Remembering DMX: The Legacy of a True Ruff Ryder

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From early childhood Earl Simmons, professionally known as DMX, endured many struggles in his life but music became an outlet that led to his great escape. Known for his brass voice and hard lyrics, this rapper brought a cult following together and changed the way that people viewed rap. From a young age, people knew Simmons for his aggression and performance, and that didn’t change once in the spotlight. Throughout his personal life and in music, DMX jumped from cold-hearted violence to vulnerable redemption and back to sabotaging aggression. Life experiences and personal turmoil fueled the artist’s music.

On December 18, 1970, Earl Simmons was born in Mount Vernon, New York. He grew up as the middle child in a single-parent home with his mother, Arnett Simmons. Poverty-stricken, the family dealt with factors that made life difficult to bear. Earl’s childhood allergies and asthma caused him to be in the hospital a lot. He also dealt with constant abuse from his mother and her boyfriends. The aggression he dealt with made him lash out at anyone near him whether it was friends, classmates, or strangers. At age of seven-years-old, Earl was jailed for stealing from a store. Three years later, Earl got expelled from public school and forced into a children’s village home for 18 months.

After leaving the school, Earl was arrested for attempting to set the school on fire. He started living on the street to stay away from his mother’s abuse. He was okay for a while before being found by her and sent to a group home. At the home, Earl grew close to some kids there and they began to bond over hip-hop music. His new friends empowered Earl to keep writing and performing. Shortly afterward, Earl took the stage name “DMX.” The name came from the first instrument Earl played with his friends, but later became associated with the meaning “Dark Man X.”

When Earl went to high school, he started robbing people and stealing cars to get what he wanted. Earl served more time in prison for carjacking in 1988. While inside, he began to pour himself into writing and rapping. After he was released, DMX started selling mixtapes he created. The street connections paid off by getting the young rapper local fans. In 1992, DMX signed to Columbia Records. He released his first single, “Born Loser.” The single caught the attention of listeners, but others avoided him because there was talk of him having a drug problem. Earl had his first child while being in and out of jail.

Two years later, the rapper released “Make A Move.” The following year DMX appeared in Mic Geronimo’s “Time to Build” with Jay-Z and Ja Rule. As his connections with labels started but didn’t pan out, DMX fell into drug use hard. For the next two years, DMX produced songs for his album. He connected with larger audiences through collaborations with other artists on tracks like Mase’s “24 Hrs. to Live” and LL Cool J’s “4, 3, 2, 1.” The tracks generated a buzz in anticipation for DMX. In February 1998, DMX released the single “Get at Me Dog.” The track was favored and even became RIAA certified gold. “Stop Being Greedy” was released the following month. That track made it onto the Billboard 100 chart. DMX later made it on the big screen with his part in the movie Belly. Criticized for its violence, the movie represented a life that the artist was familiar with. DMX collaborated with The LOX and Lil Kim on the track, “Money, Power, Respect.” The rhythm-fueled beat and memorable lyrics gave fans something to remember. To date, the track is the most successful single for the group.

It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot was DMX’s debut album. Released on May 12, 1998, the album has 19 tracks and was favored by the music industry. Artists like The LOX, Mase, Big Stan, Sheek Louch make appearances on the album. Swizz Beats produced several tracks with DMX that pushed the artist’s name further. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot changed the way that people heard rap music. The album defined DMX with an aggressive flow, violent stories, and hard beats. DMX took over the airwaves with his songs and anthems.

DMX made his spotlight brighter by releasing his second album Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood on December 22, 1998. The album went No.1 on US music charts and debuted at No.1 on several Billboard charts. DMX was motivated to create Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood with a million-dollar bonus for completing the album. Listeners can hear the passion, fury, and vulnerability in DMX’s flow, which feels more like furious preaching. Messages throughout the album give insight into the artist’s childhood, hard moments, and low points.  

Swizz Beats worked with DMX again to create tracks people could relate to like “Slippin” and “Keep Your Shit the Hardest.” Mary J. Beige, Jadakiss, Styles P, Jay-Z, and a couple of others make appearances in the album. Releasing Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood solidified DMX as a new icon in the music industry. DMX is the first artist to release two albums in the same year that debut at No.1. On December 21, 1999, DMX released …And Then There Was X. The 18-track album contained three successful singles, “What’s My Name”, “Party Up (Up in Here)”, and “What These B*tches Want.” The commercial success of the album skyrocketed DMX’s status as a celebrity and a rapper. DMX teamed with long-term partner Swizz Beats to create beats that would be perfect to go with his lyrics. Pairing up with other artists like Dru Hill opened the way for R&B fans to discover DMX. …And Then There Was X was certified 6x Platinum.

From then on, DMX began to identify and grow with a collective of artists that put each other onto the stage. The Ruff Ryders were born and grew to become a lifestyle brand. Original artists included DMX and The LOX but grew to include Eve, Drag-On, Swizz Beatz, Jin, and more. DMX starred in the action film, Romeo Must Die with Jet Li and Aaliyah in 2000. He also played in the movie Exit Wounds with Steven Stegal in 2001.The Great Depression was released on October 23, 2001. With 17-tracks features from artists like Mashonda, Stephanie Mills, and Faith Evans, the album drew in a wider audience than DMX had. Raw passion fueled from the artist’s rough years growing up presented more avenues to follow up with. DMX expressed that vulnerability in his songs “Who We Be” and “Damien III.” The artist jumps between different forms of aggression before letting it go after a conversation with God in “The Prayer IV.” The heavy album gave fans another project to rally and bond.

DMX released the hit theme song “X Gon’ Give It to Ya” for the soundtrack of the film Cradle 2 the Grave and the rapper also starred in the film. It showed the artist budding into other creative avenues. DMX began showing signs of losing his battle with drugs around this time. His addiction problem to drugs scored cases ranging from robbery, drug possession, to assault. Grand Champ is the fifth album released by DMX on September 16, 2003, with a total of 23-tracks. Artists like Monica, Cam’Ron, Eve, Jadakiss, and others make appearances on the album. Tracks like “Shot Down” featuring 50 Cent added a level of the street, griminess that DMX had became known for. Other tracks like “Untouchable” and “Thank You” have a slower R&B feel to them. The two main singles “Where the Hood At?” and “Get It on the Floor” were commercially successful. Grand Champ was DMX’s fifth album debuting at No.1.

At the beginning of 2006, DMX signed to Columbia Records and released his sixth album Year of the Dog… Again, on August 1, 2006. The 15-track album brings messages of good and evil as with many of his previous albums. It debuted at No.2 on the Billboard 200 chart. DMX presented fans with another album of unfiltered violence and God-seeking redemption. Years later he released the EP The Weigh In on May 15, 2012, which built anticipation for his upcoming project. Within the 11-tracks, Snoop Dogg, Big Stan, and Tyrese made appearances.

On September 11, 2012, DMX released his seventh album, Undisputed. The 20-track album features appearances from artists like MGK, Kashmere, Andreena Mill, and Dani Stevenson. The album doesn’t capture the passion or aggression that DMX showed in the past, though fans of the artist will find their calling card throughout tracks. In June 2016, DMX released “Blood Red” then several months later in 2017, “Bain Iz Back.” For the next couple of years, DMX surfed through life attempting to piece together relationships. He resigned with Def Jam records and began to gear up for another album release. On April 3, 2021, DMX went to the hospital due to a heart attack from drug use but unfortunately passed away a few days later. Fans came together on April 24, to pay their last respects to the artist.

Battling drug addiction, prison, and bad career moves, DMX bared his teeth anytime he could. He became notorious for his hard lyrics and aggressive behavior and his messages always expressed inner turmoil while seeking salvation. DMX was a bold rapper from the streets that knew how to make what he wanted happen, even with his flaws. In music, his tracks are experiences that are hard for people to understand and navigate unless experienced first hand. Through expressing himself through music and rallying around anthems, DMX created a group of fans that wanted to right their wrongs.

Written by: Carlton Rolle

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