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DMX 

Grand Champ (Def Jam)

In showbiz, one measure of success is quitting -- or at least threatening it. Sinatra did, and so did Dylan and Bowie. Even Celine Dion walked away for a while -- if not for nearly long enough. So now hip-hop pit bull DMX, who's every bit as melodramatic as the aforementioned entertainers, has made the same dubious retirement announcement.

Could it be true? After 2001's disappointing The Great Depression, there's an almost Vegas-like grandiosity to Grand Champ, an upping of the ante that feels like DMX has gathered his strength for one more gutter roar. And six albums is a long time to maintain the over-the-top intensity that's been his trademark, especially since he's been making essentially the same record -- about the struggle for his gangsta soul -- over and over, with only the outcome in doubt.

The resolution here might appear proof that X really has nothing left to say. He still claims to be Satan's spawn on "Get It on the Floor," but by the string-soaked "The Rain," he seems worn out by the deadly lie of keeping it real -- "I wanna be able to walk out my front door/Without worryin' about comin' in conflict with the law" -- and on the manic gospel of "Thank You," with Patti LaBelle wailing in the background, he dedicates his howl to Jesus with an air of finality. If that's it -- don't bet on it -- then the Champ at least bows out with a bite to match his bark.

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