DMX: Remembering Hip-Hop’s Ruff Ryder

By Daniel Paiz

It’s natural to be curious or glued to every single detail of the end of someone’s life who impacted you in some manner. There are lots of reports about the cause of death, tough decisions to be made by family, etcetera. That’s not what’s going to be focused on here. Instead, despite how disappointing it was to hear the news, it’s still a celebration of a guy who changed both the Hip-Hop and music world forever with his rhymes, energy, and storytelling.

What’s even more impressive for me about DMX is that he wasn’t that “lyrical miracle” kind of rapper mentioned when discussing your favorite rapper. He’s discussed in those conversations because of how he shared his life experience, and the message that he had for everyone listening. Talking out what one has lived through is therapeutic; X never shied away from working through his stuff. His debut was meteoric.

It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot

1998 was a year consisting of the Denver Broncos preparing to defend a Super Bowl title, Jordan getting his sixth ring in Chicago, and two albums from DMX; you could say there was a lot happening. Collaborations with Jay-Z, The Lox, and LL Cool J all catapulted the Yonkers rapper front and center in the Hip-Hop world. 1998 was the culmination of the hype. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot debuted at number one on Billboard, selling over five million copies globally.

Just to do that for a start is something few others have come close to. The sophomore album routinely befuddles and confuses artists. Usually that happens because they’re writing about personal timelines between their debut album and this one. Perhaps because only months went by between X’s first two projects, this did not happen.

Going multi-platinum months later with Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood is something artists in any genre only dream of, yet X did it. The kicker is, I seriously doubt this Ruff Rider planned on this kind of reception. Instead, he focused on sharing his story and representing those he knew. Few artists have that grounded of a mindset before or after success.

DMX had lightning strike a third time, as … And Then There Was X debuted. The album went platinum, sold the most records of Earl Simmons’ career, and was his peak. Unfortunately, it would be a peak never visited again, as many valleys lie ahead.

Demons detrimental to a man trying to get right

Dozens of arrests and countless charges added barrier after barrier for the talented emcee. From his teenage years all the way up until the mid-2010s, DMX faced charges relating to what he allegedly did (carjacking, drug possession, and theft among many other charges) and what he failed to do (pay taxes and child support). Included in these prison bids and whatnot were also visits to drug treatment facilities and attempting to pursue being a preacher. While the latter somewhat happened, X continued to keep pushing through this collection of experiences.

Think about how some people have one major life event and they struggle to recover; Simmons faced all of this and was still trying every time to get better. That’s admirable. However, the resiliency makes it that much sadder how things ended for the New York rapper. A heart attack allegedly connected to a drug overdose led to vital organs failing and brain function slipping away.

On April 9th, 2021 he was pronounced dead.

A musical legacy that won’t be Slippin’

Anyone born around 2000 or later is unlikely to completely grasp the impact and hold DMX had on the Rap world. Debates about the best rapper of this era of Hip-Hop might center around Jay-Z, Nas, and Eminem, but none of those artists had such a continuous stranglehold on the charts or the fans. X didn’t care about how the genre was forming around him. Not changing helped X as much as it hurt him. The lifelong battle of addiction will likely get too much of the spotlight, but it’s understandable.

However, the shortcomings and addiction do not take away from the accomplishments DMX earned. Taking away someone’s humanity simply because they are famous helps no one. Giving those flowers while they could’ve still smelt them would’ve been ideal. Now, it’s about letting the family, friends, and people who worked with this guy know the size of his impact.

Rest in Power, Earl “DMX” Simmons.

Right, wrong, good, bad, heaven, hell. I think that is the theme of my life. I think you have to know both in order to honestly choose one. So I’m familiar with both sides of the fence.

2004 interview w/DMX

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