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DMX Delivers Harsh Reality on 'Then'

December 25, 1999|SOREN BAKER

***DMX

"And Then There Was"

Def Jam

It's unlikely that DMX will ever be ranked as one of rap's better lyricists, but he may be one of the genre's most effective. On his third album, the Yonkers, N.Y., native goes straight for the jugular, presenting himself--as he's done in his previous work--as a lost soul struggling for guidance.

Demonstrating the polarized dimensions of his volatile character, the gruff-voiced rapper documents his violent ways on the chilling "The Professional" before asking for direction from the Lord on "Prayer III."

The appeal of his less-is-more lyrical approach comes from the seething emotion that drenches every word. Though many of today's rappers exist in a fantasy world where money flows like tap water, DMX represents a more realistic slice of life. He wants to do right but is regularly overwhelmed by the evil surrounding him. In another departure from most of his contemporaries, DMX raps with a straightforward clarity that leaves little room for confusion.

The record's producers, including Swizz Beatz, Grease and Shok, employ a musically rich brass-driven sound on a number of the collection's 18 songs. These dramatic beats provide a more textured sound than the spare one featured on DMX's first two albums, and at times they are so overwhelming that they almost draw your attention away from DMX's hard-hitting raps.

*

** Goodie Mob, "World Party," LaFace/Arista. The Atlanta quartet has largely abandoned the political, soulful stance that made it one of hip-hop's most significant outfits, and the results are extremely disappointing. Ditching the lean, murky grooves that propelled the group's infinitely superior first two albums, "Soul Food" and "Still Standing," in favor of a clean, formulaic production makes the Mob come off as watered-down rhymers with a faceless sound.

*

** Rakim, "The Master," Universal. Rakim and his former partner Eric B. emerged as one of hip-hop's best duos in the mid-1980s, and that distinguished history makes this derivative album all the more disappointing. The best of Rakim's past songs, such as "Paid in Full" and "Follow the Leader," were marked by a sense of pride, dignity and higher purpose. None of that can be said of the new collection, which features lyrics of little force and production that sounds like an overt attempt to garner radio and video play.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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