The Passing of an Icon: The Greek Tragedy of the Legendary DMX
Act 1: A Minute for Your Son
DMX passed away on April 9, 2021. Ever since, I’ve been trying to find a way to compartmentalize my feelings on this monumental loss to hip-hop and the world. DMX was a true original with a flow and style that had never been seen before or since. Many have tried to emulate *cough cough* Ja Rule. Still, his explosive intimidating and manic-depressive machismo coupled with his unbridled realness was born out of pain; the kind of darkness that can only be associated with a living nightmare.
This man was never a boy, never had a real childhood, never had a family, and struggled with drugs, had numerous run-ins with the law, and still his star shined as bright as the sun. You could feel every word in every song so I wanted to eulogize this amazing man through a collage of sorts:
His quotes. His words. His story—THIS is the ballad of DMX.
“My mother, my father,
I love ’em, I hate ’em (Uh)
Wish God, I didn’t have ’em, but I’m glad that he made ’em (Uh)
The roaches, the rats, the strays, the cats (What, what?)
Born in Mount Vernon, New York on December 18,1970, DMX was the product of teenage pregnancy to 19 year old Arnett Simmons and 18 year old Joe Barker. He was raised in Yonkers, New York. Earl has no middle name and was simply named Earl at birth, the second of three children.
Allegedly Barker did not want Ms. Simmons to keep the pregnancy and cut off all ties with the family shortly after Earl was born. DMX was born into a situation where few would succeed, on top of a tumultuous home life. He was also very sickly as a child, suffering from bronchial asthma which resulted in him being taken to the emergency room almost nightly due to him often being unable to breathe in the middle of the night.
DMX was abused as a child as well by his “devoutly religious” mother as well as various boyfriends over his nightmarish childhood. DMX was abused so badly once he lost some teeth as a result of his mother knocking them out with a broomstick.
“[My mother] beat two teeth out of my f – – king mouth with a broom,” he told GQ in 2019 of the abuse he reportedly endured at the hands of his mother when DMX was only six years old.”
Act 2: Slippin‘
Shortly after 5 years old, Earl’s family settled in Yonkers, New York in the School Street projects, one of the most run down in the city. Due to poverty, he slept on the floor with cockroaches and mice crawling over him in the night. Keep in mind, during the post-civil rights, pre-crack era, New York City, which closely resembled a war zone. There were burned buildings, trash, abandoned cars; far from the New York of today with Disney on broadway as opposed to the good old fashion peep shows and sex workers, so it stands to reason young Earl Simmions developed a bit of a dark side.
“Damn, was it my fault, somethin’ I did
To make a father leave his first kid at 7 doin’ my first bid?
Back on the scene at 14 with a scheme
To get more cream than I’d ever seen in a dream
And by all means I will be living high off the hog
And I never gave a **** about much but my dog
That’s my only, I had offered my last
Just another little, headed nowhere fast”
The trouble he had at home spilled over into his school life. As a youngster, Earl turned into a more aggressive and violent child. X stabbed another kid in the face with a pencil when he was seven years old. The same year, he was jailed for stealing cakes from a supermarket. One summer, his mother locked him in his bedroom to only exit for trips to the bathroom; which in my view is the equivalent of solitary confinement.
At the end of the fifth grade, at age 10, X was expelled from school and was banished to Julia Dyckman Andrus Children’s Home for 18 months. His mother tricked him by telling him they were just visiting the home, then booted him there to rot. This act defined DMX’s relationship with his mother; it was, in DMX’s words, “the final act of betrayal.” A few months later, he was arrested for arson in an attempt to burn the school down. He nearly killed his co-conspirator.
X turned to the place he called home – the streets, sleeping in salvation army bins and befriending stray dogs, which also gave birth to his dog-like persona. The growling and barking that would become his trademark as mc was born out of something far and away more tragic. He became the ghetto’s version of tarzan essentially being raised and protected by dogs to avoid his mother’s abuse.
Shortly after he began doing this, his mother once again sent him to a group home. During his stay, Simmons bonded with other students from other hoods all over the five boroughs over their shared love of hip hop music. After performing for his friends, they encouraged Simmons to continue writing music at the behest of his teacher.
When he returned home, Simmons met Ready Ron, a local rapper, who was impressed with Simmons’ beatboxing skills and asked him to become his partner. Simmons chose the name “DMX”, which came from an instrument he had used at the boys’ home, the Oberheim DMX drum machine. It later was also interpreted as “Dark Man X.” This was later looked at as the genesis of this future great mc.
As a freshman at Yonkers Middle High School, DMX was the second-fastest on the track and field varsity team. However, he had bad grades and a spotty attendance record. He turned to robbery as a way to get out of poverty: his first was a purse snatch theft in Yonkers that netted him $1,000, which he used to buy a new leather dog collar and dog harness for his dog, and a pair of Timberlands for himself.
By the end of the year, he attended school just to rob people and was robbing 3 people per day as if it were a prescription from the doctor. He then turned to carjacking and his descent into the underworld was complete. You would think this is a career criminal gone forever into a life of crime, but DMX has always been such an enigma. There has always been this duality about X.
He always seemed at his core to have a good heart. His connection to his faith was astounding; being born into a situation where hope was in limited supply. He was almost childlike sometimes; like his love for remote control cars and shooting pool and the love and compassion he showed to children all over the world. But the world around him turned him into a monster of sorts at the drop of a hat. He was almost like the living embodiment of a gemini.
DMX began his journey in the music industry at age 14, in 1984, when he beatboxed for local rapper Ready Ron. After serving time in prison for theft of a dog, he started writing his own lyrics. Soon after, he became a local battle legend, performing at the neighborhood recreation center for younger children. In 1988, while in prison for carjacking, he began dedicating almost all of his free time to writing rhymes and also meeting and rapping with the already established K-Solo.
When he was released that summer, he began producing and selling his own mixtapes where he rapped over instrumentals from other songs and sold them on street corners, which helped him build a local fan base all over New York City. In 1991, The Source magazine praised DMX in its Unsigned Hype column that highlighted unsigned hip-hop artists.
In 1992, Columbia Records signed DMX to its subsidiary label Ruffhouse Records, which released his debut single “Born Loser.” He released his second single, “Make a Move,” in 1994. He made a guest appearance alongside Jay-Z, Ja Rule, and Mic Geronimo on the classic underground track “Time to Build” on Mic Geronimo’s debut album in 1995, which is the first time I heard DMX. The biggest obstacle DMX battled was substance abuse, which is well documented and chronicled throughout his career.
At 14, DMX allegedly was tricked into smoking marijuana laced with crack cocaine by his mentor, Ready Ron. “He passed the [marijuana] blunt around and … I hit the blunt,” the emcee tearfully revealed to fellow musician Talib Kweli on the “People’s Party” podcast in November 2020.
“He was, like, 30, and he knew I looked up to him. Why would you do that to someone who looks up to you?”
“I never felt like this before. It f – – ked me up. I later found out that he laced the blunt with crack … Why would you do that to a child?” Simmons questioned during the emotional interview. “He was, like, 30, and he knew I looked up to him. Why would you do that to someone who looks up to you?” Simmons further lamented over the life-altering deception via the song “Pain,” in which he says: “I smoked crack at 14 for the first time / Given to me by a n – – – a that I idolized / My love is real, but after that, what I saw in his eyes / Was a snake, and who I loved was just a disguise.” With all of that he was still able to recover and still able to be a star. That is amazing.
Act 3: Where My Dogs At? 1998 – The Year of the Dog
The year is 1997. It is right after the death of The Notorious B.I.G. There is a void in the hip hop landscape in New York and the mixtape scene was wide open; the crown was up for grabs. The Lox were killing the mixtape scene, Cannibus was killing the mixtape scene. At that time, legends like LL Cool J were clinging to relevance, Jay-Z was making his ascent to the top of the game, and out of nowhere, on the lead single for LL Cool J’s album Phenomenon, the def jam newcomer DMX emerged and overshadowed the birth of the Cannibus and LL Cool J beef in the song 4321.
But once DMX kicked the door off the hinges, hip-hop would forever be changed. The direction of New York Hip Hop was going whichever way the dog wanted it to go. X was the Pinnacle note that drove a stake thru the heart of the shiny suit era of P Diddy and Bad Boy. The release of Get at Me Dog was the official death certificate for all the color and floss of the previous few years.
DMX personified both the saviour of Def Jam and New York hip hop. He also filled a void left by Tupac Shakur in my opinion because of his thought provoking real life struggles and undeniable realness. It’s Dark & Hell Is Hot was described by The Source Magazine as a mind gripping opus that fully encompasses the world of rap’s newest sensation.
He was the go to feature for hip hop’s biggest acts of the time, from CAM’RON, The LOX, Ma$e, Ja Rule, and of course Jay-Z. He was the biggest artist in hip hop, headlining the Hard Knock Life tour with Jay-Z. I’ve never seen one rapper command a crowd like that ever! Woodstock 99 was the highlight of his career in my opinion.
DMX’s career began to take a downturn as his personal life started to spiral out of control. He began acting and his reign at the top of the rap game began to slip. He was becoming an excellent actor, but his legal troubles and personal demons, which have been well documented, played a major role in his film career being sidetracked as well. DMX started to worry his fan base and the hip-hop community as he spent the better part of the next 15 years in and out of trouble and we all hoped he would pull through and become the man of God it was looking like he was destined to be.
“I immediately take Lyor. Kevin Liles. And my nigga Dame. Up to Yonkers. Where Lyor can see for himself how special X is. Ruff Ryder’s Studio in YONKERS. it was packed. A true HIP HOP moment. The Lox. Drag On. Everyone up there. Knowing Gotti is bringing Lyor Cohen to Yonkers. They all spit. DMX. “With his jaws WIRED shut. Closed the show. Like only HE can. Destroyed it. We leave the studio. Lyor is giddy with excitement. His exact words to me. “WE HAVE THE PICK OF THE LITTER” hahaha. X gets signed. We make Get at Me Dog and It’s Dark & Hell Is Hot Album. I give Get at Me Dog to Flex. And explain exactly who DMX and Ruff Ryders Is. Flex plays Get at Me Dog like a Million Times. DMX AND RUFF RYDERS IS BORN. And basically SAVES AND RESURRECTS A COMPANY CALLED DEF JAM!!”
“Polygram was gonna FIRE Lyor and Russell. And take Def Jam. Because they was losing so much money. THAT’S WHY I SAY DMX SAVED DEF JAM. IT’S A FACT. THEN JAY Z HARD KNOCK LIFE ALBUM. THEN THAT’S WHY LYOR PUSHED ME TO DO ANOTHER DMX ALBUM IN THE SAME YEAR. DMX 1ST ALBUM SOLD LIKE 7 MILLION WORLDWIDE. JAY Z SOLD CLOSE TO 10 MILLION WORLDWIDE. DMX 2ND ALBUM SOLD LIKE ANOTHER 6 MILLION WORLDWIDE. All those albums dropped in 1998. May. September. December”Quote by Irv Gotti Explains How Jay Z, DMX and Ja Rule Got Their Record Deals – XXL
A Look into his Troubles
In 1999, the Fort Lee Police Department executed a search warrant in DMX’s home, and he surrendered himself on the count of weapon possession charges. The same year, he was charged with animal cruelty because he kept a dozen pit bulls at his New Jersey home. Once he agreed to accept responsibility and make public service announcements for an animal rights group, the charges were dropped.
Between 2000 and 2001, he served time for possession of marijuana, driving without a license, and assault for throwing objects at prison guards.
In 2002, after a failed attempt in rehab, he pleaded guilty to thirteen counts of animal cruelty, two counts of maintaining a nuisance, and one count each of disorderly conduct and possession of drugs. Eventually, he was released on probation and had to pay fines and do community service, and also star in public service announcements against the dangers of guns and animal abuse.
In 2004, he was arrested for cocaine possession, criminal impersonation, possession of a weapon, criminal mischief, menacing, and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. He claimed to be a federal agent to carjack a vehicle. He once spoke about this incident on the breakfast club.
At the end of the year, he was given a conditional discharge, but pleaded guilty on October 25, 2005, to violating parole and was sentenced to spend seventy days in jail.
After he was released, he laid low until 2008 when he was charged for drug possession and animal cruelty again because he barricaded himself inside his home in Arizona. At the end of the year, he pleaded guilty to charges of drug possession, theft, and animal cruelty, and spent ninety days behind bars.
On May 22, 2009, he entered a plea agreement for attempted aggravated assault. The following year, he served four months for violating probation and was released on July 6, 2010. After he was out of jail, he got offered a television pilot that would follow his recovery. The filming had begun, but X got arrested three weeks later, and the development of the series had been canceled.
On July 27, 2010, he turned himself into the Los Angeles Metropolitan Court for reckless driving he committed in 2002. After he served another ninety days in prison, it didn’t take him long to get arrested again for violating probation due to alcohol consumption at a concert performance. He was moved to the Mental Health Unit of the Arizona State Prison and spent seven months there.
From 2011 to 2013, he didn’t seem to care about driving a car without a license or under the influence of alcohol and drugs. He got caught multiple times in South Carolina because the local police kept an eye on him after realizing that he wasn’t going to learn from his previous arrests.
Child Support Charges
Over the years, DMX had become the father of fifteen children from several women. On June 26, 2015, he was arrested for committing a robbery in Newark and $400,000 of outstanding child support that he failed to pay to his ex-wife Tashera Simmons. In July, he was sentenced to spend six months in jail for those charges.
In 2017, X had to face charges of fourteen counts by federal prosecutors. He failed to file his income tax returns from 2002 to 2005 and from 2010 to 2015. According to Forbes, in that period, he earned over $2.3 million, but instead of filing tax returns, he orchestrated a scheme to avoid paying his liabilities. He stopped using his personal bank accounts and asked his business managers to use their own accounts to cover his expenses or use cash whenever it was applicable. Later, he attempted to file a false bankruptcy that listed his income as “unknown” for 2011 and 2012.
He claimed that he only made $10,000 in 2013, but in reality, he earned hundreds of thousands of dollars of income in each of those years. In fact, between 2011 and 2012, he was paid $125,000 for starring in a TV show titled Celebrity Couples Therapy.
Eventually, he pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud and he was sentenced to one year in prison with a condition that after his release, three years of supervised probation will follow. On January 25, last year, he had been officially released from jail.
Act 4: I’m Ready to Meet Him
Earl Simmons was struck by adversity ever since he was born. However, despite his traumatic upbringing and life circumstances, he reached fame and success and wrote his name into the history of music. According to GQ, DMX is the only rapper to have his first five studio albums debut at № 1 on the Billboard 200, and the only one to have two albums go platinum in the same year.
His battle against drug addiction and mental illness had always been a constant element of his life. When he was released from prison last year, he said that he felt different and had faith that he’d be able to resist his inner demons that never stopped making his life difficult. In an interview with GQ, he said, sometimes he is happy and has moments of joy.
“When God is for you, who could be against you?”
DMX was Hip Hop’s very own greek tragedy. He was a hero who strove for greatness and attained it, but was brought down by a combination of fate and his own human flaws. As I watched his interview with Drink Champs a few weeks earlier, I felt like DMX had finally found peace. It brought me back to seeing DMX perform at the Hard Knock Life Tour live in the Continental Airlines arena many years ago. I still have the ticket stubs. I still struggle to explain the energy he brought and I’m humbled I was able to witness it live.
I’ve also seen DMX at his height shut the Greek Fest in Philly down in 1998. He was, in my view, one of the ten biggest acts in the history of the genre. The Hip Hop world lost one of its giants and the world at large lost a man who would have had the power to change it. X was the most respected rapper this side of Nas. His death has touched everyone in the game.
Among the tributes, Swizz Beatz, who produced a majority of tracks for DMX including the classic ‘Ruff Ryders Anthem,’ has shared a lengthy tribute to his friend on Instagram, calling the rapper a “different type of artist, different type of creative, different type of soul.”
“Since the day that I met him, he lived his life for everyone else,” Swizz said in the video. “You ain’t ever seen him next to a Lamborghini… You ain’t ever seen him iced out with no jewelry. He did not care about any of that. He was the biggest. DMX was the biggest. And let me tell you why he was the biggest. He was the biggest because he prayed for everybody else, more than he did himself.”
Highlighting DMX’s kind heart and humanitarian efforts, Swizz added: “My brother would take care of everybody before he would took care of himself. I’ve never seen a human like him – the closest thing to a prophet… there’s only one DMX.
“That man suffered every day. That man suffered from the day that I known him. He suffered. When y’all heard his first song he was suffering. Know why he was suffering? Because he took everybody’s pain and made it his. His humanitarian work should be celebrated.” DMX did not wait to be perfect for God to use him as a vessel. He taught people you can be flawed and still be a messenger.
With that being, said we will miss you DMX and I pray the Lord will help you finally find joy.