… And Then There Was X
(Def Jam)

You'd be hard-pressed to find a hip-hop artist as formidable as DMX. Blessed with a raspy pit bull voice, he delivers his rapid-fire rhymes, which ricochet from the car speakers like a hail of errant bullets. But masterful delivery only partially explains the DMX mystique. The New York rapper also possesses a singular gift for melodrama. In song after song, DMX casts himself as a wrathful ghetto angel who delights in dispatching infidels yet frets for his black-hearted soul. Gothically menacing, DMX is the current, undisputed heavyweight champion of hardcore rap.

Unfortunately his albums always fall short of greatness, and his new record is another case in point. … And Then There Was X suffers from a surfeit of thoughtless gangsta theatrics and a paucity of genuine introspection. To his credit DMX always attempts to counter his violent sentiments with more-thoughtful lyrics. On his new album, the rapper pleas for divine mercy on tracks like "Prayer III" and "Angel." But sentiments such as "in my heart I mean well" and "I stand before [God]… seeking direction" seem disingenuous beside a cut like "The Shakedown," in which the rapper kills an innocent, pleading victim. Unlike the late Tupac Shakur, who offset his hoodlum anthems with compassionate, socially conscious tracks such as "Dear Mama," DMX comes off as cold, self-obsessed, and beholden to no one.

Still, on those occasions when DMX's hellish vision crystallizes, the results are stunning. "One More Road to Cross" boasts a melody that sounds like a postmodern plantation holler and shows DMX at his criminal-minded best -- predatory and resigned to hellfire, as he details a botched liquor store heist. And it is this DMX, in all his shameless glory, who fans are embracing. … And Then There Was X debuted at No. 1 -- the last chart-topper of the millennium. With his lucrative, blood-soaked rap songs, DMX lends new meaning to the phrase "making a killing." -- Bruce Britt

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