DMX has had one hell of a career. The animated emcee exploded onto the scene with his furious bark and his debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, blowing the door off the hinges. He became one with the streets with joints like “Get at me Dog” and “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” and became a commercial success with “How It’s Going Down”. As his follow up smashed the illusion of the sophomore jinx Flesh of My Flesh… proved that X was no fluke. He catapulted in a few short years as one of hip hop’s elite, gracing the covers of magazines and helping deliver the biggest tour at that time the Hard Knock Life Tour. As the 2Pac comparisons continued, X stretched his boundaries and exemplified an exceptional knack for acting in movies such as Belly and Cradle to the Grave. DMX was a star, absolutely soaking it up, with sales increasing and his greatest commercial achievement, And Then There was X, crushing the competition. Even with the small controversies between Ja Rule and his own Ruff Ryders label, it seemed DMX could not be stopped, but as the law of physics states - what goes up must come down. A few movies passed and it seemed X’s limelight began to dim. Then there was DMX’s greatest personal achievement, The Great Depression, which ironically turned into a ill received album. As X observed his sales drop between releases, the Dark Man knew it was time to turn away from the spotlight. Two years later the rapper/actor has seemed to move back to the lab to strengthen his mandible and summon his furious growl back to hip-hop. As the title declares, Grand Champ, X is out to confirm that his bite has always been worse than his bark and that he hasn’t gone anywhere.
As his first single, “Where The Hood At?” states, DMX wants to own the streets that 50 Cent has taken over during his hiatus. His straightforward style and distinguishable snarl are looking to create that magic that carried him to superstar status. Earl Simmons has been around for a total now of 5 albums which is an accomplishment in itself. And with that he has never changed. From It’s Dark and Hell is Hot to Grand Champ, DMX has kept it the same which no matter how you look at it which is admirable in itself. But the lofty title of Grand Champ doesn?t quite make the cut.
With his previous releases, X was able to exemplify and exploit what was going on around him and let that convey his albums. From being the rookie sensation to owning the streets to being a superstar and venting his emotions, this album stands as the proverbial middle finger to those who forgot. Tracks like the grungy “Shot Down” feat. 50 cent and Styles of the Lox, exudes the streets, as X belts out lines like “aint nuthin but a handful of men still standin/I remember 50 in a cypher when onyx was slammin’”, proving all three emcees are still here and have paid their dues. “We’re Back” rounds up Eve and Jadakiss, as the trio flexes over triumphant production, while Cam’ron ditches the Pink Panther routine to roll with X on “We Go Hard.” Moments like these are the ones that made DMX who he was, yet these moments get lost when scattered through the lengthy 23 track album. With an abundance of filler material the album tends to drift off into obscurity. One can point the finger at the production where on tracks like the awful Swizz Beatz assisted “Get It On The Floor” tries to recreate the magic “Party Up” had. Even the more noteworthy producers drop DMX lackluster beats as seen with Kanye West’s “Dogs Out” and Rockwilder’s “Rob all Night”, both of which suffer dramatically. The bulk of the production is handled by the rookie team of Tuneheadz, who unfortunately never actually create a significant moment for the Dark Man. Even trademark emotional tracks like “The Rain” don’t create the atmosphere needed for X to deliver his message.
Grand Champ may not pack the thunder of his previous releases but still proves nothing has changed about Earl Simmons. 5 albums and millions of records sold prove that X hasn’t been moved. Many people who thought X was washed up need to not look any further than Grand Champ to see that he can still take care of business, even though that business is growing old. The ups and downs of this album are parallel with the emotional roller coaster known as DMX’s life. But in the end that flame that burned 5 years ago is diminished to a flicker and Grand Champ becomes an album only loyal fans can truly appreciate.
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