DMX once rapped, “Give a dog a bone, leave a dog alone / let a dog roam and he’ll find his way home.” We watched DMX as he lamented the machinations of the music industry and vowed to become a priest; we cringed when X caught case after case, from the typical to the unbelievable; we masked our concern when X announced his departure from Def Jam which led to Year of the Dog…Again being released on Sony.
Every Dog Has Its Day
It was at this point that fans seriously questioned the gravitas and viability of X’s distinguished career. “Does he still have anything left?” was the question asked by fans, critics, and fellow artists, alike. Well, it seems the dog is on a veritable path homeward. Despite the irony in the statement, X returned to his original recording home at Sony, X uses the album as his own catharsis and goes about it with much flair and little regret.
DMX Seeks God’s Grace on Year of the Dog…Again
DMX is at his best when faced with the threat of evil, failure, or condemnation and tacitly sublimates to the testimonial nature of his message to sidestep the forthcoming decision at hand, “The reason I dream of thee // is he’s with me // and the reason I get through things so easily // is by the grace of god cuz he sees // the need to guide me,” X raps on the lone standout record from the album, “Blown Away”. X abandons his canine exterior and looks to strike a cord through emotion rather than action. “Blown Away” perfectly captures his aforementioned approach to failure, evil and condemnation, he waits until it has “blown away, like the wind”. The veracity and delivery of his rhymes make it a memorable track, “I went to jail a few times but that didn’t stop me / All I thought was not to be sloppy”. The track also features a superb guest rap from Jinx, a seemingly-no name rapper who connects with his hard-hitting rhymes.
Year of the Dog is a Playing Field for DMX
X takes the listener on a visceral tour of his shortcomings, insecurities, and life theories. His voice is singular yet nuanced, bold while still blemished with stains of vulnerability. He plays on the different ranges in which his voice is capable of emoting. At times of crisis, X dresses his voice with grief (“Life Be My Song”), saving his gruff vocals for occasions of conflict (“Right or Wrong”). X cleverly conjures up reason to veil his simple lines with much-needed bite: “Made me a leader before I was ready to lead // took away my hunger but didn’t give me greed.” These lines without the swaths of X’s distinct voice come off as unremarkable and prosaic.
The album itself is a playing field for X, as he breaks loose from the leash of rational thought and roams free with reckless abandon. Songs such as “Dog Love” and “Baby Motha” demonstrate X’s relentless pursuit of redemption but in the process showcases his deeper flaws. Both songs work for the wrong reason; both feature X at his most volatile and fierce state, barking out utterly baseless remarks, “You’s a stupid b***h, a really stupid b***h” on “Baby Motha” or rapping with an unfounded swagger, “I aint a thirsty n***a, but right about now my throat is getting real dry.”
The Dog’s Bite is Still Sharp
The album succeeds more on emotion than intention, more on cadence than substance, more on his intensity than his insecurities, more subtly than purposely. His signature guttural growl barks loudly on most of the album’s 15 tracks. The production as a whole is not particularly arresting, barely present at times; however this comes off as tactical rather then faulty. The production does exactly what X wants, to provide a shelter for his barking rhymes.
Despite all the crises occurring in X’s personal life, he still finds a way to preserve the breadth and depth of his powerful voice; his voice alone is capable of propelling the album. While, the canine theme is hard to mistake, forgiveness, redemption and, ultimately, the presence of a supreme being present themselves as a subtext in X’s canine mind. It seems like the dog has found his way home, finally.