This week marked the 15th anniversary of DMX’s debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot. The dark, raw offering introduced the world at large to DMX and helped change the late 90s, early 200s hip-hop landscape. Dust off your old CD and revisit why this album is a modern hip-hop classic. —Sowmya Krishnamurthy
Most rappers bark more than they bite, but for DMX, this was literal. The rapper’s brusque delivery was peppered with his signature dog barks and growls, which to this day, might be some of rap’s strangest ad libs. The album’s lead single, “Get At Me Dog,” was a fitting introduction to the animalistic rapper and proved that the dog was out for rapper blood.
Darkness dominated DMX’s lyrical content on the album. Songs like “X Is Coming” were openly violent and horrifying while even introspective cuts like “Look Thru My Eyes” and “Let Me Fly” were depressing as hell. Rapper authenticity was never questioned when it came to Dark Man X; he was rapping bar by bar the bleak and twisted life he led.
Dark ‘N Emo
From the get go, DMX had star quality. The album and its subsequent music videos proved that X could do it all. He was dangerous but also alluring; men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. Cuts like “How’s It Goin’ Down” with Faith Evans showed his sex appeal, while retaining his male bravado (Not an easy task). One of the album’s standout cuts, “Prayer (Skit),” was a raw showing of contrition and asking God for guidance. X’s live performances of the affective cut still stand as some of rap’s most moving and by the end of many shows, X would literally be weeping onstage. Like 2Pac before him, DMX was not afraid to show emotion and let it all hang out and fans loved him for that.
Meet Swizz Beatz
Before Swizz Beatz was buying Basquiats and looking cutesy with wifey Alicia Keys, he was just another producer on the Ruff Ryders roster. Swizz, along with Irv Gotti and Dame Grease, produced much of the album, including the aggressively catchy “Ruff Ryders Anthem.” After It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, Swizz became a go-to producer for the rest of the Ruff Ryder roster and quickly turned into a celebrity in his own right
Def Jam Back
When the album came out in 1998, hip-hop was a landscape of shiny suits (Hi Diddy and Ma$e!) and party rap. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot brought back gritty street rap and helped usher in new life into Def Jam Records. Soon thereafter, DMX, Jay-Z and Ja Rule would make Def Jam into a powerhouse and burn those shiny suits once and for all.