Undisputed (to be released Sept. 11, 2012)
Timing is everything.
In early 1997, around the time of the death of The Notorious B.I.G., the rap world began to enjoy an unprecedented taste of mainstream success. Rappers sampled upbeat hits from bygone eras, serving as a backdrop for their boasts of fast money, fast cars and fast women. The grittiness that dominated rap just a couple of years was pushed aside in favor of the infamous Shiny Suit Era.
Ugh, yeah. Those guys.
But seemingly out of nowhere, a snarling wolfman brought that to a crashing halt. While the rap world was wallowing in excess, DMX became the mad dog of war – literally barking and howling about his struggles. X became the best of both rap worlds: his hard core yet relatable lyrics were embraced by the streets while his over-the-top personality and unbridled energy made him a mainstream star. His classic 1998 debut, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot – the story of X’s struggle between his good and bad side – still resides in my top five albums of all time.
Fast forward to 2012 and rap is in need of another revolution. When the No. 1 song in the country is a rap song disguised as a pop song, the door is wide open for DMX to inject rap with his trademark fury. Undisputed, X’s looooooooong-delayed seventh studio album, doesn’t quite hit the mark, but probably hits harder than you’d expect.
X’s fatal flaw has always been that’s he sort of a one-trick puppy. While his peers like Eminem, Nas and Jay-Z have all evolved with the times, X has stayed almost exactly the same. Same ad libs (WHAT!), same production (COME ON!), same subject matter (GRRRRRRRRR!) And if you’re dying to hear X circa 1999, you’ll find the same old dog here. “What They Don’t Know” has X “coming through like Deebo” with that trademark aggression and energy that rivals most of his contemporaries. That track, along with “Get Your Money Up” reunites X with Swizz Beatz, who thankfully tucks away his lame hypeman act. I guess he didn’t want to be around while X yells about sodomy and stuff. “Head Up” is the usual inspirational track from X, as he continues to struggle with the angel and devil on his shoulders. “Y’all Don’t Really Know” and “Frankenstein” are also run-of-the-mill X songs. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not bad and are guaranteed crowd-movers. They just come off like watered down versions of earlier hits like “What’s My Name.”
X occasionally ventures into new territory. “I”m Back,” “Sucka For Love” and “Have You Eva” see the dog spitting over soulful samples – it’s a great change of pace but the production still sounds slightly dated. It’s like comparing the soulful tracks on Nas’ Life is Good to Kanye’s soul beats on Graduation. Still, those tracks are light years ahead of “I Get Scared,” which sounds like one of B.O.B.’s throwaways. It’s like trying to put a dress on a pit bull – it’s just WRONG.
It’s telling that the best track here by far is “Already,” which was released at least four years ago! “Already” is everything I wish Undisputed could be – frantic, uncontrollable and a little bit scary. It’s X at his best. Still, when the album’s best track was around during the Bush administration, that’s a problem.
DMX had definitely gone from top dog to underdog in the rap game. Considering all of X’s legal woes over the past seven or eight years, I’m sure Undisputed was expected to be a total wash. That’s definitely not the case. In most instances X brings the energy (although he does sound extremely weary on “Still Slippin'” and even while threatening to “crack heads” on “I Don’t Dance”). There’s enough here to satisfy longtime X fans but there’s just not enough bite to make a dent in today’s pop-rap era.
Best tracks: “Already,” “Have You Eva,” “I’m Back”
3.5 stars out of 5