When DMX first exploded onto the hip-hop scene in 1997, his charismatic presence, ferocious flow, and inability to stay out of prison for more than a few months at a time earned him some fairly obvious comparisons to Tupac Shakur. But while DMX's show-stopping turns on tracks from LL Cool J, The Lox, and others seemed to earn him the perilous title of 2Pac's heir apparent, his unremarkable debut album made him seem more like a feral, cartoonish parody of the late rapper's gun-toting, thug-life persona. Like Jagermeister, DMX is potent in small doses, but not particularly advisable in large quantities. In keeping with the ragingly paradoxical spirit of mainstream gangsta rap, his second album of 1998, the ponderously and unpleasantly titled Flesh Of My Flesh Blood Of My Blood opens with a song in which DMX wallows in the blood of his enemies and concludes with the epic "Ready To Meet Him," during which he pleads with the Lord to help him preach to the souls of the lost. In between, he offers fleeting moments of moral complexity and lyrical depth, but ultimately piles on mindless, nihilistic clichés with a heavy, blood-soaked hand. Indulging a homophobic streak that seems to exist solely to overcompensate for the homoerotic nature of the oft-shirtless DMX's songs, videos, and persona, Flesh Of My Flesh Blood Of My Blood is a singularly nasty piece of work, an album so bleak and gore-soaked that it often seems like a perverse attempt to bring horror-rap back into the mainstream. But while much of the record is hopelessly, unimpressively regressive, it does have its moments. On the aforementioned "Ready To Meet Him" and the mournful "Slippin'," DMX shows signs of escaping the artistic straitjacket gangsta rap has become. On the booty-shaking "It's All Good," he slips and slides atop a sample of "Heartbeat" that's so insidiously funky, not even Dee Dee King or Brian Austin Green could have fucked it up. But while such moments are rare, there are enough of them to suggest that DMX might one day transcend the bloodily unimaginative hackwork that has marred his first two disappointing albums.