Hip-hop did a good job of brutalizing itself during the early to mid-1990s. This was mostly because of the ridiculousness of the Bad Boy Records vs. Death Row Records; East vs. West feud that dominated rappers’ music for most of the decade. All of that nonsense culminated in the deaths of heavy hitters on both sides: 2pac
for the West/Death Row and The Notorious B.I.G.
for the East/Bad Boy. Soon after, the conspiracy theories and corruption surrounding these murders ended both of those once-great empires’ reigns. Hardcore gangsta rap disintegrated at this time, as well. It was replaced by a much softer form of hip-hop; one that was radio-friendly and full of pop hooks. However, by 1997, on the streets of New York, gangsta rap was poised to make a smashing comeback, and Dark Man X was the mastermind of the operation.
DMX released his major label debut on Def Jam records in the spring of 1998. The album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
had a distinctly dissimilar feel to it then other rap records of the time. DMX instantly drew comparisons to 2pac
, due to his commandingly aggressive presence as a mic controller. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
became an instant success, both in the underground and mainstream. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 (the first of five consecutive number one debuts and counting), produced several hit singles; most notably “Get At Me Dog," and has gone certifiably four times platinum.
It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
is a worthy enough album to draw such comparisons for it’s artist. DMX is a solid rapper. He gruffly barks his lyrics with an extremely suave, yet guttural feeling. DMX is something like the rapper incarnation of a dog. This is unsurprising, as he idolized dogs to no end. DMX’s delivery and rapping style on It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
is by far and away the best of his career. You can almost feel the sense of power and entitlement that his voice seems to exude, and it’s a rather welcome change, when compared to glam and pop-rap albums of the era. Put simply: DMX asserts himself rather well, and certainly proves that he can back up any labels that are slapped on him.
Much like any type of gangsta rap album, the lyrical content on It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
ranges from anecdotes about life on the street, to promiscuous sex tales, to debauched poetry about crime and violence. However, DMX is hardly any type of ghetto prophet, and this can be evident at times. Most of the songs on It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
revolve around sheer rage and violence for rage and violence’s sake. You won’t find any profound, well-thought out metaphors about issues that may have affected DMX. Rather, you’ll just get a good example of how pissed he is at…well, everything. This is hardly any sort of detraction, though. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
accomplishes it’s goal quite handily even without lyrical depth; the goal being the creation of kickass hardcore hip-hop.
One of the more refreshing points about this album is the fantastic music. You’ll hear everything from fantastic soundscapes, to straight-up beat box samplings. The music seems to cast the illusion of taking you everywhere from the insides of a jazz club or a coffee house, right down to the streets of the toughest ghetto in the world, and even into the pits of Hell (after all, how else would DMX know that it’s dark and hot there?). The occasional sounds of a barking dog also add for plenty of aesthetic appeal to the albums. What is perhaps the greatest strength of the instrumentation on the whole is the lack of irksome repetition. The music flows perfectly, with little to no redundancy. This is an excellent trait, and something more hip-hop albums should feature.
It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
features some of the heaviest hip-hop to ever be recorded. Some of the best examples of DMX’s monstrous talent can be found on “Get at Me Dog," "Let Me Fly," and "I Can Feel It." Songs like “Stop Being Greedy" and “X-Is Coming" emanate a sense of overwhelming energy and pressure, that offer little or no relief for the listener. “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem" basically sums up the entire feeling of the album (and its mission) in its lyric sheet; particularly the following line:
I resort to violence, my niggaz move in silence/
Like you don't know what are style is/
New York niggaz the wildest…
That one, simple little line aptly describes what It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot
meant to the hip-hop world. It brought back hardcore East Coast rap, and eventually, gangsta rap period. Throughout the rest of the album, there’s very little relief from the unrelentingly furious pace. With the exception of “How’s It Goin’ Down," and (to a lesser extent) “Crime Story," It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
takes itself very, very seriously.
The overtly serious tone of the album is actually it’s greatest downfall. A little levity every once in a while would’ve been appreciated. It would have made the album a much more accessible, as well as enjoyable listening experience. The actual accessibility isn’t helped at all by It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
’s longevity. Nineteen tracks, clocking in at 61:47 is rather intimidating for a hip-hop album. While the entire album is quality, it’s just very hard to sit through. On the whole, though, DMX’s breakthrough album is one fantastic piece of work. If not for the aforementioned complaints (and the fact that they mire some boredom), It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
probably would’ve been of classic caliber. It’s still a superb album, and a must-own for just about any hip-hop fan. Pick it up, especially if you want to see the turning point that developed into the modern rap acts we now have.