For most rap veterans, there comes a point where the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” reigns true. To change after close to 15 years in the game is difficult, if not impossible, which seems to be the case for DMX. The passionate Yonkers rapper rose to the forefront of the game in a flash, releasing two classics in less than a year in 1998: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. With Undisputed, his first album in six years, X tries to recapture what once made him a top dog, though ultimately biting off a bit more than he can chew.
“Lookin Without Seein (Intro)” sets the pace for the majority of the content—other’s inability to adequately empathize with him. “Y’all don’t know what I be going through/Y’all don’t know what I’m about to do to you, ‘cause you lookin without seein,” X voices on the short track. The notion is redundantly reaffirmed throughout the LP, being the theme for the skip-worthy track “I Get Scared,” “Slippin’ Again” and “Y’all Don’t Really Know.” More than that, the Dark Man does not disclose what people “don’t know” about his experiences, choosing to stress the issue over and over without ever properly addressing it, “Slippin’ Again,” the strongest cut of the aforementioned, borders on the repercussions of fame and riches but never breaks it down the connection to him like he did on his 1998 banger “Slippin’,” the track he attempts to follow up.
On “Head Up” and “Frankenstein,” the Grand Champ tackles a pair of topics he is known for, his faith and inner demons, respectively. Both tracks awaken memories of X in his prime yet abruptly lay those nostalgic moments to rest due to moderate bars. Alternatively, DMX tries to address new a subject matter, though a common one amongst veterans, of not falling off. “If I see it, I’ma take it/And you better hope I don’t want it all/’Cause I’ll leave you naked/I ain’t never had to fake it/Dog come through with no gun/I show son, I’m scared of no one/And I don’t run/I tell niggas, ‘X is back’/And it ain’t where I’m at/it’s what I’m giving niggas, X’s back,” the Ruff Ryders head honcho spit on “What They Don’t Know,” one of the standouts of the album that finds DMX rhyming on a captivating Swizz Beatz instrumental like he used to.
X provides more bark than bite this go-around, as he often leaves listeners yearning for more lyrically while the selection of beats is open to discussion as many are up to snuff at best. Peaking so early in his career was a gift to his legacy but a curse to his longevity. As a result, fans understandably expect another “Party Up (Up In Here),” yet “I Don’t Dance” is simply not that, parallel to how “Sucka for Love” does not compare to “What These Bitches Want.” Undisputed exhibits little of X’s impressive illustration but renews the high level of passion and energy he excels at relaying to listeners. X has been staying out of trouble, making it to shows and has improved his raps since The Weigh In, a trend one can only wish continues. —Christopher Minaya (@CM_3)