Thursday, 20 February 2014

DMX - Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood (1998)

Much like The Damned's Machine Gun Ettiquette, this is one of those albums that may not be the greatest record ever made, but sounds like it could be whilst you're listening to it; or it does to me anyway. In terms of brooding introspective menace, DMX always struck me as likely inspiration for the character of Omar Little on The Wire, but he was never a serious contender for world's most amazing lyricist. His strength lies in the power of his delivery, the screw-faced intensity of his artistic vision; and in any case no-one ever quacked their pants whilst listening to a Talib Kweli record. This was his second album, the one that moved things up a notch from It's Dark and Hell is Hot to form a near perfect rap album, despite this apparently being impossible for anything that sells triple platinum without containing at least one track about the joys of eating a delicious Harvest Crunch bar whilst doing a finger painting of that nice Bob Marley - criteria for perfect here being how close it gets to doing that which it sets out to do.

Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood sets out to psychologically profile the life of the artist from the inside looking out, capturing a filmic intensity which parallels the more harrowing moments of The Godfather, Apocalypse Now or any other widescreen quantification of life as both precious and yet unfortunately cheap. To rephrase that without the poor fit of my unimaversity edumacation, it's the blues with specific reference to Robert Johnson stood waiting at the crossroads for the man downstairs, or maybe the black New York Nick Cave; something that involves a lot of blood and not many smiles.

Whilst angry rap albums may not exactly be a limited resource, this one works because it resembles nothing that came out before or since - not even other DMX albums. For starters, Swizz Beatz who produced ten of the fifteen tracks was really firing on all cylinders when he built these songs up from those weird plinky-plonky beats - clipped snares that could have been lifted off an old Synsonics toy drum, Casio keyboard style pizzicato strings, and even that dollar store scratched record effect that probably came from some video game. The guy seemed to go out of his way to find cheap, artificial sounds, making them work in spite of themselves, pinning it all down with a measured bass throb; repeated keyboard smash notes turned into a melody, finally subtracting as many elements from the song as it can stand to lose without falling to incoherent pieces and so leaving us with this big empty space, like a cathedral made out of broken plastic toys and cheap Taiwanese electronics. DMX's violent, almost masochistic growl is thrown into sharp contrast against such a soundtrack, carrying a weight that's positively old testament. It's at least as intense as the cover implies, but nonetheless essential, educational and even inspirational listening, and - just so we're absolutely clear on this - DMX is not suggesting listeners try any of this at home. He already has quite enough of his own problems, in case you're a moron and somehow failed to notice the utter dearth of glamour or lifestyle tips.

Finally, it still astonishes me how something which - on close inspection - sounds quite so avant-garde, quite so unlike anything that had been before, managed to sell by the truckload and clog up the airwaves for at least a year; but of course, being a multi-million selling rap album means it went above the radar for many based on the idea that the musically adventurous must by definition be obscure and unpopular. It's bollocks really. Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood makes Godflesh sound like Haircut 100; most experimentalists may as well be Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen by comparison; and yet it sold so well they couldn't press the fucking thing fast enough when it first came out.

This record is a masterpiece.

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