After 15 years, DMX’s dark debut still packs bite
DMX’s debut is a landmark hip-hop album, but it’s also a pop album (as in, popular), which is utterly hilarious. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, released on May 19, 1998, went straight to No. 1 its opening week, and it went 4x Platinum in just over two years. That’s despite the fact that it was a sociopathic, off-putting collection of shouted rhymes about righteous vengeance and nihilistic violence paired with grimy, foreboding beats. So how did such a carnival of misery and carnage become such a mainstream hit?
Teenage boys, mainly. DMX’s debut may have been the product of a grizzled 27-year-old street hustler, but it was an album for kids half his age. Pubescent males know not about subtlety, and the album had a mindlessly overt potency. When my friends and I were 14, the album’s energy matched ours (the motherfucker was barking!), and the CD’s fury broke through our relentless clatter of imbecility.
But the album had appeal beyond the mallrats because DMX (real name Earl Simmons) and primary producer Dame Grease created a suffocatingly dark stomp that was a whisker shy of being a concept album, with hooks that were just as badass as the MC. And that’s how it became the bleakest of pop beasts.