5 out of 5
Produced by: Ed DMX
Ed Upton has never quite lost his sense of humor over the 2+ decades he’s been operating, but it has evolved. We’ll still hear Ed put a smile on his 80s electro beats, it’s just quite tempered by a sincere appreciation for the scene, and not to mention having been a massive contributor to keeping the sound alive (and showing off the many, funky aural possibilities it seems to offer) for all these years. That maturation of method may have started on We Are DMX, which also perhaps represents the “peak” form of goofy DMX Krew jamz, with silly vocoder vocals and club anthems and tributes to era-appropriate obsessions. The album’s cover – Ed all sassed out in “cool” baggy white outfits and carrying various rockin’ synthstruments, set against a sweet 3D grid – speaks to the vibe, but check the dude’s quite serious, unironic look toward the viewer: Upton loves this stuff. He might embrace the indulgence of it, but he also delivers on what made it so enjoyable, softening the humor of prior albums for something that feels quite genuine. (While also being all casual sexed, sing-song hip-hopped, and songs-where-we-say-our-own-named, of course.)
The flow of this thing is perfect: the opening beat is an instantly recognizable riff, but its chintziness is offset by the outright passion of its vocals; thereafter we trade off between funk and staccato jams (Konnichi Wa!, for some good ol’ 80s cultural appropriation) and late-night crooners, and occasional level-setting instrumentals, which bring some more grounded emotionality into the mix. And of course it ends with that say-my-name title track.
Ed’s keen ear for balance is also sharp throughout: tracks never hang around for longer than necessary, and each familiar beat is enhanced just-so with DMX nuance – slight tweaks and turns to keep things exciting. This style is incredibly hard to pull off without winking too hard at the audience; something that I’m not sure was kept fully in check on previous releases. The “announcement” of We Are DMX, though, seems especially fitting: it’s like Upton knew he was fully arriving with the album, kicking off an assured run of material for years to come, during which he’d allow himself to grow in multiple directions… though always with one foot in the funking dancefloor mastery on display here.