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Rating: 3.1 Give DMX credit for livening up the baroque gangsta blueprint laid out on his first three albums with infusions of old-school soul. Trouble is, he did that two years ago, on the aptly titled The Great Depression. Grand Champ is little more than that album's unofficial sequel, which wouldn't be an issue if pretty much every DMX album weren't a sequel to the one before it. The songs in which X shines on this, his fifth release, find their luster somewhat dimmed by the easiness with which one can pick out their progenitors. The defiant R&B chorus of "Untouchable" would go down a little easier if it weren't so evocative of Depression's "Trina Moe" and "When I'm Nothing." "Where the Hood At" is a bracing shot of the kind of ruff-riding anthem at which DMX excels, with a distinctive hook that showcases his singular gruff growl; if only it didn't naggingly (and unfavorably) compare to "Who We Be" or "One More Road to Cross." "Rob All Night (If I'm Gonna Rob)?" Just a retread of "I'ma Bang," or perhaps "What's My Name?" The rest of Grand Champ is a primer in familiar gangsta posturing (including some vociferous gay-bashing), loaded down with a dizzying string of guest performers like an arm too heavily weighted with bling-bling. Mildly engaging jams ("Get It On the Floor") and rote tales from the hood ("Shot Down," an obligatory 50 Cent collaboration) abound, but too little stands out to make Grand Champ more than an uneven contender. Here's hoping Earl Simmons can once again reach the Best in Show high point of 1999's ...And Then There Was X before more innovative artists elbow him out of the running.
 
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