Dude, did you know "god" spelled backward is "dog"? Yeah. Well, DMX might actually subscribe to this kind of bong-load theology, because his canine-laden references to himself have made a serious transition throughout his career. The exultant woof-woofs of "Where My Dogs At?" have evolved to the point where, on his most recent album, The Great Depression, they've become truly biblical third-person evocations. DMX still finds himself resigned to being a dog in hip-hop's traditional sense, breaking hearts and refusing to be housebroken on "Shorty Was Da Bomb." But in striking contrast, on "We Right Here" DMX offers "Dog is good" as both an assurance and a warning while the beat lurches slowly, like a street preacher making rounds.

Unlike most of his musical peers, DMX maintains a thug stance while remaining endlessly willing to explore deep, troubling places with an honesty other artists don't approach, either out of fear or self-consciousness. Like his earlier releases, which were laced with references to the Book of Revelations, Depression refers to a spiritual crisis instead of a social one, and he gets that much closer to solving it.

Creatively the album is more of an extension than a leap. DMX still leaves bite marks in the microphone, most effectively on "Who We Be," a supercharged anthem that marches forward with a stiff finger pointed right at your chest. He continues to paint the walls with blood and guitars, such as on "School Street" and "I'm a Bang" (in which metal guitar curls like smoke just before DMX's voice explodes into fire). These outbursts are paired with quiet introspection ("I Miss You") and easy singles like "You Could Be Blind," which strips away the rust and grime, replacing it with an acoustic guitar hook, and pairs DMX's Tourettic rapping style with a chorus that might have gotten lost on its way to a Destiny's Child song. It's a wrestling match between dark and light, with darkness a strong favorite. DMX rarely achieves a musical balance, perhaps with the exception of "Trina Moe" -- an excellent party beat that backs a mixture of self-aggrandizement and evangelism.

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Todd Levin