Once ubiquitous rapper DMX (of “Party Up (Up in Here)” fame) releases 2012’s Undisputed, his first studio effort since 2006’s underperforming Year of the Dog…Again. DMX was once a preeminent force on the hardcore/east coast
rap scene, scoring five no. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 (’98’s It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, 99’s Flesh of My Flesh Blood of My Blood, 00’s …And Then There Was X, 01’s The Great Depression, and 03’s Grand Champ). Only 2006’s Year of the Dog…Again failed to top the chart. Given the pace of the new albums released on September 11, 2012 – specifically DMB’s Away From The World – as well as DMX’s diminished presence within the hip-hop scene, it is highly unlikely Undisputed will debut within the top echelon of the chart.
The inquire in regards to Undisputed lies initially within promotion. Single “I Don’t Dance” features one of the hottest up-and-coming MC’s in Machine Gun Kelly, though the single has never garnered the success worthy of its quality (the best, most distinct cut of Undisputed). The promotional campaign for this independently released affair (Seven Arts Music) seems mum, meaning if you haven’t happened to hear “I Don’t Dance” or you didn’t peruse iTunes, amazon mp3, or retail stores stocking the physical version, you probably don’t have any inkling DMX released his seventh studio album. Given this lot, how can DMX or executive producers David Michery or Peter Karroll expect Undisputed to yield any commercial fruits? If “I Don’t Dance” can’t accomplish this, and productions by Swizz Beatz and J.R. Rotem aren’t enough themselves, what becomes of Undisputed?
The next inquiry is about the conceiving of Undisputed. Generally, the album has it’s high points and not-so high points. Things are best in the hands of the proven producers (Swizz and J.R. Rotem) as opposed to unknowns. Sometimes, issues lie within over-repetition and a lack of vocal production consideration for DMX’s incredibly gruff vocals. Sometimes this disregard for vocal clarity, combined with DMX’s sometimes lack of top-rate rhymes makes for a track that ultimately “says nothin’.” There are enough solid moments on Undisputed to download a couple of tracks, though potential buyers should be aware that “I Don’t Dance” is the valedictory cut.
The effort opens with intro “Looking Without Seein’ (Intro),” which comes off more generic than not. Truly, the only benefit of the intro is that it showcases that gruff, hardcore voice in all it’s, um… glory? :50 unnecessary by my equations. “What They Don’t Know” is the first of a couple of Swizz Beatz helmed productions. The
production trumps DMX’s lyrics, characterized by an old-school sampled sound, intact with horns, fat bass line, and hard drums. X’s hook is simple, but solid and catchy: “What they don’t know, they gon’ find out…” Hey, you can’t much go wrong with that. Again, the style and sound of this record makes it work more than DMX himself.
“Cold World,” featuring Adreena Mills (never heard of her), has its highlights, though also has some flaws. The production (Dame Grease, Snaz) retains the ‘old school’ bar established by Swizz and is very well executed and lush. The drums are dusty, propelled by prominent use of hi hat. Now for the quibbles. Adreena Mills sounds fine, though it seems she is provided with too much space to perform as DMX doesn’t rap until 1:22 into the cut. Additionally, the cut lasts too long, allowing some static moments to hurt its overall stock.
“I Don’t Dance,” featuring Machine Gun Kelly and produced by J.R. Rotem works superbly. Rotem’s production is characterized by the 4/4 pounding beat, which truly shapes this cuts. Here, DMX sounds the most on his game compared to the first two full length cuts. Opening with his hard, street savvy bravado (”Aww sh#t, what the f#ck?!? Yo! This sh#t right here son…Oh my God!”), DMX sounds like he is finally on ‘autopilot.’ He rocks the best hook of the album with gruff mastery: “I ain’t a dancing n$%ga/I just move to the beat/Sit there and nod my head but won’t move my feet/Gangsta, so I’m holdin’ up the wall/that dancing shit up to the rest of y’all.” Not to be outdone by X, Machine Gun Kelly spits effortlessly and passionately on the second verse, proving a capable collaborator for DMX.
“Sucka For Love,” featuring Dani Stevenson contrasts “I Don’t Dance,” though not necessarily ‘for the better.’ The sound is less ‘gangsta’ than the anthemic “I Don’t Dance,” opting for a ‘hardcore’ love song in which DMX asserts “…ain’t never been a sucka for love.” The most disturbing moment may be when DMX goes so far in a clumsy line to act out the ‘climax’… a little ‘too much information.’ The soul-laden guitar is a nice feature of Darius “Deezle” Harrison’s production.
“I Get Scared” features a jazzy Rachel Taylor. Taylor’s vocals are quite unique, though she suffers from pitch
problems, which takes away from her eclecticism. Cleverly, DMX and Taylor collaborate singing on the hook: “I get scared when you go/I know I’m gonna be alright…” Similar to the good, though somewhat lacking “Cold World,” “I Get Scared” needs just a little more direction to make it less repetitive and static at times. Sometimes DMX just does too much of the same thing, a flaw of Undisputed.
“Slippin’ Again” is produced by Bird, who delivers a fine beat and somewhat restrained production that is effective enough. The problem is, “Slippin’ Again” is that kind of song you listen to and you go ‘so what’? Other than X’s signature vocal cracks and nuances, “Slippin’ Again” accomplishes little.
“Prayer” is nothing more than an interlude, though it eclipses some of the humdrum showings on Undisputed. Of course given DMX’s scrappiness, you can’t help but wonder how sincere X is on the religious message of “Prayer,” which finds DMX alluding back to “Lord Give Me A Sign” from Year of the Dog…Again. Regardless, DMX is loud and bombastic, in all his ‘glory’ or should I say X does it for ‘God’s glory.’
“I’m Back,” produced once again by Bird doesn’t possess much song, but what is there works well. The vocal production allows for DMX to sound clear and easily decipherable, something that is a question mark at times on Undisputed. This ‘banger’ is what suits DMX, and Bird tapped well into that with this cut. “Have You Eva,” produced by Grease takes a back step, despite solid production. Overall, the effect is repetitive filler that is boring. A miss by all means.
“Get Your Money Up” features nice synthesized horns and a Swizz Beatz styled beat, produced by Snaggs. DMX sounds clear, and delivers a simple, effective hook via “Get your money up, get your paper right…” Not an elite cut per say, “Get Your Money Up” is a better cut from Undisputed.
“Head Up” is quite enjoyable, highly lifting portions of Earth Wind & Fire’s “Keep Your Head to The Sky.” Tronzilla’s production is excellent, characterized by the beat, use of piano pad, and synthetic strings. Vocally, DMX sounds clear. DMX’s rhymes aren’t the ‘second coming’ here by any means, but he holds it down.
“Frankenstein” is just ‘weird.’ Kannon “Caviar” Cross’s production is notable, particularly the old school hip hop beat and the contrasting sound to everything else, but it never quite suits DMX. While DMX’s aggressive delivery complements somewhat, the track just never quite feels like something you would envision from him. Sure, maybe X was trying to experiment and ‘up his game,’ but perhaps “Frankenstein” just didn’t work. Add to that notion that DMX’s vocals are covered by the busy production and there is yet another rub.
“Y’all Don’t Really Know” possesses more a vintage DMX sound, thanks to Swizz Beatz. The slow, relaxed tempo allow for DMX to ‘do his thing.’ The hook is simple, catchy, and effective: “Y’all don’t really know/they don’t really know…” It won’t eclipse “Party Up (Up In Here)” anytime soon if ever, but it is amongst the top of Undisputed.
“I Got Your Back,” featuring Kashmere is nothing better than OK. Again, Kannon “Caviar” Cross handles production duties, but just doesn’t seem a good fit here for DMX. Kashmere sings well, if thats any consolation. “No Love” featuring Adreena Mills once more does nothing for the ceding momentum, again bring nothing new or particularly memorable to the table. Closing cut “Already” is better, featuring sound production from Pat Gallo, as well as a solid, repetitive hook from DMX.
Overall, Undisputed is ‘all over the place.’ There are some ‘good’ moments, but also there are lots of inconsistencies. Nothing eclipses head single “I Don’t Dance,” so positively that was chosen to lead this effort. Inconsistencies in vocal production, overall production and lyrical substance hurt Undisputed. With the album sitting at nearly 55 minutes, ten to fifteen minutes worth of edits of filler may have strengthened Undisputed. It’s OK, but easily eclipsed by numerous other 2012 rap releases.
Recommended Cuts: “What They Don’t Know”; “I Don’t Dance” featuring MGK; “Head Up”; “Y’all Don’t Really Know”