30
Jun 00

DMX – What’s My Name?

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For so long, as a matter of moral principle, I despised DMX. Hated the blatant simplicity of his music’s production values, hated the way his every emotional response was intoned as a blood-red tabloid headline, hated the way he played into the hands of the shocking and disgraceful racism of the British media (half the time he *does* sound like an orang-utan to *me*, and if I can think that then what would the average Telegraph reader think if *they* heard him … ?).

My partial change of heart has been brought about by listening to this track perhaps five or six times, and appreciating the incredible forcefulness of the production, the way every element falls into place perfectly, the “sonic assault course” element, the way it hurtles itself at you and it’s impossible not to be rushed along with its power. It’s one of the most fetishistically militaristic records I’ve heard in years (like nothing since Spandau Ballet’s “Musclebound”, I can imagine some dictatorship taking it as their anthem, dressing everyone in the same uniform, marching in time, crushing all those who fail to bow down to this awesome beat), and rhythmically it’s one of the least stereotypically “black”. There’s no rhythmic mobility to it at all, and I think that’s what I initally found myself despising (and is *that* cultural stereotyping? Maybe we’re all guilty …). Just a forceful, vicious 1-2-3 beat (“D-M-X”, the title, “Ryde or Die” and any number of other phrases), the same sequence repeated three times, and then it’s back to that 1-2-3 again. For four minutes. With the embellishments removed, the rhythm of this record (and the rhythm is all) could very easily be used as an attempt to force the entire world into order, to remove all subversion, all un-regulated physicality, all rogue movement. The way this record – and so much of DMX’s other output, indeed the whole Ruff Ryders axis – fetishise their “code of the streets” runs against every aspect of the hip-hop orthodoxy, which is about rhythmic looseness, a mentality where “self-control” is considered obscene. “What’s My Name”, rhythmically, is the precise opposite of “I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine” – perhaps the most rhythmically free record ever made – and DMX is the anti-James Brown – a black artist whose sound and style sounds openly like an endorsement for military dictatorship. No wonder white liberals like myself tend to hate him. And, yes, I know virtually everything he does is morally indefensible. Especially because I feel myself being taken over by it.

He’s probably one of the worst emcees ever – most of his rhymes are a pathetic attempt at sounding “hard” every bit as weak as Turbo B’s notorious “And I will attack – AND YOU DON’T WANT THAT!”. But “The Power”, atrocious emceeing apart, was actually one of the greatest sonic assault courses ever to reach Number 1 in Britain (I may have been 9 at the time, but it still sounds endlessly exciting and violent, at least in the terms of 1990 chart pop, and those are the only ones worth defining it in). “What’s My Name” and its ilk occupy a similar position in the US, but they go far further – they’re simultaneously superb and repugnant examples of something frighteningly addictive being created out of a monosyllabic and unpromising beginning.

I can’t stay musclebound for long. But when I am, it’s a mode I can, shamefully, hardly click out of.

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