DMX Made Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood Because Of A $1 Million Wager
In the span of seven months, DMX released two albums which combined went platinum seven times. It was 1998, and the Yonkers, New York rapper was taking the industry by storm, establishing himself as a domineering presence with uncompromising virility. First with May’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and then December’s Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, the Def Jam recording artist was putting Ruff Ryders on the map with his vulnerable, unforgiving take on lyricism, and he achieved albums that reached platinum-selling levels for the next five years.
Of all his albums, however, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood was particularly ambitious. Despite DMX’s tremendous, quadruple-platinum selling debut, releasing a follow-up in such swift succession could have proven to be fatal to his then-burgeoning career. But as history has proven, DMX was a singular talent whose arrival on the scene had come just in time, and his sophomore LP went triple-platinum, making him only the second rapper to drop two number-one albums in the same year.
The FADER has published an oral history of the making of Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, including the voices of not only DMX but also producers Swizz Beats and Dame Grease as well as Def Jam label executives Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles, Ruff Ryders co-founder Darrin “Dee” Dean, label mate (and fellow Yonkers native) Styles P, and others. In it, the parties involved discuss the decisions behind opting for such an aggressive approach to DMX’s early career, and in so doing reveal that it all revolved around a hefty bet. As DMX recounts, Island Def Jam Music Group’s co-president from 1998-2004, Lyor Cohen, “said if I could do another album in 30 days, I’d get a million-dollar bonus. That was the whole drive.”
It was a bold pronouncement of DMX’s value as an artist, but one based on tangible evidence that a second album so soon would be successful. As former CEO and president of Def Jam Kevin Liles shares, “The consumers were starving. X fed that hunger — that hunger for realness, that hunger for the street. And what better way to serve it up than to give two full entrees in the same year?” The risk paid off, and then some. “I made $144 million for [Def Jam] that first year,” says DMX. “I felt vindicated. I knew I was fucking dope. Not in an arrogant way, but in a way that was like, ‘Yes, I dare to believe in myself.’ And I turned out to be right.” Not only was he correct in his assessment of a hungry fanbase, but he rightfully argues that Flesh quite literally changed the game. “Dropping two albums in one year, it sped up the pace of how music is put out. It set a new standard,” he shares. Liles agrees, echoing the sentiment that DMX was doing more than making successful records. “The albums were actual chapters in the same book; they were moments in his life. ’98 was a defining moment for X. He moved culture.”
Also shared are some insights into the actual recording of the album, which Ruff Ryders co-founder Darrin “Dee” Dean explains was in part a revisit to DMX’s debut. “For the second album, we just redid most of the songs we had left over from the first one, mixed it, mastered it, and got it done,” he says before commenting on the relatability factor DMX so beautifully embodied, which helped drive the historic success of Flesh. “There was a million people out here that was going through what he’s going through. He could relate to them and they could relate to him.”
Unsurprisingly, such a tight schedule meant long hours in the studio, and Liles states that “X would do four to five songs a day because he was just writing about what was going on around him.” He adds “with X, we never chased radio. We chased to make sure we knew where he was. What were we chasing when he said, ‘I’m slipping, I’m falling, I can’t get up?’ That’s just where he was in his life.” And, speaking of, Joaquin “Waah” Dean (co-founder of Ruff Ryders Entertainment) discusses one of the LP’s standout tracks and lead single, “Slippin’,” which he says DMX was writing “for a while — six months, a year. He wanted this song to be impacting people’s lives.”
Swizz Beatz, whose appearance as producer on the majority of the album would signal the future success he would find in his career, also shares some memories about the album’s recording process. “On ‘My Niggas,’ X was just vibing,” he says before adding “we were about anthems. When you look at most anthems, they’re very repetitive, they keep coming back around. ‘My niggas’ was just the anchor, and it was like filling in the blanks. Everybody kept saying it over and over in the studio, and it was easy for him to record. That’s the thing — the reason why I got so many tracks on X’s album was because I had a formula that was different. I would come up with the choruses, I would come up with the concepts, and then the artist just had to fill in the blanks.”
“All I was doing was scoring the movie, he wrote the script. I took it like that — I’m scoring the film, and it’s a scary film. With ‘The Omen,’ says Swizz, “it was X playing his roles and his theatrical style, him and Marilyn Manson. We was going way far on that song. I was producing Marilyn Manson at that time. We were just having fun with it and thinking big at that time. Elsewhere in the oral history he shares insight into “It’s All Good,” as well as his thoughts on the iconic cover art, shot by heralded photographer Jonathan Mannion.
Read “Bring Your Whole Crew: The remarkable true story of how DMX’s Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood was made” at the FADER.