The posthumous album is a tough thing to get right. If nothing else, it can be hard for fans to ascertain what’s really representative of an artist’s vision versus what was completed after death to the sometimes less than exacting specifications of the stewards of said estate. In the case of dearly departed hip-hop legend DMX, however, the Dog-loving faithful had nothing to worry about. “All of the songs was finished,” longtime friend, collaborator, and executive producer of his Exodus album Swizz Beatz tells Apple Music. “This album was done while he was living. I know they’re saying ‘the album after he's gone,’ but really he did the album before he was gone.”
Pop Smoke was initially slated to appear on “Money Money Money,” but a leak forced Swizz to switch up the plan and bring on Moneybagg Yo. Otherwise, though, Exodus is exactly how X designed it—one of hip-hop’s most impactful MCs making space for the voices he revered, while staying true to a career-long practice of baring his soul on record. “He gave people real shit,” Swizz says. “He gave you a front-row seat into his life, because he loved his fans, he loved his people, and it's where he was at. He was comfortable, and I think that every artist should get to that level one day, to where they’re not capping and they’re saying real things that are happening in their life and that they’re going through. And it should be uncut, like Dog did on this record.” Below, Swizz talks us through—track by track—the last musical testament of friend and icon DMX.
“That’s My Dog” (feat. The LOX & Swizz Beatz) “Setting the tone was very important. This is a real curated body of work, and me and X hadn't been in the studio like this for 12 years. The first rapper you hear on the album is Jadakiss, so that's letting you know the tone right there for where we going. This is not play-around.”
“Bath Salts” (feat. JAY-Z & Nas) “Out the gate, we just wanted to put pressure on everybody—and then take them on this journey at the same time. With Hov and Nas, people know what they getting, you know what I’m saying?”
“Dogs Out” (feat. Lil Wayne & Swizz Beatz) “Wayne always spoke highly of X—when he was living and when he passed. If you go and you look at YouTube, you see Wayne bringing out X at [Miami Beach nightclub] LIV. His concert I was at, he did a whole tribute about X. They went crazy [here].”
“Money Money Money” (feat. Moneybagg Yo) “I didn't want the album just to be artists from when X first came out. I wanted it—and he wanted it—to be energy from today, which is why Pop Smoke originally had this slot. I actually made the beat for Pop Smoke. Pop Smoke was like, 'I want something that sound like X.' And then I think by mistake or whatever, the verses got out, and they was put on different songs, so we had to change it at the last minute. The song is called 'Money Money Money,' so I felt like Moneybagg Yo was perfect for it, and I actually like him as an artist. The beat reminded me of 'Stop Being Greedy' a little bit when I was doing it. It put me in that old X vibe.”
“Hold Me Down” (feat. Alicia Keys) “‘Hold Me Down’ is one of my favorite records, not only because of my wife on it, but because the way that DMX opens up about his life. If you listen to the record, he starts off, ‘I'm pulled in opposite directions, my life's in conflict/That’s why I spit words that depict a convict.’ And to have a simple chorus that's just saying, 'Hold me down'—’cause that's all X wanted. He wanted the people that loved him to hold him down. That's what he cared about.”
“Skyscrapers” (feat. Bono) “Bono is like family to me, and I had [an early version of the track]. I asked for his permission to give it to my brother because I felt that he deserved it more, especially with the body of work that we was working on. As soon as X heard it, he automatically went in. And then it was crazy, ’cause Bono was writing him saying, ‘Man, it's an honor to have my voice next to yours.’ He drew him a drawing and wrote X a poem and everything right before he passed. It was pretty deep.”
“Stick Up Skit” (feat. Cross, Infrared & Icepick) “This is the late, great Icepick Jay, who passed away [in 2017]. He did all the skits, so that was kind of like paying homage. It just fit, and we can't have an album with no skits.”
“Hood Blues” (feat. Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher & Conway the Machine) “[Griselda and DMX], they was both fans of each other. X liked them cause they was super hard. And they was a fan of X, so that was pretty easy. X kind of did this one on his own, to be honest. I just sent the beat and they did they thing.”
“Take Control” (feat. Snoop Dogg) “[Snoop and DMX], they knew they wanted to do something after Verzuz. We did the song and it was like, ‘Yo, you know what? Snoop would sound good on this.’ That’s Marvin Gaye and that's 'Sexual Healing,' so you know we had to do the right thing. I love that record. It shows you the 'How's It Goin' Down' vibe.”
“Walking in the Rain” (feat. Nas, Exodus Simmons & Denaun) “[DMX’s son] Exodus was in the studio with us for a lot of [the album]. He was loving ‘Walking in the Rain’ and he just started singing it and he was on beat and everything. It was a beautiful sight to see."
“Letter to My Son (Call Your Father)” (feat. Usher & Brian King Joseph) “[DMX] pulled me in the corner and was like, ‘I'm going to let you hear this.’ I kept it acoustic so you could hear every word, and then felt like it needed something else. Then Usher came into the studio and did what he did to it. I left it to where the music had some space for people to reflect instead of it being a whole bunch of words, ’cause X didn't put a whole bunch of words on a record. He said what he said. And it was beautiful.”
“Prayer” “This was live at Kanye's Sunday Service. It was his latest prayer. That's why we put that one on there. He did another one where he was rapping, but this one feels more like what it should be. He was the master of prayers, for sure.”