Hip Hop legend Earl “DMX” Simmons passed away on April the 9th in the suites of a heart attack. The rapper was one of the greatest artists in the world in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and has had five albums on the Billboard charts number one. He turned 50 years old.
“To live is to suffer – to survive is to find meaning within that suffering”.The opening line of the song Slippin from the 1998 album “Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood” sums up DMX at the same time bitter as hopeful outlook on life.
The song Slippin also contains an already then lifelong fight against drugs and an inner darkness that would characterize much of Earl Simmons’ life in public.
A violent upbringing by violent parents, placement in a foster home and homelessness on the streets of New York shaped an even tougher artist, whose stories about life and attitude in the poorest neighborhood of the Yonkers neighborhood captured an entire world.
DMX was at the same time the archetype of a rock-hard rapper as one of hip-hop’s first religious front figures – his music alternates seamlessly between the street’s unforgivable reality and religious themes of hope and a life after that.
After a number of years on the New York underground scene, DMX broke through in 1998 with the single Ruff Ryder’s anthem, a tribute to the music collective that in the next few years would characterize much of American hip hop, with artists such as Eve, The Lox and star producer Swizz Beats.
But DMX – with its characteristically rough voice, rock-hard attitude and aggressive music – would undoubtedly be its biggest star. Between 1998 and 2003, he released five albums, all of which reached number one on Billboard’s Top 200 list, a musical feat that he became the first artist to achieve to date (his sixth album, Year of the Dog Again, also reached number two on the 2006 chart).
Songs like X gon give it to ya, Party Up, Where the hood at and We right here are today classics in the genre, and capture the adrenaline-pumping aggression and infectious energy that DMX is perhaps most associated with. His more religious sides, on songs like Lord give me a sign, The rain and Damien, did not reach the same levels of commercial success but are absolutely central to understanding the man behind the artist, who recorded a special prayer for each album he released.
In addition to his music career, Earl Simmons had a successful acting career in the early 2000s, appearing in action films such as Romeo must die, Exit wounds and Cradle 2 the grave.
Both his music career and the more high-profile film roles began to decline towards the end of the twentieth century, and DMX periodically disappeared from the public eye due to the severe drug abuse he often talked about in public, which led to recurring scandalous headlines in the tabloid press.
But despite a decade outside the general public, DMX has remained one of hip hop’s biggest voices. An artist who could feel dangerous and vulnerable at the same time, and compensated for his often simpler verses with an authenticity and honesty that made him a phenomenon in the genre.
In the days before his death, large crowds gathered outside the hospital in New York, where he was treated for a heart attack, to play his music and pray together. Social media has been filled with stories about how DMX music about suffering, struggle and hope helped them overcome life’s more difficult moments.
Earl “DMX” Simmons only became 50 years old.