Review Summary: A superbly produced album by one of the greatest MCs. This is a must own for anyone who wants to consider themselves a hip-hop fan. However, keep in mind it is nearly relentlessly hardcore, with rough vocals, heavy bass, etc.
Earl Simmons/Dark Man X/Dog Man X/DMX is rumored to be working on a new album to be released sometime in the near future; hearing this news, I took the opportunity to revisit his debut, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot
It’s Dark and Hell is Hot
did very well upon its release, and few accredited major reviewers panned it, yet it still stands as one of the most underappreciated Hip-Hop albums in my personal opinion. It is easy to see why an amateur review of DMX’s debut would not give it the rating it deserves. It often gets critiqued for lacking variance or being overly long, amongst other complaints. These are all reasonable views because this is dark, hard-hitting, gritty, explicit, gangster rap
, and it (almost) never lets up. During my personal experience with the album, I encountered many of the same issues one sees mentioned in those numerous internet reviews. I picked the album up knowing it was considered a must own by several hip-hop heads, yet it took me a long time to give It’s Dark and Hell is Hot
the thorough, full, listening it deserved. I probably had the album in my CD player or iPod in an attempt to do so for two months, before I was finally spurned into giving it the listen it deserved by a rapper (whom I can't recall) cited "Intro" as one of his favorite tracks of all time.
I was glad when I did.
Production by Dame Grease and Swiss Beatz (Irv Gotti also contributed some help, from my understanding) is superb. The album clocks in at roughly 65 minutes 19 seconds, with nineteen tracks. While many felt this was too long, I attribute this to the sheer gritty, hard-hitting style of the album. It may be difficult to give It’s Dark and Hell is Hot
a full listen because this heaviness is a near constant presence; but once given one’s full attention, it becomes difficult to stop
listening. DMX has that something that is hard to describe with words and easy to show by simply throwing on a track on and giving it a listen – I and many others simply call it mic control. The aforementioned “Intro” has a perfect example (“’Ills’ / all I’ve been hearin lately/ niggas hate me/ wanna duck tape me and make me/ put their brains on the wall/ when I brawl/ too late/ for that nine-one-one call”).
The production on the album actually has quite bit of variation, contrary to what many reviews state; on a casual listen, the tracks do sound similar. However, there are everything from massive club banger beats to underground hardcore rap beats on this album, and each one is very well done (notably there has been a resurgence in demand for Dame Grease to produce current artists beats, and Swiss Beatz teaches production at NYU). It is likely you’ve heard a number of the tracks on this album before, so I won’t give a track by track.
This album only gets better with better audio equipment, which reveals more of the nuances within the tracks. DMX delivers on every beat on this album – to the point that it becomes difficult to recognize the brilliance of his skill. A quick listen of the closing track will easily reveal everything that makes DMX one of the best MCs. “Niggaz Done Started Something” alone should get you excited for anything DMX drops in the near future. Forget that this is a retrospective review and imagine this was a fresh release today; give the first 3 minutes and 20 seconds a listen, and you’ll find it to be a better release than nearly anything I can think of (courtesy of the L.O.X. and Mase, names you should have heard of before). Then DMX comes on and destroys the track.
If all you know of DMX is the club bangers that one will inevitably come across at some point, understand he is one of the top rappers alive today (just find the uncensored versions of those club bangers if you can and give his lyrics your attention). He never released an album that was perfect for the masses, and that may cause you to dismiss his skill, but that would be a mistake. DMX is notorious for his criminal record; making him a bit harder to relate to then rap's other superstars but his skill is far from lacking. It’s Dark and Hell is Hot
is perhaps too heavy and gritty for casual listening, but DMX was hungry and focused on this debut and it is undoubtedly a must own for anyone that wants to consider themselves a hip-hop fan. Give it the attention it deserves and you won’t regret it.