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It’s like, we all got two sides to us, and it depends on what side of the bed you wake up on. That will depend on who you gonna be for that day. Sometimes you wake up on some bullshit; you gon’ be that nigga. Sometimes you wake up like, “Yo, it’s lovely outside, things are good.” And you gon’ be that nigga for that day. But there’s always two sides, dog.
— DMX, in an interview with producer Irv Gotti
Before we even set this cipher off, first we gotta build on Belly. nnn nnnNobody came out in support of this flick, video director Hype Williams’s first feature film, starring Nas and the Dark Man— not Vibe, not Stone, not XXL. It came and went in four weeks. Belly is a showy drama about two brothers from Queens making their cash the fast way. Sincere (Nas) wants out; Tommy Brown (DMX) crams to understand, scrambling some brand-new drug down South, rolling back and forth between Omaha and Jamaica Estates. Written by Hype-O-Rama himself, Belly added Superfly-like, gotta-get-out-the-game overtones to the quick cuts, portentous lighting, lush colorization, and tricked-up multiple images that make Hype’s videos hype.
I liked it— the way I liked Juice, not the way I liked, say, Serpico. These cats stuck up the Tunnel (don’tcha just hate those bouncers?), shot up Justin’s (don’t try this at home; Puff has enough life-imitates-art problems), and packaged dope to the tune of D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” (he’s back!). By the end, DMX’s character is enlisted by the government to assassinate a Farrakhan type— a minister played by Ben Chavis— so that his prison sentence will be commuted. Behind the barrel of a gun, during the climax of Chavis’s soliloquy against the materialism, drug use, and hedonism of the hiphop generation, Tommy surrenders himself and saves his soul. What was there not to like? Yeah, the lead characters essentially stuck to type— in the tradition of Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and any number of other Hollywood movie stars. Nas’s character even moved his wifey, played by TLC’s T-Boz, to the Motherland to escape millennial madness. What?!?!
It’s important to learn about Divine Dichotomy and understand it thoroughly if you are to live in our universe with grace. Divine Dichotomy holds that it is possible for two apparently contradictory truths to exist simultaneously in the same place. On your planet people find this difficult to accept. For this reason, when two realities begin to assert themselves and they seem to contradict one another, the immediate assumption is that one of them must be wrong, false, untrue. It takes a great deal of maturity to see, and accept, that, in fact, they might both be true.
— God, in Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God: Book 3
DMX is what you might call conflicted. On his sophomore joint, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, DMX rhymes with God (“Ready To Meet Him”), as well as the devil inside (“The Omen,” featuring Marilyn Manson). This is a recurrent theme. “The Omen” is a sequel to “Damien,” from his debut seven months ago, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, where DMX sells his soul to the devil on some Robert Johnson shit. “Stop Being Greedy,” one of X’s biggest hits, is another one-man dialogue (“When you hear the beat change, you hear the personality change,” X told Irv Gotti). DMX, you know, he talks to himself.
But he’s got some interesting things to say; DMX testifies. “Stop Being Greedy” plays as an inner-city anthem because it’s a warning to the Infrastructure— “give to the needy, or we gon’ fuck around and bite you and snatch the plate.” “Get at Me Dog” spelled out what incarcerated scarfaces been yellin’ for years— “I rob and I steal, not ’cause I want to, ’cause I have to./Robbin’ to eat/And there’s at least a thousand others like me/Mobbin’ the streets.” All the while, his voice rises and drops, his cadence break-dancin’ over tracks, raspy from Newports and asthma, blunts and bronchitis.
DMX has drama. He’s a man at war with himself: “The real war is to follow the law of the Lord.” It’s hard to believe in yourSelf when you’ve got more than one Self to believe in. Things are a bit inharmonious up in DMX’s spirit, but it’s working for him. Lumped in with a half-dozen other fresh hiphop faces at the top of last year, DMX won the popularity contest: “I’ma go platinum/Gots to be kiddin’/Make it double platinum/No bullshittin’.” He slam-dunked two million on Big Pun, Canibus, Noreaga, et al. In fact, he scored platinum with It’s Dark in five weeks flat, and his latest has bumped Garth Brooks from number one. That makes this dog the only hiphop artist to post two number one albums in a single year, ever. Not since Biggie— whose double identity was more gangsta-vs.-playa, but whose misgivings shone through on “Suicidal Tendencies”— has any rapper struck such a chord on a street that has many sides.
Inner turmoil goes a long way, but so does seductive music, and DMX doesn’t disappoint on either front. “Get at Me Dog,” “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” and “Stop Being Greedy” were all Fulton Street classics (standing outside Moshood on Fulton for 15 minutes last summer, you heard at least one of these tunes zoom by), and tracks on Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood are just as good. Dark Man X couldn’t be culturally significant in late-’90s hiphop without his own camp, and the Ruff Ryders’ production is the next shit right now. Swizz Beatz is responsible for the Sagittarius mic duel between X and Jay-Z on Jigga’s “Money, Cash, Hoes,” and the archers’ new one with the Lox, “Blackout,” as well as mad more high points on Flesh of My Flesh. If Jazzie B had stayed on top of his game, he might be flipping luxuriant, menacing strings over hard drums like Swizz.
These beats and DMX’s spiritual schizophrenia save Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood from floccinaucinihilipilification, ’cause when he’s not dealing with the dilemma of his own duality, DMX gives in to the dark side, and things get ugly. There’s a lot of “faggots” on Flesh of My Flesh, returning hiphop perilously close to the asinine days of MCs onstage shouting “All the people with AIDS, be quiet!”: “Them faggots killed my people,” “Bust a faggot like you for free,” “Faggots talk shit, but I don’t really care.” And there are at least three deaths on the album, cold bodies hitting the concrete on wax for hardcore hiphop cred.
You want to believe that it’s all part of DMX’s master plan. “If I don’t know where I’m coming from, where can I go,” Mary J. Blige croons on “Coming From,” and X keeps revisiting his desperate survivalist past; he only finds comfort in his dogs. But DMX is clearly torn. You want to believe, like in Busta Rhymes’s latest hypercharged opus, that DMX will bump his head sometime soon and switch it on ’em. That maybe like Tupac before him (and this would be their only similarity— let the brother go, y’all), X plans to rally his niggas together with a voice and an aesthetic they can get with before leading them against that Infrastructure with a new agenda. You want to believe life will imitate art and DMX, like Tommy, will find the salvation his soul is searching for. DMX understands the Divine Dichotomy, right? He rhymes with God— what?!?!