The Darkness

05/19/2011

By late-1997, the “Shiny Suit Era” was at its absolute peak. A monster had been created, which extended to an overflow of glossy videos and ’80s samples. While I personally enjoyed a good deal of the music that came out of it , some of it was flat-out unfukkinecessary. Regardless, it was the thing of the moment, and the whole world was on it. In the middle of this craze, there was an upcoming artist who was the complete opposite of everything that era represented. As a matter of fact, he seemed like he would’ve fit more into the era that preceded it, when things were a lot more grimy and a lot less polished and mainstream-aimed. His name was DMX, and in spite of what was dominating the charts, ’98 was about to be his year.

Ironically (or maybe not), X’s buzz started building through his appearances on albums by people who were actively jumping into the Shiny Suit Era. In the midst of Ma$e‘s extra glossy-flossy Harlem World, X was stealing the show on “24 Hours To Live”. As The Lox were trying their best to fit into the Bad Boy team with their Money, Power, Respect album, X shut it down on the title track. While LL Cool J was Puff Daddy-in’ it up with the Phenomenon album, there was still “4-3-2-1”, which X appeared on and killed. On top of that, he closed out ’97 with his own single “Get At Me Dog”, which hit hard and fast into the new year.

And from there, it was probably the greatest pre-album buildup ever. It seemed like every other week, he was making a guest appearance on some shit. From DJ Clue tapes, to remixes by Ice Cube and Mic Geronimo, to a currently obscure-as-fuck song by two female MCs named Duo, DMX was unavoidable. By May 19, 1998, X could do no wrong, and that was the level of anticipation he had as It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot hit the stores.

That album was the must-have of the time. Just about everybody I knew had it by the end of that week, and of course I did. I was STILL just getting over “Get At Me Dog” (and its video, which was the perfect introduction for him being the anti-shiny suit), so I was definitely ready to hear what else he had on deck. As expected, he brought the same aggression he’d become known for by then. His lyrics were violent, dark, and at times even comical to a degree, while the in-house production (mostly done by Grease) were both timely and different for its time.

Speaking of the production, It’s Dark was also the album that kicked off the long-running career of Swizz Beatz. He only actually did one track, but that one happened to be “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, which ended up being arguably the album’s biggest song. After that blew up, Swizz spent the second half of ’98 the same way X spent the first half- with his name popping up in some of everybody’s album credits. It was also that song which established the Ruff Ryders label as a brand and sound that would expand and remain relevant for the next couple of years.

As I said earlier, X surely brought the aggression and violence, but there was another angle to his music that I didn’t really expect. On top of all the chaos, he also rhymed about struggle- not just “trying to make ends meet” struggle, but being internally conflicted between living right and doing wrong. There was also a religious angle, most emphasized by his prayer towards the end of the album. While it didn’t dominate the content of It’s Dark, it did seem to flesh it out, especially in the era where who an artist was as an individual became just as important as what an artist said. It also turned out to be very true-to-life, as evidenced by the downfalls in both X’s life and career in the years since It’s Dark.

There’s a friend of mine who in retrospect said, “I can’t believe I used to listen to a nigga who barked on his records”. That is kinda funny when you think about it- I don’t know that if an artist came out nowadays making animal noises of any sort, I could even attempt to take that shit seriously. But it also says a lot about how strong DMX was as an artist at his peak in ’98. Outside of all the growling and barking (and I’m positive I heard him yelp and wimper a few times too), he had a voice that came along at just the right time. For that reason among others, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot was one of the best and highest-selling albums of ’98, and one that brought the street element back into the forefront.

“Ruff Ryders Anthem”

“Get At Me Dog”

“Damien”

“Stop Being Greedy”

“Niggaz Done Started Something” (feat. The LOX and Ma$e) 

-D!


The Eyez Never Lie

02/07/2011

15 years ago this month, 2Pac was the newest signee to Death Row Records, and the label was at the height of its popularity. Every album with that electric chair logo was selling like crazy, with more to come for ’96. Three albums deep by that time, ‘Pac was already a major star, but also ran into some much bigger problems that landed him in jail. After being bailed out by Suge Knight (in exchange for signing to the Row), he went straight from the jail cell to the studio. Within two weeks, ‘Pac recorded 28 tracks for his Death Row debut, which has since gone on to be his highest-selling album of all, All Eyez On Me.

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Livin’ The Life

11/29/2010

Wild but true: some of Mary J. Blige‘s longtime fans would rather see her sad. Not that they wish for her to go back to her life as a depressed star in an abusive relationship with drug and alcohol problems, but the music that came out of that era is among her most memorable. The happy, dancing MJB of recent years just doesn’t seem to strike that same chord that she did in more troubled times. Much like many artists make their best work when they’re new and hungry, some do their best when real life is kickin’ them in the ass. Such was the case with 1994’s My Life.

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The Total Package

10/27/2010

…Annnd as HipHopSoulWeek continues on DanjLovesThe90s

They always talk about those definitive R&B albums of the ’90s. You know-12 Play, 411, Motownphilly, Brown Sugar, My Life, CrazySexyCool, etc. And no doubt, they all did a lot to shape the sound as those years went on. But recently, when asked to name some of my favorite ’90s R&B albums, one of the first that popped in my head was one that rarely ever gets mentioned. It’s a personal classic of mine, and definitely one that represents the Hip-Hop Soul era to the fullest- the self-titled debut album by the “bad girls of Bad Boy“, Total.

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Purple.

08/02/2010

During my peak years as a Wu-Tang superfan (which incidentally stretches the exact length of my time in high school), I’d have to say 1995 was the year it was solidified. For me, that Wu logo was like the quality stamp for anything it was on. I ran Method Man‘s Tical album (in parts) through the early months, tripped off Ol’ Dirty‘s Return to the 36 Chambers during the spring, and closed the year out with GZA‘s Liquid Swords. With respect to those, the real Wu-jewel of ’95 was the one that dropped on August 1st, known as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

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“Make My Sh*t The Chronic…”

07/23/2010

…Y’all had to know it was comin’. I’ve been mentioning it all week, as it was the album the put Death Row on the map and started careers for a whole roster full of artists. It’s kinda tough to cover the story of the label or any of its artists without bringin’ it up. I was thinking about waiting until its original release date (December 15) to cover it, but I can’t realistically do a Death Row Week and not drop an entry on Dr. Dre‘s The Chronic, so here we go…

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Benefit of the Doubt

06/25/2010

I’ve been ready to do this entry for a good year.

Seeing as how Jay-Z‘s Reasonable Doubt dropped on June 25, 1996, my intention was to do an entry on it last year- 13 years to the day of its release. But that was the same afternoon on which one of the main artists that made me love music in the first place died, and plans got sidetracked. I don’t really do the death anniversary thing like that, so instead, no time like today to drop my one-year-in-the-making retro on one of my favorite albums from the great summer of ’96.

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