The passing of Earl Simmons shocked the music industry earlier this year. After an inspiring appearance with Snoop Dogg on Verzus, DMX was seemingly in the midst of highly anticipated comeback. After a three-year stint in prison for tax fraud, the iconic MC was back and hungrier than ever. Given his untimely death, it’s unclear how much of that output was meant to wind up on Exodus and the results are mixed. The latest, and unfortunately last, DMX record is a reflection of one artist’s massive influence on the industry. However, our guest of honor spends much of the runtime in the background. Exodus doesn’t sound like a DMX record, but rather a collection of songs that function better because of X’s presence. Some pairings are a dream come true, while others are less inspired, but overall his impression is felt throughout.
Exodus highlights DMX’s legacy and works as an odd, end-of-game entry-point to an often-misunderstood rapper. Nothing can match the sheer audacity of his debut and it’s two follow ups, but Exodus attempts the impossible and that’s to summarize DMX in half an hour. To put it in perspective, the shortest DMX album is 55 minutes and Exodus barely feels like 30.
The first half is heavily stacked with rap royalty. Despite all the songs having identical structures, these cuts shine the most. Most tracks let our guests go first before letting X come in to close things out. “Bath Salts feat. Jay-Z and Nas” is the best iteration of this recipe as three legends get a chance to let loose over a truly frightening instrumental. “That’s My Dog feat. the LOX and Swizz Beatz” is another entry that works primarily because of the lived-in voices at the center of it. DMX growls assertively, “I ain’t playin’ with you niggas, I got kids your age / I ain’t your father that shoulda’ stayed, too late, you shoulda prayed.” The album also has a little fun with the sequencing by placing a robbery skit in the center of the track-list. It’s a nice moment of brevity before the album turns completely introspective.
Anyone familiar with DMX’s work knows his faith played a massive role in his music. His infant son, Exodus, is featured on “Walking in the Rain feat. Nas, Exodus Simmons and Denaun” and it’s a welcome addition to the ceremonial end of the album. The tonal shift is abrupt simply because of the runtime. The chorus for “Money Money Money feat. Moneybagg Yo” sticks out like a sore thumb when Alicia Keys is crooning tenderly a moment later. Inviting Snoop Dogg and Griselda makes total sense but Bono, eh not so much. Summarizing a man, or artist into a small package like this isn’t easy, but DMX’s versatility not only makes it possible he makes it a worthwhile and memorable experience.