DMX passed away on Friday, April 9, at 50 years old after suffering a massive heart attack following an overdose that left him in a coma for a week. X, born Earl Simmons, reportedly suffered an alleged drug overdose on Friday night (April 2) and was described as being in grave condition at a White Plains, New York, hospital. DMX has battled substance abuse for years and has been to rehab several times. His last stint was in 2019.
Throughout his life, DMX was an open book. He was never one to shy away from all of the wins that he earned and even the demons that he had to fight daily. That’s what makes him such a compelling person and one of the most decorated and electric MCs ever. His brutal honesty about his rise from the ashes, his rough upbringing, finding fame and fortune as a superstar rapper and movie star, is a story about succeeding against insurmountable odds. If safe to say that there will never be another DMX. He is truly a “one of one.”
As we reflect on his enormous impact, here’s how X reflected on his work, his spirituality and his demons over the years:
Although he’s known as one the hardest MCs ever, DMX was never afraid to express his spirituality. Some of the most powerful moments in Hip Hop music was when X offered prayers on his albums. If you came in his path, and you asked, DMX would pray for you and with you at the drop of a dime. When he appeared on the popular podcast Drink Champs, X did not hesitate to pray for everyone in the building. Unlike almost any rap superstar we’ve witnessed, DMX was never shy about revealing his love and dependence on God.
When you heard DMX, his style was similar to that of a fiery preacher. Some would argue he missed his calling as a minister. But X always had in the back of his mind that he would be minister, just not in the traditional sense. When asked about his calling on Big Boy's Neighborhood, X responded, “Not in a regular, formal, traditional way in ministry. But I do that now. I’ll start a conversation and the next thing you know there are 20 people around me.” Listening and watching DMX has always been deeper than just music. It was a spiritual experience from Pastor X.
Despite all of the challenges he faced, DMX was serious about his craft as an MC. From his time as an underground, relatively unknown rapper to his meteoric rise as the biggest superstar in the game, X took his pen game and liver performances seriously. With each album, with each verse, X viewed his music as sacred. As he recalled some of his favorite tracks he said, “I have a huge weight on my shoulders. I’m responsible for my music. Each album has to do many things. I take that into consideration as I record them.”
DMX’s battle with substance abuse is well-known. In fact, he’s always been in an open book about his struggles to stay drug-free. In a candid interview on Talib Kweli’s The People’s Podcast, X explained the root cause of his drug addiction was that he was tricked into smoking crack cocaine by a mentor at 14 years old. He said, “After a robbery, they passed then blunt around and I wasn’t impressed. I don’t really smoke. I hit the blunt and I was no longer focused on the money. I never felt like this. I was f**ked up. I later found out that it was laced with crack cocaine.” In a powerful way, DMX described the trauma he had to overcome to establish himself as a Hip Hop icon.
In the mid-90s, before they both took the world by storm, DMX and JAY-Z were both hungry MCs trying to make a name for themselves. In an epic encounter, allegedly filmed by the late Big L, DMX and JAY-Z faced off in a pool hall in the Bronx. The two future titans would trade verses for hours. Guns were drawn and each side claimed victory. DMX not only said he bested JAY-Z that night but he never lost a rhyming duel. To this day, both claim victory in one of the most legendary stories in Hip Hop.
If hitting the number one spot on the Billboard 200 with It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX did the unthinkable by dropping another number one album in the same year. Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, almost didn’t happen. Lyhor Cohen, who was an executive at Def Jam, knew X was the hottest rapper on the planet and offered him $1 Million in cash to make another album before the end of the year. X got right to work. Reminiscing about the process, DMX said, “I wanted to get that bonus, so I wasn’t playing with that whole studio s__t. I wanted to get it out. The first album had 19 songs, so I already felt like I was cheating a little bit by giving them less songs than on the first one.” The album, over 670,000 units shipped in the first week, eventually went 3x Platinum.
Initially, DMX was not feeling Drake. In an interview with The Breakfast Club, X let it all when he spoke about the Toronto rapper. "I don't like anything about Drake," X said in the 2012 interview. "I don't like his voice, I don't like the sh-- he talks about, I don't like his face, I don't like the way he walks, I don't like his haircut, just nothing." He wasn’t playing. But later on, he changed his mind about Drake. After Drake reached out to X to sample him on his fourth studio effort Views (he sampled "What These B----es Want" on "U With Me?"), DMX gave him another chance, "Man, another humbling experience," he recalled. "'Cause people were like, 'Yo, you didn’t like this guy for all the wrong reasons.' For him to make the effort first to want to use a song of mine and then to be man enough to reach out and make that call, I was like, ‘Homie, hats off.’ That was a real move. I salute him for that.”
Very few rappers are as transparent as DMX. He would address any topic in music and in interviews. One topic was the strenuous relationship that he had with his mother. In an interview with GQ, when asked if he holds anything against his mother because of how she abused him, he replied, “ That doesn’t mean I don’t love her. That doesn’t mean she’s the same person. Children don’t come with a f**king instruction manual. She was 20 when she had me. Four sisters; I’m the only boy. Maybe she didn’t know what to do with me.
While he was one of the hardest rappers ever, DMX loved dance music. You can get a glimpse of it on his track, “It’s All Good,” which samples Taana Gardner’s classic “Heartbeat.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, he revealed his love of classic dance songs. “This is all I f**k with besides my sh*t,” he said. In his CD case were Donna Summer’s Greatest Hits, some Earth, Wind and Fire, The Best of Candi Staton, Chic Live at the Budokan, Teena Marie, Sha-lamar, Chaka, Cameo,Evelyn “Champagne” King, and The Best of Regina Belle, signed by her: “To DMX, You are a most beautiful spirit. Stay positive and sweet. Love R.”
Since he arrived on the scene, Dark Man X repped for those who lived on the margins. He had an “I have nothing to lose “ attitude. Even one of his early singles from 1992,when he went by DMX The Great, was titled, “Born Loser.” In an interview with Ralph Daniels on Video Music Box, X spoke about his philosophy. He said, “ I speak for the street. I am for them dog. I will be the voice of the street till I die cause I know if I keep my heart real, I’m a fly.”
Photo: Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic