DMX has seen his title as music's most dangerous/controversial superstar usurped by 50 Cent, and while Jay-Z effortlessly made the leap from rapper to suave international businessman, DMX remained stuck in a professional holding pattern. Still, he ranks as one of the few rap superstars with genuine staying power, even if he has popped up on the police blotter more often than the pop charts in the past few years.

Year Of The Dog Again, DMX's first disc since he parted ways with Def Jam, offers the same old dance of sin and salvation, Saturday-night sinning and Sunday-morning redemption. In keeping with DMX's time-tested formula, Dog is two-thirds gangsta and one-third gospel. And though even Swizz Beatz is fucking with samples these days, the disc's production suggests angry synthesizers locked in epic warfare. DMX keeps the energy and adrenaline pumping throughout the disc's first few tracks, then switches the mood up sonically on the smoothed-out "Baby Motha" while directing his vitriol at a wayward mom. In a burst of feral eloquence, DMX announces, "You's a stupid bitch, yo / a real fucking stupid bitch! / You ain't nothing but a stupid bitch, bitch!"


In keeping with DMX's penchant for violent contradictions, the next track is, of course, a token cheesy R&B love song. Later, "Blown Away" marks the disc's dramatic-yet-predictable shift from agitated ultraviolence to Jesus-inspired introspection, a transformation that comes complete with one of DMX's trademark screamed a cappella prayers ("The Prayer VI") and a choir on "Lord Give Me A Sign."

DMX may be sincere in both his faith and his bloodlust, but at this point, his tormented-preacher routine qualifies as shtick.  For much of its duration, Dog is good mean fun, but given the disc's overwhelming been-there-done-that quality, it might benefit the old dog to learn some new tricks.