It's often said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and that maxim certainly holds true for the self-professed Grand Champ of canines, DMX, on his album of the same name. For his fifth album in six years, the veteran rapper reprises many of the same themes and motifs that had made his previous efforts so popular among hardcore rap fans and influential among his East Coast peers. As usual, he barks at his unnamed adversaries over hard-hitting Ruff Ryder beats, flexes his rhetorical muscle with his ever-confrontational rhyme style, advocates valor and faith while disdaining materialism, and frames his world within a polarized context, drawing a bold line between "dogs" and "cats." By this point, the scenario should be familiar to those who've followed DMX this far into his career; in many ways, his albums are mirror images of each other, in terms of drama, production, ideology, sequencing, and thankfully, to an extent, quality. However, the initial impact that DMX made with his tremendous and industry-changing debut, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998), lessened with each successive follow-up, and Grand Champ is no exception. It's a well-crafted and thought-out album but feels like a sequel, and as such, it serves its purpose: to satisfy fans and move units. The anthemic lead single, "Where the Hood At," is precisely modeled after previous DMX rallying calls like "Ruff Rider Anthem," "What's My Name?," and "Who We Be." Likewise, "Get It on the Floor" is a trademark Swizz Beatz club-banger -- and a remarkable one at that, perhaps one-upping even "Party Up (Up in Here)." Grand Champ closes sentimentally: "Don't Gotta Go Home" is a fractured-relationship duet with Monica that's prime urban crossover material; "A'Yo Kato" is a heartfelt ode to a lost dog with a shuffling, almost Latin beat by Swizz Beatz; and "Thank You" is a rousing gospel-rap tune featuring Patti LaBelle that's surprisingly effective and closes the album with magnificent flair (if not for the obligatory bonus track). Yet it's a long road to this sentimental closing run; for every one of the aforementioned highlights, there's at least one, if not two, run-of-the-mill tracks that warrant no more than a couple listens. Not quite the big comeback DMX needed at this point in his quietly sagging rap career, Grand Champ regardless has its share of highlights. Longtime fans may decide to drop off at about this point, if they hadn't already, while those content with the usual -- or new to DMX -- should find plenty to savor on Grand Champ.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier