DMX’s ‘Exodus’ is a posthumous triumph

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One unsettling signal of how massive the enterprise for posthumous hip-hop albums has turn out to be: DMX’s “Exodus,” which arrives simply weeks after the gravel-voiced rapper’s dying on April 9 at age 50, does so minus a deliberate look by the late Pop Smoke — as a result of, DMX’s producer says, the verse in query ended up on considered one of Pop Smoke’s posthumous data first.

Launched Thursday night time, “Exodus” joins a tragic cavalcade of current initiatives from hip-hop artists who died earlier than their time, together with 20-year-old Pop Smoke and 21-year-old Juice Wrld, each of whose 2020 LPs had been amongst final yr’s most commercially profitable in any style, in addition to XXXTentacion (20), Mac Miller (26) and Lil Peep (21).

However DMX’s album additionally stands aside, not least due to his age — “Exodus” has a distinctly grown-up high quality, with ideas of nostalgia and fatherhood — and since he was a part of a era from earlier than the period when digital recording enabled musicians to create huge shops of fabric that their survivors might later comb by way of.

Certainly, in line with Swizz Beatz, who labored with DMX for years within the studio and oversaw the making of “Exodus,” this spectacular 13-track set wasn’t meant to be a posthumous album in any respect. The producer says that he and DMX set to work on “Exodus” within the fast wake of the rapper’s well-received July 2020 Verzuz battle with Snoop Dogg, which reinvigorated his profession after a while within the wilderness; the concept was a type of centered, high-level reintroduction of an artist whose fierce lyricism and unvarnished charisma led to a string of 5 No. 1 albums — together with two in a single yr — within the late ’90s and early ’00s.

DMX, who’d signed a brand new cope with the Def Jam label that helped flip him right into a star, had the LP nearly completed when he died from a coronary heart assault reportedly associated to a drug overdose. (His dying carefully adopted these of two different middle-aged rappers, MF Doom and Black Rob, and shortly preceded that of Digital Underground’s Shock G — an sad solution to notice that hip-hop itself has been round for almost half a century.)

Realizing his ambitions, it’s heartening to listen to how a lot perception DMX had left in his signature strategy: Although “Exodus” makes use of extra cameos than he went for on his traditional early data — among the many splashier company are Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Nas, Snoop Dogg, Usher and U2’s Bono — the music nonetheless layers his gruff, chant-like vocals over hard-knocking beats smeared with vaguely gothic overtones; thematically, too, he places throughout a well-recognized mix of threats, confessions and sexual advances — typically multi functional track, as in “Take Management,” the place Marvin Gaye’s sampled croon accompanies him as he imagines the resentments prone to develop out of an intimate bed room encounter.

Cover of DMX's 2020 album "Exodus"

Cowl of DMX’s 2020 album “Exodus”

(Def Jam Recordings)

“Maintain Me Down,” with a reassuring hook sung by Swizz Beatz’s spouse, Alicia Keys, ponders the sturdiness of religion — “Satan engaged on me laborious as a result of God loves me,” DMX raps — whereas the swinging “Hood Blues” vividly flashes again to the Yonkers, N.Y. native’s tough upbringing. In “Cash Cash Cash,” the observe that was imagined to characteristic Pop Smoke (now changed by Memphis rap star Moneybagg Yo), the boys commerce growling traces about hazard and temptation; “Bathtub Salts,” which convenes a Massive Apple dream workforce with former enemies Jay-Z and Nas, carries its menace extra calmly: “I’m taking half, it’s simply that easy,” DMX barks, clearly impressed by the pleasant competitors, “Or I can begin popping n— like pimples.”

Sarcastically, maybe, listening to DMX embrace his classic sound makes you consider the affect youthful rappers have taken from him whilst they’ve left behind his simple boom-bap manufacturing for blearier types. You possibly can actually hear him in Pop Smoke’s chesty rumble and in Juice Wrld’s songs about his precarious psychological well being; you possibly can see him within the flashy but tattered rock-star iconography favored by the likes of Trippie Redd and Playboi Carti.

Within the tightness of its construction, although, the gratifyingly concise “Exodus” shares little with trendy rap — significantly with bloated posthumous efforts that may appear to go on without end in a misguided try and sum up an artist’s total sensibility.

Not each observe connects. “Skyscraper,” the collaboration with Bono, goes painfully literal with an angel-devil scheme made solely clunkier by the track’s weirdly perky beat. And the frankly emotional “Letter to My Son (Name Your Father)” didn’t want all of the weepy violin to make its sobering level about generational trauma. However DMX sounds remarkably pushed on “Exodus” — a person with life, not dying, heavy on his thoughts.

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