It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot is a classic album on many different levels. Whether it’s for the single-handed resurgence of hardcore rap in the mainstream, the unprecedented amount of emotion brought to the album or the ability to play different characters in the same song, this album deserves all the praise it receives.
This album is mostly characterized with dark undertones courtesy of the remarkable production by Dame Grease, who handles the majority of tracks here, though not “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” the popular single produced by Swizz Beatz (and the only song here produced by Swizz, contrary to popular belief).
Despite what people might think because of his recent work, DMX is a gifted MC, which is proven on “Look Thru My Eyes” and “Let Me Fly.” These two in particular feature more mellow beats which serve as a great backdrop for DMX to provide personal reflections; the third verse of “Let Me Fly” flows as such: “I'm-a flow regardless because I'm an artist until I'm trapped / I'm-a continue to hit the hardest whether I scrap or rap / Give me death but you ain't my friend / I see it in your eyes, you contemplate my end / You waitin' for that bin in the road, where you were told / that you would go, when you were old / and if you died young, it was told / So what the dilly, what it was worth / Think back 26 years, be like what of his birth / What if it was a miscarriage and I never existed / Have I given something that have been taken away you would have missed it.”
This album is not just a good mix of great beats and lyrics but has a great artistic component to it as well. Songs like “Damien” and “The Convo” have DMX playing two different characters by changing his voice. Surprisingly, this technique is extremely effective and enhances both songs, but what’s intriguing is that in both songs DMX plays himself as one character and the devil or God as the other. Presumably, this is the rapper struggling with his good and evil sides.
DMX provides many different types of songs on It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, which constantly keeps things interesting for the listener; this does not leave the album feeling like a mix tape, thanks to the consistent production of Dame Grease. Two songs that help change things up are “Crime Story” and “ATF,” which come off sounding like a mixture between Kool G Rap and Slick Rick. In both songs DMX explains two first-hand encounters with the law, one that ends well and another that doesn’t.
As remarkable as the production and DMX’s constant emotional output throughout the album are, the highlight is not until the final track. On “N----- Done Start Something,” DMX brings The L.O.X. and Murda Ma$e to help him obliterate the incredibly dark Dame Grease beat with a series of those artists' best verses to date. DMX saves the best for last (himself) as he delivers a homicidal verse with such raw emotion that I still get shivers listening to it eight years later.
This album contains almost no flaws and stands as a testament to DMX’s lyrical abilities. I still cannot believe he fell off the way he did and it saddens me to think of what he could have been if he had made hip-hop a priority. While some may not appreciate his few simple raps (“Ruff Ryders Anthem,” “Fuckin’ With D”) on the album, the rest of the tracks are undeniably good. Give this one a chance, no matter what you think about DMX.