Quick but informative background story. On September 13th, 1996, Tupac Shakur was pronounced dead after a drive-by shooting in Vegas. Six months later, the Notorious B.I.G. was killed in a drive-by shooting in LA (I still say Biggie basically made his grave with that decision but that’s a different story for a different day.) Within a six month time frame, two of the biggest names in rap were both gone and folks were wondering as to who would step up to claim the spot. Master P, Jay-Z, even Puffy (while exploiting B.I.G’s death for every dime he could get) all came to the forefront during this time. So we spent the majority of 97 and the first quarter of 98 with pretty good albums but nothing that just blew your mind away. Examples such as Ghetto D, In My Lifetime Vol 1, No Way Out, When Disaster Strikes, and Supa Dupa Fly come to mind.
Enter in May 12th, 1998.
What have you done now?
Told y’all niggas
You just don’t listen
Why must you be hard-headed?
Tried to explain, but you didn’t hear me, though”
That was the beginning of the hardest fucking intro in the history of introductions. And with those words, we were introduced to Earl Simmons, better known as DMX with his debut album “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot.” An album that in my humble opinion is severely underrated. And I’m going to tell you exactly why it is. This album had everything you could ask for in a rap album and then some. It was a melting pot of rap at the time. The realness of Pac (along with the look), the storytelling of B.I.G, the hardcore rap style of Three Six Mafia, the club anthems that Bad Boy was putting out, the legendary ad-libs, it even had gospel!!! From a lyrical content standpoint, I can’t recall another rapper that has bared his soul on a record the way that DMX did on this album. He’s not afraid to let you know that he’s a troubled man as evidenced in “Damien”, a track in which DMX gives his soul to the devil to ensure his success. In a way, this album was a premonition of his life (if you don’t know DMX’s troubles by now, I assume you were either living under a rock or born after 2005). But even as dark as this album was, it has flashes of other emotions. My favorite dirty macking anthem “How’s It Going Down” shows a softer side to X, whereas the Prayer skit is X crying out to God for guidance and direction. DMX filled in the void left in hearts by Pac’s and B.I.G’s deaths by baring it all out; the good and the bad and it made fans relate while bringing back New York rap back to the forefront at the same time. At a time where southern rap was emerging with Master P, Outkast, Three Six Mafia, and Cash Money, it gave New Yorkers a sense of hope to know that X had brought their state back to the top of the rap game by literally barking on records. Seriously, DMX had grown ass men and women barking and if you don’t believe me, there’s a YouTube video of him performing at Woodstock 99 and it may be the greatest fucking video of all time. This album was the beginning of emerging DMX as a superstar in the rap game as he would end up the first rapper ever with five straight #1 albums in which all five went platinum, star in movies such as Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 the Grave, and my favorite nonsensical movie ever Belly. Not only did IDAHIH make X a superstar and remind us of Pac and B.I.G, and got those shiny ass suits the fuck outta here; but it would also give Eminem a platform for his hardcore raps and we all know how that went. And the album’s influence still lives on today in artists like Kendrick Lamar. I implore you to go and revisit the album when you have time and finally give Earl Simmons the respect he deserves.