Newly released from New York's Rikers Island prison after serving more than two months for a 2004 incident at New York's JFK Airport, rapper DMX has parted ways with longtime label Def Jam and signed

Newly released from New York's Rikers Island prison after serving more than two months for a 2004 incident at New York's JFK Airport, rapper DMX has parted ways with longtime label Def Jam and signed a new, three-album deal with Sony Urban. His new album, and first studio release in three years, "Here We Go Again," is expected for release this summer.

The artist, whose real name is Earl Simmons, explains that he reached an impasse at Def Jam. "I wasn't really happy there," he told Billboard during a series of interviews last month at Rikers Island. "Recording was like work."

Simmons adds he and current Def Jam president/CEO Jay-Z could not work together. "We're both too big," he says. The album was originally recorded for Def Jam, and Sony Urban bought the rights to it as part of Simmons' deal. However, only a handful of the original songs will be on the final release. Def Jam declined to comment on the subject for this story.

DMX is the only rapper to have all five of his studio albums debut at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 and go multi-platinum. The artist is known for mixing the sacred and the profane in his rhymes, balancing his roughness with a deeply religious side.

"Here We Go Again" will be a prime example of this blend. Simmons brought back his Ruff Ryder cohort Swizz Beatz to produce as well as Dame Grease, who worked on all of his past hits. Grease says he is also excited about Simmons' label Bloodline Records, whose roster includes Big Stan, Kashmir and Bazaar Royale. Simmons is currently in talks to get new distribution for the label, which previously went through Def Jam.

In addition, Simmons has three movies in the works, including the indie film "The Last Hour" with David Carradine and Michael Madsen, as well as a reality TV series.

The artist recalls that in 2003, he reached a personal crossroads. His DMX side was fed up with the business. "I either wanted to kill someone, or myself." After releasing the album "Grand Champ" and promoting his box-office smash "Cradle 2 the Grave," he announced that he would devote himself to his spirituality. Earl wanted to become a preacher. Simmons sighs and points a finger to the sky. "Problem is, I never heard the call," he says.

It was Simmons' friend Mase (aka pastor Mason Bertha, one of the few successful rappers to date to turn preacher) who talked him out of retirement. "Mase told me I have to do what I can with the talent the Lord has given me," Simmons says. "The Lord will call me when he wants me to do something different."

To be sure, hip-hop has changed in the past three years and Simmons considers today's gangster/bling rhymes vapid. "It's music I wouldn't even let my 13-year-old son listen to," he says, sitting in his recording studio in upstate New York. "It's not real. No one is saying anything. It's not rap, it's crap. There is no soul. I refuse to conform."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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