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Twenty years ago, if you were to ask who was the biggest rap star on the planet, a name that would be mentioned more than most is DMX. He took the genre by storm in 1998 with his mix of aggression and vulnerability. After years of floundering in industry purgatory and failing to break through, DMX sparked a buzz in 1997 with a string of show-stealing features and mixtape appearances. This beckoned Def Jam Records, which signed him to a record deal that same year. Heading into 1998, DMX was considered a prized prospect with Def Jam's future largely hinging on the success of his debut. DMX responded by putting the label on his back. His album It's Dark and Hell Is Hot skyrocketed to the top of the charts. It produced multiple hits and help shift the tide, sound and direction of mainstream hip hop.
Having restored the hardcore aesthetic by bringing the streets back to the forefront of east coast rap, DMX did the unthinkable. He returned with his sophomore album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, just seven months after his debut hit the stores. While unprecedented, the move would pay dividends and help ensure DMX's place in rap history. It also added to his legend, which has only grown in the two decades since its release.
To commemorate its 20th anniversary, let's take a look at seven reasons why Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood is an undisputed classic and a gamechanger.
1. The Album Cover
One of the first things fans noticed about Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood was the album cover, which captured DMX drenched blood while posing shirtless in front of an all-white background. Originally set to be shot in the Ruff Ryder's hometown of New York City, the photoshoot for the cover ultimately took place in Los Angeles with famed photographer Jonathan Mannion behind the lens. Encapsulating X's dark side and flair for the dramatics, the image was a shocking, yet fitting one. It went on to become one of the most unforgettable album covers of its time.
2. It Was Completed In One Month
The year 1998 was a prosperous time for rap music with an abundance of rap albums achieving platinum status and having record sales at an all-time high. Lyor Cohen and Def Jam Records took advantage of this demand for rap music, challenging DMX to record an entire album within thirty days. Being that DMX had released his multi-platinum debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, just months prior, the task was rigorous. However, X was driven by a million-dollar bonus offered by Cohen. So, he channeled his relentless drive into completing Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood within that time. This a testament to X's work ethic and raw talent.
3. It Showcased DMX's Chemistry With Swizz Beatz
DMX's star rose within the rap world. At that time, Ruff Ryder CEOs Darrin "Dee" Dean and Joaquin "Waah" Dean's nephew, producer Swizz Beatz, was also making a name for himself by cooking up heaters for heavy-hitters like JAY-Z, Busta Rhymes, Cam'ron, The Lox and Noreaga. However, one record that put Swizz's sound on the map was "Ruff Ryders Anthem," his lone contribution to DMX's 1998 debut. Looking to build upon that success, Swizz locked into the studio with X during the making of his sophomore album by producing more than half of the songs on the album. Crafting the standout selections "My Niggas," "No Love 4 Me," and "Blackout;" Swizz capped off his breakout year on a high note. The joint work solidified a partnership that would lead to a succession of classic collaborations between the two.
4. The Collaborations
With the guest appearances on his debut being Sheek Louch of The L.O.X. ("Get At Me Dog"), and Drag-On, Kasino, Loose and Big Stan ("For My Dogs"); DMX was a one-man wrecking crew on his first album. For Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood; DMX chose to invite even more artists to the party. This resulted in some of the more beloved songs on the album. Louch is absent this go-round. But, group-mates Jadakiss and Styles P show up on "We Don't Give A Fuck," a menacing selection on which the Yonkers reps run wild over a beat produced by Irv Gotti and R. "Dat Nigga Reb" Wilson. DMX also throws in a few wild cards with Mary J. Blige adding vocals to "Coming From," and controversial rocker Marilyn Manson joining X on "The Omen (Damien II)." But, the collaboration on this album that turned the most heads is "Blackout." The posse-cut throws JAY-Z, X, and The L.O.X. in a lyrical cage match for the ages. In addition to DMX's solo performances, these songs helped round out Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood and make it even more of an event for the rap community.
One artist who DMX has often garnered comparisons to is 2Pac, as X shares the rap icon's ability to convey emotions through his music in a way that's transparent and moves the listener. Among the songs that exemplify this aspect of DMX's artistry is "Slippin," a track that is biographical in nature. It captures the rapper baring all of his wounds and chronicling his transgressions on wax. Produced by DJ Shok, "Slippin" touches on various stages of X's life -- from his tumultuous childhood, as well as his well-documented struggle with drug addiction. Released as the lead-single from the album, "Slippin" was a marginal hit, though it failed to achieve the same chart success of his previous singles. However, the song -- which was accompanied by a music video directed by Rubin Whitmore II -- is recognized as a signature track in DMX's discography and a heartfelt performance.
6. Its Commercial Success
After It's Dark and Hell Is Hot moved more than four million units domestically, DMX's star-power was evident, as many championed him as rap's newest megastar. However, even the Ruff Ryders team was shocked when the initial sales figures for Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood came out. The album shipped over 670,000 units in its first week. That tally nearly tripled the first week numbers of his debut with the sophomore album topping out at over three million copies sold. This was a sign that X's dominant run was sustainable and further evidence of his immense popularity.
7. It Made History
Rap artists of today release albums at a constant clip. But, in 1998, fans were lucky if their favorite rapper released one album a year -- let alone two. DMX helped put the pressure on artists to service their audiences by releasing his second album within the same calendar year as his debut, which had not been seen since 1996. This was when 2Pac released All Eyez On Me, as well as his first posthumous album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, was dropped in 1996. However, being that 2Pac was murdered months before his posthumous release, DMX became the first living artist in any genre to have two studio albums top the Billboard 200 in a calendar year. Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood would go on to debut at No. 1. Since then, other rap artists have pulled this feat off. Now, it's become somewhat of a norm. However, DMX opened the door and will always be remembered for breaking the mold.
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