Last fall, I included DMX in a post predicting the success or failures or various rappers’ comebacks. I initially thought he was going to fail because I thought he could not overcome his demons. A while later, I heard a few songs he’d recorded since returning from prison and was cautiously optimistic about a new album. Well, Undisputed has arrived. Was I right the first time or the second? Read on to find out.
As I’ve said before, it is hard to separate an artist from their art. This is especially true with someone like DMX, who is very personal in his raps. Here, that proves to be a good thing. DMX’s soul-baring makes Undisputed a worthy album. He’s not saying anything new here, but he sounds fresh for two reasons: six years off has allowed for him to collect himself and become focused, and his music is so unlike much of today’s hip-hop.
Technically, DMX’s mic skills are sharp as ever. He rhymes intensely on every song (and yes, those growls and ad-libs are still there). Not unlike 2Pac, X is able to sound convincingly hard and convincingly vulnerable on the same song. “Head Up” and “I Get Scared” are prime examples of this. At times, the dualities detract from one another, but more often than not DMX’s personality and track presence are intriguing.
There is nothing new here. DMX is still battling his demons, still looking to God for answers and support, and still making energetic, violent threats at anonymous foes. Sometimes, X’s more violent songs sound worn-out because he’s been down that road so many times before. Usually though, he has enough oomph to make any track interesting. What holds these familiar themes together and lifts them above a tired formula is the production. It is at times dark, up-tempo, and classic X, so it should be no surprise that Swizz Beatz contributed to this album. Swizz does a solid job with “What They Don’t Know,” and “Y’all Don’t Really Know,” but the production is best on the Dame Grease-and-Snaz-produced “Cold World.” The haunting piano keys are the perfect backdrop to X’s chilling rhymes. Other slower production, such as on the worthy sequel to “Slippin’,” “Slippin’ Again,” works well with DMX’s themes of darkness and redemption.
X holds down this album mostly by himself. Strong vocals from various singers on the hooks and a dope verse from MGK on “I Don’t Dance” complement X, but don’t upstage him. This is Earl Simmons’ moment, and he makes the most of it. This album is worth it because it is a strong, honest body of work by a man who, through all his struggles, is still undisputedly a good rapper.