The loss of DMX hit rap fans had. A pivotal figure, personal issues derailed his career, but his talent burned undimmed. That he was taken before a new generation could uncover his work felt especially cruel – in many ways, DMX acted as a precursor to drill’s street poetry, or even the road rap styles that have proved to be so pivotal here in the UK.
Listening to ‘Exodus’ leaves you struck between two emotions: DMX remains a stunning lyricist, his bark only seeming to grow in potency over the years; yet it’s also an unbearably poignant listen at times, with meditations on loss and allegories for death at every corner.
The highs are truly stunning. Best buddies Jay-Z and Nas appear on ‘Bath Salts’ and swap the playful if cringey crypto-raps from their DJ Khalid slot for something more in keeping with their DMX admiration. ‘Hood Blues’ matches the Ruff Ryders hero against the Griselda all-stars, while the flute-enabled production feels like a long lost sample from a 60s spy movie.
‘Walking In The Rain’ offers trenchant reflection, while two Swizz Beats features – opener ‘That’s My Dog’ and ‘Dogs Out’ – bolster some of the album’s more rough-hewn yet club-ready cuts.
A project that shows a rebellious spirit undimmed, ‘Exodus’ is also marked by regret. Bono’s voice longs for the heavens on ‘Skyscrapers’ – a distant echo of the way Kendrick Lamar recontextualized the Irish singer – Alicia Keys’ beautiful appearance on ‘Hold Me Down’ is the perfect foil to his bravado.
At times, the eerie foreboding tips into the uncanny. ‘Letter To My Son (Call Your Father)’ finds DMX opening up about his deepest regrets, and his failings as a father. It’s a song about what divides us, and you can only pray that he found a way to overcome those elements in the weeks before his passing.
Ending with ‘Prayer’, ‘Exodus’ is an album of duelling emotions. You’re left with the impression that DMX was a true rap great who was on the verge of potent rediscovery, of claiming his place as a key factor in the growth of a new hip-hop generation. But you’re also left desolate that this simply wasn’t to be.
Words: Robin Murray
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