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Year of the Dog…Again

DMX.jpgSince stomping out manicured party rap in the late ’90s, DMX has struggled to maintain his potent mix of rage and remorse. Announcing his retirement with the release of 2003’s tepidly received Grand Champ, it seemed that the Dog had had his fill of industry politics. But after a little time off and a messy breakup with Def Jam, X tries to rekindle the magic of yesteryear on his sixth album, Year of the Dog…Again.

Although Dark Man claims to have gotten his “swagger back” on the Swizz Beatz– produced “We in Here,” the song sounds stale, with punch lines referencing outdated pop culture clichés like Grey Poupon and the Clapper cluttering his verses. Elsewhere, X tries out familiar formulas with little success. His 1998 love song “How’s It Goin’ Down” gets a bitter makeover in the form of the misogynistic “Baby Motha.” Even on the standout Busta Rhymes duet “Come Through (Move),” X seems doomed to be stuck in his late-’90s antihero role (“Far from jiggy, but like Biggie, bitches call me Big Poppa”).

As always, X is better served tapping into more introspective material. Fallen friends get a profound send-off on the heaving “Goodbye,” while “Blown Away” shows X at his most autobiographical. And on the stress-releasing “Life Be My Song,” X harmonizes over Dame Grease’s glowing electric piano, rapping, “In my mind, I’m like a little boy, lost and crying/Like a healthy nigga the devil forced into dying.”

Clearly, X’s poetic touch remains intact. But Year of the Dog relies too heavily on nostalgia, ignoring how hip-hop and DMX himself have changed over the years. Lyrically, the project sounds as if the Dog has been living in isolation for years, rarely shifting from his trademark style. Sadly, if X doesn’t learn a few new tricks, things might never be the same…again.—BRENDAN FREDERICK

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