Live: DMX Brings Hip-Hop Redux To S.O.B.’s


Thursday, February 23

Better than: Time travel.

Shot in grainy black-and-white in NYC’s notorious Tunnel nightclub, the 1998 music video for DMX’s first single “Get At Me Dog” was pure, unadulterated hip-hop; it set X apart as a raw, menacing rapper at a time when the genre was inundated with braggadocio, lyrical fluff and one too many shiny suits. X stripped away the genre’s materialistic veneer and replaced it with real-life pain and achingly honest emotion, winning crossover success (he is the second rapper in history, after Tupac Shakur, to have released two albums in the same year that debuted at No. 1) without relinquishing credibility. Perpetual legal issues, erratic behavior and battles with addiction over the past decade or so have all but stalled that career and what was touted as his grand homecoming show—the first in years—was seen as a potential disaster. That is, if the Yonkers rapper even showed up to perform at all.

DMX not only showed up last night; he took the sold-out crowd at S.O.B.’s right back to the Tunnel.

The hard-hitting opener “We Right Here” set the tone off for what was one of the most heartfelt and engaging hip-hop performances I’ve seen in a long while. X’s bark was as ferocious as ever, and his growl—which came out remarkably naturally, even during banter with the crowd—still inspired chills. The crowd of hip-hop aficionados and ’80s babies followed along hypnotically, reciting lyrics word for word as they threw their crossed forearms up as “Xs” in solidarity. X’s two-hour, high-energy set included thumping favorites like “Party Up” and “Get At Me Dog” as well as newer material (“Y’all Niggaz,” “Get Your Money Up,” “Time To Get Paid”); it ended on an emotional, introspective note (“A ‘Yo Kato,” “Slippin'”). Initially clad in dark sunglasses and brown plaid, the rapper quickly shed these accoutrements to reveal his well-toned and inked-up torso, including the famous dog tattoo emblazoned across his back. Clearly, he was most comfortable stripped.

Longtime producer Swizz Beatz joined X for cuts like “Get It On the Floor” and the guttural, grimace-inducing “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” during which Swizzy took a surprising stage dive into the raucous crowd. X said afterwards that despite being perhaps his biggest hit, he initially never wanted to record “Anthem” and did so only at Swizz’s behest. Watching the simpatico interplay between the old friends—rapper and producer back at their grassroots start—was incredibly touching and after his cameo, Swizz stayed onstage to enjoy the performance as a genuine fan.

Nostalgia aside, there was something about last night that was markedly different, even for someone who’s taken in her fair share of hip-hop at S.O.B.’s. A rare breed of performer, X bared himself onstage in a way very few do, giving every modicum of sweat and conviction to each lyric, each movement. At one point, during “Prayer,” he nearly rapped himself to tears. “I’m a scorned individual but I need you Lord,” he begged fervently in the closer. That hunger, what always made DMX so compelling and ultimately volatile, was still there.

Critical bias: I’ve waited 14 years for this show.

Overheard: “When I come back, I’m reminded how much fellow New Yorkers love me.” —DMX

Random notebook dump: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot was the soundtrack to my summer at sleepaway camp.

Set list:

We Right Here
Who We Be
One More Road to Cross
The Professional
Ruff Ryders’ Anthem
Get It On the Floor
Get At Me Dog
Stop Being Greedy
Money, Power & Respect
Touch It Remix
How’s It Goin’ Down
It’s All Good
What These Bitches Want
Where the Hood At
Y’all Niggaz
Get Your Money Up
Time To Get Paid
Party Up (Up in Here)
X Gon’ Give It to Ya
A’Yo Kato
Lord Give Me a Sign
Prayer (new version)