Back in 1994 there were many different hip-hop acts. Nas and Jay-z were hitting the scene as hustlers with ambition. Jay especially captured the mob mentality. Biggie and Craig Mack had ushered in Bad Boy with harsh lyrics and rawness smoothed over by Puffy's business savvy. Then you still had artists who didn't really fit one mold like Naughty by Nature. Hip-hop was at a cross-roads with one type or flavor of rap music was exploding with the likes of Onyx, Mobb Deep, and especially DMX. They exemplified the hunger and gritty style that was exploding and bursting from the seams of NY rap.
Following behind the activist lyrics of Public Enemy and on the heels of the angry gangster rap of NWA, Mobb Deep and Onyx both represented the anger and raw emotion of the black community. The music of this time was so popular that it sold and gave rise to the "bling-bling" era of rap in the latter half of the decade. Tupac would be seen as most as the leader of the generation of artists because of his outspoken nature and ability to articulate his music in interviews as well. More direct and to the point was an artist like DMX who was unapologetic in his rawness.
It was his look and and persona as a grimey street cat who was willing to do anything to survive that paints X as the poster child for the short lived grimey era over a polished artist and thespian like Tupac. DMX is, was and always will be official and the benchmark when it comes to realness and street cred. Just listen to Stop Being Greedy and tell me you didn't feel his anger at those who have the ability to make money or "eat" as the metaphor goes and refuses to share. Look at his tattoo of Boomer on his back, listen to his interviews, everything about him screams "real".
But enough with the DMX biography. It's all about the style. For the most part Mobb Deep was able to talk about jackin people without glorifying the actual acts. The same thing with Onyx, you never got the idea that they were being grimey but for a lack of options. Today, many of the acts that echo the sentiment, or talk about the streets are doing it just to get in. You just couldn't help believing these artists. Even their clothes said "real". Unlike today's "thugs" who are prepackaged swinging their designer louie rags, you knew DMX was way more likely to ever rob you than be caught dead with silk robes and chinese slippers on.
At the crossroads today, the foundation is being laid for a return to the gritty. Right now, thrift store shopping throwback hipsters becoming more popular courtesy of Kanye West, and a severe recession, the stage is set for the next DMX, or maybe even the old one.