1. Intro // 2. Ruff Ryders Anthem // 3. Fuckin’ With D // 4. The Storm [Skit] // 5. Look Thru My Eyes // 6. Get At Me Dog (feat. Sheek Louch) // 7. Let Me Fly // 8. X-Is Coming // 9. Damien // 10. How’s It Goin’ Down // 11. Mickey [Skit] // 12. Crime Story // 13. Stop Being Greedy // 14. ATF // 15. For My Dogs (feat. Drag-On, Big Stan, Loose & Kasino)// 16. I Can Feel It (feat. Nardo) // 17. Prayer [Skit] // 18. The Convo // 19. Niggaz Done Started Something (feat. Ma$e & the LOX)
Following the death of 2Pac and as-a-matter-of-factly preceding the Notorious B.I.G.’s passing, hardcore gangsta left the mainstream where it had maintained a presence since N.W.A. came out in the late ‘80s . Sure, rappers still talked about all the illegal acts they allegedly committed on their songs. But under the influence of Puff Diddy the music backing these tales of crime was more aching to a plastic version of what your mother’s favorite R&B singer from the ‘80s used to sing over. Even former underground heroes such as NaS and Jay-Z decided to work with such producers as the previously mentioned P. Daddy and the Track Masters, ostensibly because they were out for dead presidents to represent them. It was around this time one of the subgenre’s founding fathers; Dr. Dre, labeled it dead and buried.
It was also around this time that Earl DMX Simmons was making a name for himself, heating up cuts by the likes of Ma$e, LL Cool J, Mic Geronimo and the LOX with his lyrics, filled with existential angst, gangsta-isms and religious imagery, as well as his delivery which he used his gruff voice rapping, singing, shouting and barking, oft tearing the underlying instrumentals to shreds and literally burning up the mic. Another thing the man is known for is his live shows where he occasionally went so hard that he passed out and needed an oxigen mask. This dude is a motherfucking rock star, with the substance abuse problems, mental illnesses and the criminal record to match this status. It is these same qualities that cost Earl many a record deal before he landed with Ruff Ryder/ Def Jam in 1998 and finally got to release a shiny compact disc of his own. Usually talking about an artist’s personal life isn’t relevant to the actual music (Ja Rule’s tax evasion issues don’t exactly make his music more ganxtah) but in DMX’s case it’s different. His 1998 debut: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot sounds exactly like the product of a clinically insane prodigy. It is an intoxicating, high paced mixture of realism, surrealism and octane. It brought street rap back to the forefront of the genre and made a lot of rappers not know how quickly to hang up their shiny suits (It probably helped X’s career that by 1998 everyone was getting sick of hearing variations of Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems on the radio.
Stop, drop, shut ’em down open up shop
That’s how Ruff Ryders roll
Only X could put Ruff Ryders Anthem on the radio and have the fire drill instruction-esque hook and the chaotic Swizz Beat stick. In and by themselves these elements would make for an incredibly disturbing listen. DMX’s energy and conviction prevents this from being so.
Get At Me Dog, featuring the LOX’ Sheek Louch in the call-and-respond hook manages to be both a rowdy party anthem and a buch of death threats set to wax in a credible manner (side note, Get at Me Dog exist in a pre-record deal, freestyle from somewhere ’96 where the apparent target of the disses is 2Pac). Other highlights in a similar vein are Stop Being Greedy, X Is Coming and the posse cut Niggaz Done Started Something.
How’s It Goin’ Down has X telling a tale of rugged romance and duetting an anonymous studio singer (and Faith Evans on the radio edit) over a Dame Grease instrumental that is simultaneously eerie and mellow.
I’m politicking with this trick and wondering if I’ma creep her .
Little hoodrat bitch from 25th named Tenika.
Coming through, like I do, you know
Getting my bark on.
Knew she was a thug because when I met her she had a scarf on .
5411, size 7 in girls.
Babyface, would look like she was 11 with curls .
Girlfriend, remember me, (what?), from way back, I’m the same cat.
With the wave cap- the motherfucker that tnt used to blaze at.
Still here so it’s all good.
Oh you know my niggas Rich and them doing they thing on 35th Ave?
It’s a small hood, and it’s all wood, so let me get that number
Hook it up, aight?
Hit you on da track later on, say wassup.
Talking to shorty made me wanna do something nice.
Looking at that ass made me wanna do something tonight.
And I know right when I see right, shorty looking like she tight.
She bite, better give a nigga the green light, we might..
The story ends with X cutting off the affair because she already has a man with whom she has children. Such contemplation on right and wrong can also be found on strong cuts such as Let Me Fly and I Can Feel It.
The contradiction between Earl’s hypervoilent tendencies and his apparently strong sense of morality is what keeps It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot fascinating throughout, even if the music can’t always keep up. Tracks like ATF and Crime Story are hampered by shitty beats, For My Dogs has DMX collaborating with some talentless labelmates and Damien has X duetting himself putting on a silly voice and on the Convo he’s dueting himself as god, which doesn’t click. Also the numerous skits seriously detract from the overall enjoyability of this album. It’s the inconsistency that made me rate this one under Venni Vetti Vecci, but make no mistake. The highlights reach much higher than those of Ja’s debut.
Another thing that makes this album lesser than the sum of its parts is that the sheer intensity and insanity of X is hard to bear for an album’s full length (It’s this exact same feature that makes him usually steal the show whenever he does a guest appearance). Also DMX is not for the easily offended. At one point he threatens to rape your daughter in front of you if she’s older than fifteen. Despite these shortcomings It’s Hard and Hell Is Hot contains some really good music that is oft imitated but never duplicated. Cop this one.
Get At me Dog, Ruff Ryders Anthem, Stop Being Greedy, X-Is Coming, How’s It Going Down, Niggaz Done Started Something, Let Me Fly, I Can Feel It
Buy this one. Preferrably from the discount section of your local record store, or a used copy.