DMX was one of a kind. From his first release’ Born Loser’ in 1992, he has exuded high-octane energy that has yet to be matched. A pioneer in pushing the boundaries of rap music, his 1998 debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot was a collection of open-book testimonies detailing personal struggles and thriving in a ravenous cadence, emulating the barks of a dog, and propelling hip-hop into the realms of reality-based theatre.
In the 23 years that followed, X became an undeniable force in a frenzy of success, all while opening the floodgates for a new type of individuality in the rap scene. Songs like ‘Slippin’ helped normalise vulnerability in a typically masochistic genre. ‘Party Up (Up in Here)’ to this day, is a household anthem associated with an unfiltered celebration. He’s also a major part of the foundation of the prolific collective Ruff Ryders entertainment, which was home to fellow veterans like Eve and The LOX. The amount of impact and plethora of milestones that DMX achieved is simply too much to even articulate within the confines of a paragraph and instead shines vibrantly through the expansive sounds of music we all consume today. This is what makes the tragedy of his passing in April this year that much more devastating.
Someone close to the devastating loss, and eager to commemorate the legacy of the legendary rapper is Swizz Beatz, the acclaimed producer behind the classic X track ‘Ruff Ryders Anthem’. Over years of collaborative work, their bond surpassed friendship and culminated in a brotherhood. Swizz over the last year has been at the forefront of hip-hop headlines thanks to Verzuz, a joint online venture with Timbaland that matches up many rap and R&B legends in a clash of hits and celebration of greatness. It’s been a cathartic release of positivity, highlighting the pathmakers of music trends in a fast-moving world that easily forgets. An immediate standout in the wide range of events was DMX vs Snoop Dogg, which had people around the world rejoicing in the name of each rapper’s illustrious craft. Motivated by the love he received, and an eagerness to provide fans with more music, DMX linked with Swizz Beatz to begin work on the album before us today: Exodus.
Featuring the likes of Jay-Z, Nas, Lil Wayne, and many more, Exodus is another example of DMX’s one-of-a-kind primal energy, but with a new perspective. His voice still bellows with girt, and his bars still polymerise wit and transparency, but it’s all with a sense of gratitude and maturity. It finds X at his most introspective, tackling a versatile array of Swizz-produced blockbuster instrumentals with soul-filled soliloquies. And when the calamity of X’s death struck near the project’s completion, Swizz Beatz spearheaded it across the finish line in honour of his late, great friend.
In celebration of the album, Swizz took the time to hop on a Zoom call with us, and talk us through the energy, emotions, and reinvigorated hunger that relished in the Exodus sessions, as well as his all-time favourite DMX verse.
Hey Swizz. Thank you for this DMX album. How does it feel to share this project with the world?
It feels good to share it with the world, because I know that’s what X would have wanted. He was excited to put this project out. It’s amazing because this is not a pieced-together project. All the songs were done while he was here and he loved every song. The only thing we put together was the Moneybagg Yo feature, where we switched a verse out of the original. But yeah, I’m happy we’ve come with this, and that his wishes are being granted.
You’ve mentioned that the idea for this album came after the Verzuz X had with Snoop Dogg. What was it like seeing that hunger and drive return in the studio sessions?
It was a blessing because when artists get older, they start to question a lot of their craft. To see X get the love, and to see his confidence grow, was amazing. That’s how I knew we were going to make a great project because the take-off was good. Verzuz was a great take-off. It got us moving, and then we took it to the finish line.
As someone who’s worked with X throughout his whole career, what would you say was different about the man who recorded Exodus, opposed to the prospect that created ‘Born Loser’?
It’s honestly still the same X to me. X is X. He’s energy, excessive energy. He still had that same energy from ‘Born Loser’. I mean, he was hungrier then, but he was still hungry here as well because he was proving himself again. So, I think it’s pretty much the same.
When ‘Born Loser’ dropped in 1992, it was an up-and-comer hungry making his name in the game. With Exodus, He was a veteran hungry to continue solidifying his legacy. How would you articulate the difference between those types of hunger?
The first type of hunger is by any means necessary. No matter what, he was going to get it. But with Exodus, it’s well thought out and organised. He knew where wanted to go with this album. We knew where we wanted to go with his album. That’s why this project is so diverse, yet flows so well.
Exodus is a very fitting title for this project. How did it come about?
Exodus has always been something that’s meant a lot to X. It’s his son’s name, and he has it tattooed across his neck. He actually wanted to name another album Exodus, that was going to come later. But this album felt like Exodus to me, instead of It’s Dark and Hell is Hot Again, which was the initial title we were playing with back and forth. But Exodus just felt powerful, it felt like him.
Exodus is a term that captures many meanings, such as freedom, liberation, and moving on, which I think are all captured throughout this project. Sitting with this album, what meaning did you take from it?
I didn’t really get into the word exodus with X. For me, if he likes it, I love it. But I do remember him making me take photos of his tattoo, and I remember him feeling very strongly about the word. I had enough energy from him to know that it was the right thing.
I’ve seen you say that this project finds X embracing his age, which has become a prominent thing today in hip-hop with projects like Jay-Z’s 4:44 and Nas’ King’s Disease. What do you think spawned this change in rap, where it’s no longer just a young man’s sport, but everyone’s sport?
I think that people are always going to return to the quality of music. You can have different things here and there, but I think people are always going back to quality. It’s always going to be there, and that’s a good thing.
The album features appearances from Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Nas, and many more collaborators who were close with X, and I think showcase the ability to age gracefully in hip-hop. How did it feel to get these legends together for this project?
It all felt very organic and natural. Everyone who is on the album wanted to be on the album. I didn’t have to force anyone or force anything. These were people X wanted on here as well. They wished he had asked them earlier. People were shocked, surprised, and honoured. I don’t think X had many features on his previous albums because he didn’t want to ask for anything. He didn’t even want to give people the chance to say no. So I reached out and handled that part.
Moneybagg Yo and Griselda also make an appearance here, which I think exemplifies X’s impact on even the newest class of hip-hop artists. How would you describe his influence on music today?
It’s all in the energy, he brought a different energy to the music. From the bikes to the dogs, to him barking himself, to going on stage, praying at shows. He gave people a whole new format to express themselves. I think a lot of people have taken that energy and applied it the best way they could.
Exodus is rich with introspection, which I think will inspire listeners to reflect on their own lives. What did you learn about yourself hearing the messages on this project?
I was reminded that we’re nowhere near done with the work. Because as much fun as I had to work on this project, it made me go like “Damn, why don’t I do this every day again?” So now I’m on a mission. I want to make 500 tracks next month, just because.
Hearing DMX’s reinvigorated hunger has reinvigorated your hunger.
For sure. I’m looking for a cave to just lock myself in, and work.
On X’s classic track ‘I’m Ready to Meet Him’, he raps “No matter how hard it rains, withstand the pain.” When it comes to tragedy, it isn’t necessarily normalised for us to express the pain we may be dealing with. So I just want to ask, how are you weathering these storms of emotions that come with this process?
I’m definitely crushed. I’m hiding my feelings and energy through creating the music and promoting the record for him, but yeah, I’m all over the place. But it’s good to reflect on making this album because it was pretty smooth, it wasn’t a headache. Creating this album was just like two brothers hanging out, having fun. X had a lot of respect for my time as well, super respect. It was great.
Looking back at the legendary career and legacy X left, what’s your favourite verse of his?
My favourite verses from X are on this old mixtape song called ‘Home of the Brave’. I was playing it the other day, and I still think it’s brilliant because he made a song shouting out everyone from his hood. I was thinking about how back then that was common, but today, there’s no trace of it. Imagine that you’re just chilling, and you get a shoutout on a song from an ultra artist like DMX. And I know the people named in that song were like “Yo, DMX just said my name in a song.” It’s so brilliant. I played it like 6 times in a row the other day, just thinking about that concept like holy shit, this man shouted out everybody he could name.
There’s a Tommy Wright III song I love called ‘Roll Call’ from 1994 where he shouts out all the Memphis artists during that period, it’s like a time capsule of rap history. I hope concepts like these make a return to music.
For sure. That’s why we have to keep putting music out because it makes people discover what came before. A lot of people are now just doing their research on DMX. He’s amassed a whole new audience at the table since doing Versuz, and you can tell from the analytics that people are trying to find out as much as possible about him.
There’s a lot of younger consumers that will experience Exodus as the first DMX album they’ve listened to.
That’s the truth. This will be a lot of people’s first DMX album. That’s why we didn’t want to make it too nostalgic. That’s why we didn’t have a problem putting Wayne on there, we didn’t have a problem putting Moneybagg Yo or Griselda on there. It was healthy for this project. And still, he gives you those styles and roots that if you were around for, you remember.
DMX was not only a legendary artist but also a great inspiration for overcoming adversity. What was your favourite thing about X as a human?
That he was an ultimate humanitarian. He was one of the most giving people I had ever met. He would give you the clothes off his back. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. I’m a giving person myself, but X ran rings around me with that. He took it to a new level. He’d take his shoes off and give them to a homeless person. Walk barefooted for the rest of the day.
While the release of Exodus comes at the helm of tragedy and a devastating loss, the energy and memory of X lives through the legacy he left. As someone who was a frequent collaborator, and close friend, how would you like DMX to be remembered?
As one of the greatest of all time.
Stream DMX’s final album Exodus below.