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Keeping It Real, One Way or Another

DMX and R.L. Burnside deliver riveting albums true to their roots, while Incubus plays it with sincerity.

October 21, 2001|Soren Baker

* * * DMX "The Great Depression" Def Jam

DMX always defies the odds. The fiery, scratchy-voiced rapper from Yonkers, N.Y., released two albums in 1998, an unheard-of move, especially for a relative newcomer. Both collections entered the chart at No. 1, thanks to a die-hard following drawn to his lively raps about the struggle between good and evil. DMX's third album, released in 1999, also entered the chart at No. 1, a trend that's likely to continue with his fourth collection (due in stores Tuesday).

Unlike such popular rappers as Ja Rule and Jay-Z, who have shifted much of their focus to commercially minded music as their popularity has increased, DMX remains as grimy, hard-core, abrasive and effective as ever. It's a somewhat daring decision in an era of excess, but it's one that's consistent with his work.

Like many underground rappers, DMX challenges the shallowness plaguing much of the most popular hip-hop. "We already know how much your watch is worth," he snarls on the speedy "Trina Moe." "Talk about helping the hurt, saving the church/Won't you brag about helping, not where you come from/Or giving brothers a job that really want one."

DMX also weaves a tale of a pregnancy resulting from a one-night stand ("Shorty Was the Bomb"), expresses love for his deceased grandmother ("I Miss You") and has another engaging encounter with the Devil ("Damien III"). With these powerful cuts, DMX proves yet again that even without radio-ready hits, he is one of hip-hop's most compelling artists.

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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 noted.

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