As a child, I struggled to find a taste in music that quenched my thirst wholeheartedly. I recall the oldies station playing when I was a youngster—truth be told, I have no problems with that music. The music of the 1950s and 1960s certainly holds weight and is meaningful to me; it just wasn’t “it,” if that makes sense. As the millennium came to a close, I relegated myself to rock music as the genre I was destined to have spoken to me. As much as I listened to the genre, though, I could feel that rock and I didn’t mix cohesively. Then I heard three magic letters that would change the course of my life and send me down a musical path not-yet-traveled. Those letters were DMX.
For anyone unfamiliar with DMX, Dark Man X, or Earl Simmons, he is a New York rapper known for his aggressive style and hardcore lyrics. My first DMX experience, courtesy of his smash single “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” was not a pleasant one. Having friends who were about the song at the time, they loved its in-your-face style and unlimited braggadocio, while I was unaccustomed to this type of lyricism. I heard the song, I understood why everyone was fawning over it, yet I couldn’t enjoy it. I chalked it up as an artist that wasn’t for me, yet I never forgot it, either. After the release another single that didn’t hook me, “Slippin,'” I wrote off DMX as an artist that just wasn’t for me.
I got to my senior year of high school, then something clicked. DMX had a new album out and released the single, “What’s My Name?” The beat, the anger, and the raw tenacity finally clicked with me. Looking at this song over any other that DMX has released, this one is no different from anything else in his discography. Filled to the brim with anger, your typical X growls and plenty of references to sucking his dick, “What’s My Name?” is par for the course. So, why did this song click for me? In my opinion, the production moved away from its darker, horrorcore feel and towards a friendlier, pop-orientated sound. For a young kid like myself at the time, this song was what I needed to get my fix for hip-hop.
As the years have waned on, and my tastes have evolved, I find myself drawn back to DMX—a man who left his soul on every record he touched. From his earliest recordings when he featured with Jay-Z and Ja Rule, through his mainstream hip-hop records and appearances on soundtracks, DMX always gave 100%. You can look back on all of his recordings, and you hear a man fighting the world and himself for his soul. He cares about what he puts to the beats and never half-asses what he lays down. Even if you look back to his most mainstream album, …And Then There Was X, on his most radio-friendly track, “Party Up (Up In Here),” there is not a single line that feels lazy. When X shouts the chorus: “Y’all gonna make me lose my mind…” it resonates, and you would not be surprised to see X snap.
Now, there is a separate side to DMX the artist, the person himself. I have never gotten the impression that anything DMX says is that far from the truth. There are numerous references to prison, multitudes of women, and lots of drugs. A man who goes so hard about these topics over and over, as DMX does, I would assume he has the experience to back that up. And from his mentions on TV, it’s not surprising to hear his name associated with these topics.
I am not one to judge someone based on their life; we each live it—good or bad, we own it and have to live it. To say DMX is familiar with the prison system is an understatement, but I feel there is more than just him being a criminal. What you get out of X’s music is a tortured soul, struggling through life and trying to overcome the obstacles life has thrown his way. Sure, he may not be making the best choices, but I always feel for him and want DMX to succeed. Whether you are listening to his early works from the ’90s to music in the last couple of years, the pain and anger he carries remains unchanged. And someone who tries to support around that much hurt can only stand up for so long.
DMX bears his soul for the whole world to see—is it for the listener or himself? He has never been shy about his struggles: having children with various women, struggling with drug addiction, and arrested for everything from drugs to impersonating a federal agent. With a life like his, some people may write him off as a drug addict or a burnt-out celebrity.
Critics of his later musical output have bemoaned that X hasn’t changed with the times and continues on with the persona from 20+ years ago. I think they are missing the point. DMX isn’t changing his persona because that’s who he is. His raps deal with what he knows: drugs, street life, and religion. I may not agree with everything about DMX (his treatment of women is a perfect example); he understands himself and balances out his tough talk by apologizing through themes and songs dealing with spirituality. He knows he’s done bad things and is racing against the clock to make amends. What DMX spits is his truth, and it’s his therapy. Is he a one-trick pony?
I’ve never felt that way to DMX. I have always seen a flawed man who is having trouble with the hand life dealt him. He never tried to hide himself or his flaws. He understands who he is and is not afraid to bare his soul to you.
So, after many brushes with the law and brushes with death, we find ourselves here on the precipice of DMX’s life. As I write this, he is in a coma after suffering a heart attack. Will he make it? I hope. I have always rooted for him, and that will not change. If he doesn’t make it, he may not have lived an ideal life, but he lived HIS life.