(Released May 28th, 2021)
From his first growl to his last prayer, Earl “DMX” Simmons remained one of the most captivating rappers in history. Creating a seamless connection with his audience through storytelling and transparency, DMX became a staple for those whose soul he touched with his words and passion he displayed. An artist able to lay the skeletons that some keep in their closet, on the living room floor for all to see – introducing you to his demons by name; hoping his truth would lead others away from making the same life choices as him.
The news of his hospitalization, and subsequent passing, was coupled with immense sadness as well as an overwhelming amount of peace. Sadness due to the end of Simmons’ physical presence on earth. Closing the book for future testimonials rooted in tales of perseverance amidst the toughest battles. But above all else, there was peace. Understanding that that’s what would greet him in the afterlife, something he struggled to obtain as a living being.
Exodus, who’s title honors DMX’s four year old son Exodus Simmons, serves as the rappers final chapter; proving the old dog was still equipped with a vicious bite when provoked. The thirteen track LP explores themes that have been common throughout the rappers discography, however, they’re told through the lens of an aging, more mature version of The Dog all while being spearheaded by Swizz Beatz’ production.
Hate start with H cause the H comes after a G / They won’t say it face to face, they say it after I leaveNas “Bath Salts”
Exodus proves to be a true balancing act, displaying every facet of the artist we’ve grown to love over the years. The album opener “That’s My Dog” sees a reunion between DMX and The Lox. Each rapper displaying a sharpness proving why they’re labeled legends withstanding two decades in the business. Another New York link up happens on “Bath Salts” which features Jay-Z and Nas. Now while this collaboration ends up swaying more towards the underwhelming side of things, there are some bright spots throughout.
I just want to be heard, f*** the fame/ my words will live forever, f*** my name / Father God please give me the strength I need / I was born in the dirt so it’s like you planted the seed, let me growDMX “Skyscrapers”
The Bono assisted “Skyscrapers” could be an unexpected highlight for some. U2’s frontman sings “What began as a seed is no longer a dream/ Let’s become Skyscrapers” while DMX delivers honest bars throughout: “Whenever I went through something, it brought me closer to God/ and I stayed in something, so now I’m closer to God” things boil over during his second verse “Everyday I live, everyday I die/ don’t always laugh, but everyday I cry” intensifying into a crescendo “I just want to be heard, f*** the fame/ my words will live forever, f*** my name/ Father God please give me the strength I need / I was born in the dirt so it’s like you planted the seed, let me grow.”
Out the gate, the biggest issue with Exodus lies within its production. Swizz Beatz being at the helm turns into the albums Achilles heel. From “That’s My Dog” to “Dogs Out (Feat. Lil Wayne)” to “Money, Money, Money (we won’t discuss the seemingly out of place Moneybagg Yo feature),” every song Swizz had a hand in, made me wonder what the track would sound like without his input. Bland instrumentation, soulless kicks, unenthusiastic hooks or adlibs being inserted unnecessarily leaves much to be desired at times and teeter on the line of bearability. Some songs manage to push through these faults i.e. “Hood Blues (Feat Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher & Conway the Machine).” While lackluster, the production does lend a hand to the overall menacing appeal of the track.
“Take Control” samples Marvin Gaye’s 1982 classic “Sexual Healing;” helping DMX and Snoop Dogg make the perfect, and questionable, ladies anthem. With lines like “Do I miss you? Do you want me to? / Imma say “yes” it must be what you want me to do, with them bulls*** questions” and “What you see in the mirror is what I don’t mind losing” X never being the typical heartthrob. Snoop Dogg’s iconic laid back delivery smooths things out, proving to be a perfect matchup after both Dog’s went toe to toe during their Verzuz battle back in July of 2020.
I don’t always get my share of roses / for me, sunny days are always coming and going / I know we all got our share of trials and tribulations / but I done rode for some of y’all when you ain’t even have a ride yourself / So tell me why I’m walking in the rain?Denuan (aka Mr. Porter) “Walking In The Rain”
The piano led “Walking In The Rain” switches gears back to introspection as the album nears its end. “Found out the source of the pain, God given/ He left me with no shelter in the rain / but I learned to stay dry, so it wasn’t in vain.” Nas reappears with another captivating verse while Denuan [aka Mr. Porter of D12] sings “I don’t always get my share of roses / For me, sunny days are always coming and going / I know we all got our share of trials and tribulations / But I done rode for some of y’all, when you ain’t even have a ride yourself / So tell me why I’m walking in the rain?” Eventually being joined by DMX & Exodus Simmons as the song closes. “Letter To My Son (Call Your Father)” is the final song on the LP, before DMX’s last “Prayer.” Toting a sole verse from X, addressing his eldest child, Xavier Simmons, regarding their tumultuous relationship throughout the years. Pleading “Dear son, I look in your eyes and see my own / you look in my eyes and see my throne / As many times I tried to talk to you, explain to you / See it didn’t mean a thing to you.” Lines like “I don’t know what you thought about my use of drugs / but it taught you enough to not use the drugs” and “we could’ve been the best of friends all along / but it would kind of defeat the purpose of this song” mixed with heartfelt keys and violins, vocals from Usher and Brian King Joseph help put emphasis on a somber, but unforgettable, album closer.
I’m not f***ing with him like I was. I’m not saying I don’t go through anything or that the Devil isn’t on my back, but God is more presentDMX “Drink Champs” Interview (2021)
Completed prior to his untimely passing, DMX’s Exodus is far from perfect. However, what it represents is bigger than any flaw. The rappers first album in nine years sees a reunion with past label Def Jam and collaborations between veteran and younger artists. Finding a way to blend X’s natural gritty tone with each feature without coming across as forced or too out of place. It also marks the end of Damien, stating during his Drink Champs interview “I’m not f***ing with him like I was. I’m not saying I don’t go through anything or that the Devil isn’t on my back, but God is more present.” That connection being weaved throughout the project well before the closing “Prayer” ties it all together, leaving the listener with one final testimony. Whether Exodus ends up in your regular DMX rotation, fans can walk away from this posthumous effort with a sense of closure knowing The Darkman had a hand in what was presented instead of Exodus being an ill timed money grab.