Prior to his tragic and untimely passing, DMX was working on a new album for Def Jam. It was slated to be his first major label release in a decade and a half. There was a melancholic excitement when initial reports stated that X completed the album before his passing. Just one listen says otherwise though. Exodus is the anticlimax of a legend’s premature departure, stifled by mediocre beats and bad mixing.
Executive producer Swizz Beatz is the biggest problem with Exodus. He doesn’t bring his A-game to the album as a producer or in his occasional vocal contributions. Swizz’s lackluster work is apparent from the album’s opener “That’s My Dog.” It’s a far cry from the classics X and Swizz have crafted over the years (think, “Ruff Ryders Anthem” and “Party Up”), and while The LOX go hard over the menacing beat, Swizz’s near-monotone “that’s my dog-yeah” hook disrupts and diminishes their impact. X doesn’t even appear on the song until 3:35, which becomes a common thread throughout the album. In fact, X only raps for about 10 minutes total throughout the entirety of Exodus.
After a rocky start, things go further south on the long-anticipated “Bath Salts” featuring Jay-Z and Nas. It should be a monumental occasion to have this trio of 90’s New York legends united. Instead it’s a jumbled mess. There’s a quality issue with the mix. Jay-Z sounds so muffled it’s hard to even listen to him. X sounds similar, like he’s rapping in a tube. Nas is the only one who sounds okay, and drops a few decent bars (but not memorable enough to quote). The drastic contrasts in quality detract from the final product. It’s a major disappointment after being teased for years. The retooling done by Swizz for the album removes the song’s hook and Jadakiss’ verse heard on the initial version of the record (as well as a recently-teased J. Cole verse).
The rest of the album’s first half is full of misses. “Dogs Out” featuring Lil’ Wayne (a far cry from the song of the same name on Grand Champ) sounds like Swizz retooled his superior Lil’ Wayne record “Uproar,” to diminished results. “Money Money Money” featuring Moneybagg Yo is annoying and forgettable. Pop crossover attempts “Hold Me Down” featuring Alicia Keys and “Skyscrapers” featuring Bono are generic and underwhelming. The latter is like Eminem and Ed Sheeran’s “River.” With the big hook delivered masterfully by Bono it had potential, but the production by Swizz sank this record before it even had a chance to float (which may be why it’s been sitting in a vault for 10 years).
For some reason, an intense “Stick Up Skit” follows the inspirational Bono record, but it marks a turning point. Immediately after, X feeds off the energy of the Griselda Records crew on “Hood Blues” and delivers one of his best verses on Exodus. The beat is simple, but effective. The sad jazz vibe sets the tone for the verses that follow. X goes off, threatening “I got that cannon that’ll remove your head and shoulders” before tossing out the scariest threat: “Sometimes I can’t manage all the shit in my head.” It’s an intense verse that closes with X yelling “I’m not 50 years old for nothin!” He sounds ready to fight, rob, and attack. It’s classic X. No doubt he needed to be calmed down after getting so in the zone on this one.
Snoop Dogg and X trade bars over a masterfully chopped up “Sexual Healing” sample on “Take Control.” The verses aren’t anyone’s best, but the sample is so strong it makes up for it. X delivers another strong verse on “Waking In The Rain,” once again alongside Nas. It’s an introspective cut about resilience with reflective bars like, “Every time you go through somethin’, there’s somethin’ to gain, And you only truly suffer if you remain the same, Let the dirt you go through change you, Don’t forget, evеn Satan was an angel.”
“I don’t know what you thought about my use of drugs, but it taught you enough to not use them drugs” X delivers on the sobering “Letter to My Son (Call Your Father).” Despite X’s largely heartfelt verse delivered as a letter to his oldest son, he disappears after delivering the single verse. Usher delivers a strong hook, and a violin solo is emotionally ravaging. But like other records on Exodus that only possess a single X verse, they’re just filling the gap. At first it’s frustrating, but then it’s depressing. It begs the question: Is it sadder that Exodus is DMX’s final body of work, or that X isn’t still here to give us the hope for a musical redemption in the future?
Listen to DMX’s Exodus: