Self-proclaimed canine junkie Earl Simmons (DMX) established himself as an A-list rapper by growling and snarling on the mic. He shot to the top of the charts with his debut, It's Dark and Hell is Hot,
and follow-up, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
both from 1998. Unfortunately, on his third release, ... And There Was X
, his bark is bigger than his bite. DMX's scruffy flow is entertaining, but the grimy crime stories he relishes come off like stale reruns. The most disappointing element is the lackluster tracks concocted by last year's producer of the year Swizz Beatz. Fortunately, the songs produced by P. Killer Trackz ("Make a Move") and Self and Irv Gotti ("What's My Name") save the day with hot beats that seem to re-energize DMX. His collaborations with R&B singers Sisqo of Dru Hill ("What These Bitches Want") and missing-in-action songstress Regina Bell ("Angel") also add a new dimension to his résumé. In the rap game, intensity is tough to maintain. DMX, known for his fierceness and vigor, has not fallen completely into the pool of wack-ness, but he is definitely dogg paddling in mediocre waters.