July 9, 2008

DMX - It's Dark and Hell is Hot (May 19, 1998)

Most people probably remember Earl Simmons today for his budding direct-to-video film career and his penchant for getting arrested for a diverse range of felonies, from driving while under the influence to animal abuse, with a little bit of alleged rape thrown in to spice things up. It's strange how much of a difference ten years can make.

Ten years ago, Earl Simmons, known on court dockets as DMX, was better known as one of hip hop's cameo kings, someone who you could call upon to make your song sound even better (the other master of this particular art form is the little-known Busta Rhymes: whatever happened to him?). Earl had a solo career of his own in the early 1990s, when he was signed to Ruffhouse Records (home of Cypress Hill and the Fugees): this resulted in his debut single, "Born Loser", which played to the crickets, ending X's short-lived career. ("Born Loser" doesn't actually sound that bad, but it's completely understandable why it failed as a single: who wants to hear such a depressing-ass song in a happy-go-lucky art form such as hip hop?)

X soon went underground and reinvented himself, appearing as the token unknown guy alongside rappers as varied as Mic Geronimo, Jay-Z, LL Cool J, and his close friends The Lox. His cameos soon made enough noise in the industry, and his frequent appearances in the accompanying videos certainly helped matters, earning him both a deal with Def Jam Records, who was in the midst of a reinvention, and also snagging the lead in Hype Williams's directorial debut Belly, which stands out in my mind as the reason I've always felt that Nasir Jones is a terrible actor, but I digress.

It's Dark and Hell is Hot, which I always felt was a weird title, dropped in May of 1998 and proceeded to sell gazillions of copies, as if X was a commercially viable artist or some junk. I picked up the disc on its first day out because I liked what I heard from his guest spots, but mostly because the first fifty thousand copies of It's Dark and Hell is Hot came bundled with a bonus second disc promoting Def Jam's Survival Of The Illest, a nifty marketing tactic designed to give validity to the idea that Def Jam was actually on the verge of a comeback. That bonus disc came with exclusive songs from Ja Rule (don't sound too thrilled, Max), Onyx (including an interesting freestyle that used the same sample as Noreaga's "Noreminatti"), Cormega, and LL Cool J's "Return Of The Ripper", the song that derailed Canibus (he's been playing catch-up ever since) and, consequently, ended up being the one song that I actually remember from this project, and it isn't even a DMX song.


The dialogue at the beginning doesn't even fucking make sense, but, thankfully, it's just a short prelude to one of the better rap album intros I have ever heard. DMX ignites a pretty hot beat, I have to admit.

I always thought this song, which is about the American entrepreneur and the decline of small business in the wake of the mega-box stores (that's what I gather from the chorus, anyway), was corny, and repeated radio exposure to the Swizz Beats instrumental hasn't offset my argument. I always thought it was funny when the radio edit was played around my way, though, since there aren't a lot of radio edits that leave the lyric "bitch ass n---a" unaltered.

I wasn't really fucking with this song upon its initial release (I never found it to be an effective form of birth control), but hearing it today, this beat doesn't actually sound that bad. Still, DMX sounds like he knows that he's not truly suited to the instrumental, but is too stubborn to give it up.


X has always has a way of turning the phrase "my n----z" that made it sound as appealing as an offensive racial epithet can sound. Still, I'm not liking this one at all.

Uh oh, somebody's got EPMD's "Get The Bozack" stuck in their head. (That somebody is me.) Whenever I hear the phrase "Tunnel banger", I tend to think of two things: random sexual encounters in subway terminals, and "Get At Me Dog", DMX's first single, which still sounds as if it will spontaneously combust in my computer. When I picked up Def Jam's Survival Of The Illest live album (which I sold almost immediately), I was surprised to hear that the live version of this song sounds an awful lot like the album track. I believe this video was banned from MTV for bullshit reasons, something probably having to do with profanity (as if DMX's bosses wouldn't have gladly edited the video for mass consumption) or some bullshit. (Clearly, there are no such fucking standards up in this bitch.)

I don't wanna.

The instrumental, from P.K., sounds horror-movie-creepy enough, but the chorus is completely unnecessary. It's a shame, because the song is interesting otherwise, except for the reference to raping girls older than fifteen: I'm actually surprised that Def Jam let that reference slide.

Songs which feature the rapper performing a duet with a higher-pitched version of themselves usually come off as forced and pretentious. This song is no different. (The exceptions: Biggie's "Gimme The Loot" and J-Zone's "Inauguration Day".)

The radio-friendly song for the ladies, although it's really about X hooking up with a chick that's already in a relationship, getting her pregnant, putting her on them corners and ultimately turning her on to a life of crime before...the relationship ends amicably? The fuck?


The beat is more suited for spoken-word open mic night at one of those coffee shops where everyone wears all black (including on their souls) and are always terrified of being bought out by Starbucks. (Don't think they'll have to worry about that with this fucking economy, but that's a different conversation entirely.) It's not bad, but the beat puts you in a completely different mood than what Earl wants.

The b-side to the "Get At Me Dog" single has a sound that I can only describe as "whimsical" and "enchanting, in a hood way". Seriously. It sounds like a fucking Disney cartoon. It's a good song, though: I have to give credit to P.K. and Dame Grease for taking one of the most evil-sounding (and yet most heavily-sampled) Diana Ross songs in her catalog (here, "My Hero Is A Gun") and making it sound, well, evil, and I mean that in the best possible way. Also, the video, featuring DMX driving around with his split personality, stands out in my mind, which is odd, since I don't remember it being very good at all.

14. ATF
Although this is a one-verse tale that takes waaaay too long to actually start, the beat and rhymes complement each other well. Also, it's about two minutes long, which is perfect for my short att...oooh, shiny object!

The posse cut with X's weed carriers dog whisperers that inevitably appears on all debut albums. Other than Cam'Ron soundalike Drag-On, I haven't heard from any of these guys since, and in hearing this today, it makes sense why.

I'm sorry, but fuck this shit. Sampling and interpolating "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins? I realize I'm coming off as sounding like Trey Parker and Matt Stone after they lost the Best Original Song Oscar to Phil Collins when they were also up against Aimee Mann, but Max cannot and will not tolerate this shit.

These prayer interludes would become a standard of X albums, just like those "Damien" songs, which proves that DMX is a conflicted man. Earl, I'm not sure that God can help you out on the solo tip: you may want to find an army. Or maybe a therapist.

The beat starts off sounding good, but then X starts his talk-rapping, and the tone of the song changes completely. It's actually quite disappointing.

My focus was elsewhere during the Murda Mase era, so as a result I never paid any attention to him until he was signed by Puffy. The Lox all come off as inexperienced weed carriers, which is weird, since they were their own entity and were from the same part of New York as DMX. X easily out-raps all four of his invited guests, but he gave them a consolation prize: much-needed exposure, since this disc sold millions of copies. Me? I always liked the beat.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It's Dark and Hell is Hot suffers from The Case of the Overachieving Rapper (in which the artist remains convinced that this will be his only shot at the big time and needs to cram every empty spot on his album with every idea that pops into his head), combined with Rapper Has Nothing To Say Syndrome, which is self-explanatory. The results are, predictably, mixed at best, which makes DMX's album incredibly hard to listen to straight through (it doesn't help that some of the lyrics are just downright ugly and masochistic). Some of the beats, though, are fucking brilliant, and a handful of songs actually rock, so it's not a completely lost cause. DMX's internal struggle between good and evil also makes for some partially interesting subject matter, the key word being "partially".

BUY OR BURN? Burn it. Regardless of what I'm sure the comments will look like, DMX's debut album doesn't hold up to close scrutiny or the passage of time. There are some good songs, and he has made some entertaining songs since, but this album ain't so great.

BEST TRACKS: "Intro (It's Dark And Hell is Hot)"; "Get At Me Dog"; "Stop Being Greedy"; "N----z Done Started Something"



  1. Damien, ATF and NDSS are the only songs on this album I liked.

    Damien is dope. Fuck wutcha heard(sorry, been listening to Smoothe Da Hustler again).

    The bonus disc has Cormega's 'Testament' on it. That and The Ripper Strikes Back are better than anything on the DMX album.

    Although, again, Damien is a good song.

  2. fuck off you cock mouth bastard this album rulez! I hope you run into one of his dogs and they bite the shit out of you!

  3. AnonymousJuly 09, 2008

    Stop hating Max! Turn up the bass on yo computer speakers and play Ruff Ryder's Anthem again! That beat KNOCKS!! If you play again and still aint feeling it, then your lost...

  4. AnonymousJuly 10, 2008

    Thanks for fulfilling my request Max.

    One of your two readers appreciate it.

    I gotta say though you thinking about doing The Chronic anytime soon? Hip-hop's best M.D. would love to get analyzed by you. Oh also I think someone else also requested it, so I'm not the only one.

  5. the only classic album from a rapper, who isnt a good lyricist

  6. The alnum is cool, but I don't know about classic. Love the Stop Being Greedy track. Video was entertaining in someway for me. Anyway, cool review.

  7. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJuly 14, 2008

    I think Mase's verse on N's Done Started Something is the best work of his career. I'm no Mase fan but he bodied that shit.

  8. AnonymousJuly 26, 2008

    Many of the beats here weren't decent, but, unlike Nas, DMX could (read, 'could') make that shit not matter. The convo and the Phil sampled song were fantastic, listen to the lyrics and the delivery. I mean shit, DMX's lyrics are repetitive as fuck, but when he started into albums his shit was new, decent, worthy. Strong. Even the r/b track was decent.

    Though, subsequently, nearly all his shit sucked like a motherfucker and pardon me max, I'm just a tad drunk,

  9. The Nighttime VultureAugust 26, 2008

    Oh my goodness...this Max character said this shit isnt classic......WOW.


    Go to this link....and learn something man. GEEZ! WHO IS THIS GUY!?!?!? LMAO

  10. Nice link Nighttime Vulture, I love a good error message, but hey, whaddayawant from a sixteen year old? Get your Dad to show you how hyperlinks work when youve finished your homework and remember to put your mums records back in thier covers when you've finished, good lad...Big Ups Max, tell it like it is...

  11. I really like the first song! and then the next, the rest r the same but i love X!!!! yes i did skip through alot of tracks lol..

  12. hater (noun) - the cunt who wrote this review of a classic album.

    syn. Max from Hip Hop Isn't Dead.

  13. Sweet! Someone finally called me a cunt for expressing my opinion! I never thought it would happen, but then it totally did, so now my life is complete.

    Thanks for reading!

  14. lol, this is a straight classic and this dude talkin about burn it smh

  15. I'm surprised you didn't like look thru my eyes, I would have thought the eerie piano beat would have been right up your street, but maybe not haha

  16. Who is this max guy? Is he even a hip hop fan? I remember seeing his review on Power Of The Dollar with 50 Cent and he said the album was shit...now he says It's Dark And Hell Is Hot is not so great...what fuckin albums do u even like max?

    1. From what I gather, good music? Not your shitty 50 Cent or DMX crap anyway

  17. Mase's verse on Niggaz Done Dtared Something is bananas though, I prefer his verse to Dmx's

  18. Haha your comment on the theme of the Ruff Ryders' Anthem was hilarious! Keep it up!

  19. Burn it? Damn.. I only hated one song on this album (How's it goin' down), I thought the rest was really solid, easily warranting a buy.

    Still, everyone's entitled to an opinion. Good review.

  20. I trimmed this album down to under 40 minutes which isn't a good thing. I really like DMX at his best although his beats always hindet him, reminds me of good ol' Nas actually (In beat choices and how his debut was the "classic" and how neither man has been able to follow up with something better).

  21. this and DMX's 3rd album were stone cold classics, and Max is stone cold wrong on these on his opinions on these albums