There might be a reason DMX missed his usual No. 1 debut spot, but fans won't care.

After a three-year hiatus, DMX (a.k.a. Earl Simmons) returns with Year of the Dog...Again. With Swizz Beatz, Scott Storch, Dame Grease and the Tuneheadz behind the production boards, this latest offering is DMX's grittiest, most complex project since his 1998 debut, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot. "Six number one albums / imagine that / cats is sick / the dog got his swagger back," he growls on "We in Here," dropping verses on the state of the hip-hop game with hunger and vengeance. Busta Rhymes pops in for a duet on "Come Thru (Move)," and X's fellow Ruff Ryder comrades Jadakiss and Styles P cipher on "It's Personal," taking us back to the days of hoodies, baseball bats and Timberland boots.

With his recent personal and legal troubles, including a stint in prison, DMX has become the 21st-century version of Marvin Gaye: a divided soul who's not ashamed to share his pain or his mistakes. A reflective X rhymes and sings on "Goodbye," reminding his audience that any day could be the last and remembering friends gone too soon. He continues the introspective journey on "Lord Give Me a Sign." As with every album he's done, DMX keeps his tradition of including a prayer/song on each CD going with "The Prayer VI," a glimpse of what's to come should he ever decide to leave the rap game. Despite the fact that he missed his usual No. 1 debut slot, DMX delivers an album that's sure to satisfy his fans.

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