The posthumous record covers all of DMX’s traditional bases but turns a cold shoulder to having his own voice heard.
Hip hop tragically swings between losing its solidified legends or upcoming stars. It generates much discussion on unfolding a legacy or what could’ve been. The former was the case with New York’s DMX, who passed away from heart failure on April 9. Though relatively quiet for the past decade, DMX required only five years to make his mark. From 1998 to 2003, the Def Jam superstar delivered five consecutive number 1 albums, hit singles and roles in cult classic films. Amidst the success, the Yonkers rapper lived a troubled life, powering through a difficult childhood, drug addiction, legal issues and mental health struggles.
As history details in the cases of Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., Pop Smoke and many more, a DMX posthumous album was always inevitable. However the 7-week turnaround since his death raised a few eyebrows, causing concern for yet another potential cash-grab following a rapper’s death.
The long-time producer for DMX and executive producer of Exodus, Swizz Beatz, assures fans of the context behind its release. In 2019, DMX resigned to Def Jam Recordings, the label that housed his colossal ascension. Combined with the warm reception to his 2020 Verzuz battle with Snoop Dogg, DMX felt motivated to record a new album. According to Swizz Beatz, every song bar one was recorded and completed during X’s lifetime. X’s Drink Champs episode can attest to that, where he mentioned working with Griselda, Usher and Pop Smoke. So the comeback was audibly imminent.
As a product of both its creative process and posthumous decisions, Exodus loiters around finding its footing as a final farewell, over-seating the guests at the eulogy.
Exodus opens strong with “That’s My Dog”, a track with dusty 00s dungeon production that is textbook DMX. It makes perfect sense for fellow Ruff Ryders’ The LOX to accompany the opener; home is where the heart is after all. It’s not a song that results in a timeless moment, but that can be be said for Exodus as a whole.
Tracks like “Hood Blues”, “Dogs Out” and “Money Money Money” are solid tunes that nor fascinate nor disappoint. “Hood Blues” is your typical Griselda song, but it brings a smile to faces to hear DMX enter their world and do it justice. “Money Money Money” has its Pop Smoke verse removed, another track where the production is befitting for X’s aggressive energy, as well as Pop Smoke’s gruff vocals that are sorely missed.
At the core of its setbacks is the overindulgence in features. With just 10 songs to its name, every song includes a guest appearance. Most put their best foot forward, but this inevitably drowns out the prominence of DMX who should be the main focus of the album. On multiple songs, X’s voice is drowned out and becomes an afterthought to the collaborators. On a longer record with a handful of solo tracks, this would not have been a glaring issue.
When it comes to production, Exodus can be a mixed bag. Entirely produced by Swizz Beatz, Exodus once again reveals Swizz’s amateur beatmaking. His track record has a glaring number of misses than hits, packing a shameful amount of average-to-decent beats in between. “Bath Salts” is a track recorded and teased for well over 8 years, and it is telling from the production. For a song bringing Jay-Z, Nas and DMX together, the beat is degrading to their abilities, even with Jay-Z’s verse plucked straight out The Blueprint 3 era.
Other production blunders turn up on the emotional cuts “Hold Me Down” and “Skyscrapers”, the latter’s opening 10 seconds of which are embarrassingly outdated. This is not Swizz Beatz’s first time squandering an entire album, which calls to question why other X original Dame Grease was not invited to assist in crafting better beats.
In identical fashion to his entire career, DMX tries his utmost best to mask production flaws. His performances are potent, particularly on songs like “Dogs Out”. What is certainly missing from Exodus are X’s signature adlibs, which are either far and few or buried in the mix.
Exodus achieves is true purpose during its finale. “Walking in the Rain” is exactly the emotion required that tracks like “Skyscapers” failed on. This song gives plenty of breathing room for X to shine, before passing the torch over to Nas who lays a stellar verse. It is a track that echoes X right in his prime.
The true tear-jerker arrives in “Letter to My Son”, with DMX directly addressing his eldest son Xavier Simmons and their tense relationship. Minimal violin production and a fitting hook by Usher are all that is needed to assist X in his untimely message that is extremely difficult to stomach (“Cause what if it’s when I’m gone that you’ll realise you’re wrong? / And we could’ve been best of friends all along”). It is exactly the song needed to end the album in fantastic fashion.
Exodus is a rare instance of brevity being a record’s bone to pick. Exodus indecisively lingers in DMX’s living wishes and its struggle to honour his passing, cramming in features and relying on Swizz Beatz to be a competent producer. The results are admirable, though feels incomplete as a parting gift.
6.5 / 10
Best tracks: “Letter to My Son (Call Your Father)”, “Walking in the Rain”, “That’s My Dog”
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