of the great takeaways, though, was that we need to take the initiative to teach younger generations about the history of the culture, when at all possible.
Well, today is the 18th anniversary of DMX’s debut album, It’s Dark and He’ll Is Hot, and rather than merely pointing it out, I felt it necessary to be part of the solution and discuss why the album matters. Today DMX is a shell of his former self; unfortunately, most 90’s babies missed D in his heyday, so they may not understand why he gets a consecutive pass from the hip-hop community.
Allow me to break it down.
By the time May, 1998, rolled around, buzz for DMX’s impending full-length album was at a fever-pitch. He’d made some serious noise dropping 16’s on some massive records the year before, namely Ma$e’s Debut album, Harlem World, LOX’s debut, Money Power Respect. Not to mention, his verse on LL Cool J’s “1,2,3,4” — the song that started the beef between Canibus and LL [more on that another time]. So, when It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot hit the streets, hot on the heels of the single, Get At Me Dog, people lost their minds. What Jeezy had (regarding an aura of authenticity) when he first dropped, X had in overabundance. He was a hyper example of NYC’s gritty streets, circa the early 90s (think Onyx Bacdafucup) mixed with this inexplicable [because I’m a guy] appeal that had females open. The record was a product of the good old days of Def Jam, when über meticulous attention was paid to creating full bodies of work. The album was personal, aggressive, insightful, and catchy. Records like Ruff Ryder’s Anthem and Get At Me Dog become anthems in the big apple, and nationwide.
Records that have always stuck out to me were “How’s It Goin’ Down”, a record that sees D essentially letting go of a relationship with a married/taken woman, and “Damian,” where D sells his soul to the devil in exchange for success — a storyline he picked up on subsequent albums.
The album sold over 200k in its first week, and two years later, was certified 4x platinum. A mere seven months later (within the same calendar year), he released his follow-up album, which also reached 4x platinum status. He became the first rap artist to have two number-one albums within one calendar year. It may be younger heads to grasp how large DMX was, but numbers don’t lie. And those numbers are reductions. He helped usher in names like Eve, Swizz Beats, and a host of others; and, was an inspiration to countless artists. I’m not even going to get into Belly, and his other movie roles, or his other albums. But, DMX’s place in (hip-hop) history is well deserved.
He still packs shows, though, and as of late, seems to be on a more positive path. It’s been well publicized that his issues with drugs and alcohol have been a dark cloud over his career — and more importantly his life — for a better part of the last decade.
Listening to this album as I write, 18 years after first pumping it in my blue Sony Walkman during the summer of 1998, takes me right back to that time in my life. It’s true that much of the love D still gets is due to the nostalgic value of his classic catalog; however, the album is timeless. It more than holds up — and stacks up — today, just as well as it did when it first dropped. I still get the same feeling as I listen “How It’s Goin’ Down,” reminiscing about an era that seems like yesterday, but is a lifetime ago.
If you’ve never indulged, give the album a spin. If you’re a real head, re-indulge. All hail the Dark Man.
[Dark Bark] … What the deal?