Exodus holds some poignancy as DMX’s final work, but it’s an ultimately indecisive and bloated record.
We’ve seen it time and time again now: up-and-coming rapper dies both suddenly and tragically, their label then quickly pumps out as much of their music as humanly possible in order to cash in. Within the past few years, this has happened to the likes of Lil Peep, Juice Wrld, Pop Smoke, and XXXTentacion: artists ready to break into the mainstream who were taken from this world before their aspirations could fully materialize. But what about the opposite situation, when said performer is past their prime and relevancy, but are able to generate enough support after their passing for their label to finally release new music to cash in on their death? In a genre defined as a young man’s sport, this seldom seems to be the case: most talent past the age of 45 is deemed unimportant.
This brings us to the curious case of Exodus. The first (and hopefully last) posthumous release from DMX, it’s an album stuck between two different modes of presentation: It was recorded as a come-back project — one built off of the success and positivity of his then recent VERZUS battle with Snoop Dogg — but because of unforeseen circumstances, is now being marketed and pushed as a “final” album. In either capacity, it’s serviceable, but when it tries to be both, it never really works and oftentimes conflicts with itself. If there was one lane this should have probably stuck with, it’s the latter, as never once here does Earl Simmons come off as hungry or as vicious as he once was. This could reasonably be chalked up to his age, but he gets presented here as someone who can still spit with the best of them. When paired with the Griselda boys on “Hood Blues,” it feels like they’re offering charity rather than organically collaborating with X; they each go before him, sparing only a measly 60 seconds for him at the end to essentially provide the track with more vocal textures than actual bars. On collaborations with Lil Wayne and Moneybagg Yo, there’s hardly any competition as to who dominates each track: the beats even sound like they were tailored and primed for the featured guest in mind before ending up here. Even when he’s shooting it with MCs from his generation, he barely registers as much of a presence: “Bath Salts” finds old enemies Jay-Z and Nas teaming up to brag about their personal wealth on their dead, near-penniless friend’s song, and “That’s My Dog” follows the exact same pattern as “Hood Blues,” sticking as many other voices before X’s as possible, before feeling contractually obligated to have him show up.
When considered as DMX’s final work before passing, Exodus holds up slightly better. There’s still all the bloat one might expect from an album of this intention and scope: two different, yet equally cumbersome ballads appear, including one with Bono that feels entirely gratuitous; a song dedicated to an estranged son features Usher begging him to call his father (which, considering how things are now, feels like it’s been placed here to make the kid feel really bad?); and there’s a closing prayer that’s disconnected from everything else that’s come before. But despite all of these misgivings, there’s at least some more poignancy to the album’s less belabored moments. As it stands, Exodus is too indecisive about its intentions to ever elicit anything more than base pathos for its conception, which is a lose-lose for all living parties involved.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2021 | Part 1.