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For DMX’s longtime collaborator, friend and Ruff Ryders crewmate Swizz Beatz, making his posthumous album “Exodus” — which drops on Friday — was supposed to be the start of a big comeback for the late rapper.
“We did the whole album — the album was done — before he passed,” said Swizz, 42, who served as both executive producer and producer. “It’s not an album that was pieced together after he passed. We had plans to do a two-month cleansing and workout [program] before we came with the album. He was gonna re-brand himself with new photos of him looking the best that he could look … But unfortunately we didn’t get to that part.”
Sadly, the New York native — born Earl Simmons in Mount Vernon and raised in Yonkers — died at 50 on April 9 after suffering a heart attack on April 2 brought on by an overdose.
But the journey to “Exodus” actually began 10 months ago, after X appeared in a Verzuz battle with Snoop Dogg.
“He was feeling all the fans’ love, and he was feeling all the support from his peers,” said Swizz. “He said, ‘Man, I love the love. I love the new younger generation showing me love. I just wish I had new songs for them to hear.’ And I said, ‘Well OK, let’s go!’
“He was ready. And we just ended up staying in California at Snoop’s studio, where we did the Verzuz, and started and finished the album there.”
No doubt, “Exodus” is not the hastily compiled collection of leftovers that some posthumous albums end up being. You can hear all sorts of life in DMX, who sounds re-focused and re-energized throughout the LP.
“He was in one of the best places I’ve seen him in years,” said Swizz. “We hadn’t worked on something like this in over 15 years, with us consistently being in the studio and us having a plan and a schedule … I was super proud of him for getting his confidence up.”
“Exodus” features a who’s who of guest stars, from Swizz’s wife Alicia Keys (“Hold Me Down”) and Snoop Dogg (“Take Control”) to Jay-Z and Nas (both on “Bath Salts”) to Lil Wayne (“Dogs Out”) and even Bono (“Skyscrapers”).
“He was really feeding off of the features,” said Swizz. “He was like, ‘Wow, Bono is agreeing to be on the album? Wow, Alicia’s showing up, Usher’s showing up.’ All of those things were just fueling him … It was just so amazing to see that everybody wanted him to win.”
Now the album feels like a star-studded sendoff worthy of the rap king that he was. “Yeah, it’s really spooky about that,” said Swizz. “It’s almost like his 50th birthday party, you know?”
However, the album title was originally not intended to be “Exodus.” “The working title we had was ‘It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot Again,’ ” said Swizz, in reference to DMX’s 1998 smash debut, “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot,” featuring his hit “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” “But due to the circumstances, I made the executive decision to make it ‘Exodus.’ The word meant so much to him that he named his son that and he tatted it on his neck.”
But Swizz wants it to be clear that this album is not about simply cashing in on DMX’s death, but celebrating — and expanding — his legacy. “They think it’s people taking advantage of the situation,” he said. “I’m the first person that’s never gonna let that happen. When it comes to DMX, I don’t even play those types of games … That’s not a meal ticket for me.
“He was my best friend. He was my brother.”
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