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R.I.P. Earl "DMX" Simmons 12/18/70 - 4/9/21

NPR- Earl Simmons, better known as the rapper DMX, has died. According to a statement from his family, he died today at White Plains Hospital after being on life support for the past few days.

"Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end. He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him. Earl's music inspired countless fans across the world and his iconic legacy will live on forever. We appreciate all of the love and support during this incredibly difficult time," said the statement. He was 50 years old.

TMZ reported earlier yesterday that DMX (Earl Simmons) had suffered such massive brain damage from his drug overdose a few days ago that he was on life support. Then last evening reports started making the rounds that his organs had failed. 

An #ripdmx hashtag started trending on twitter and a lot of outlets started running with the news based on a posted then deleted Instagram story from comedian and family confidant Luenell

Then his manager had to make a statement to refute the rumors-

Crazy times we live in where people try to be first with every bit of news possible, including somebody's passing…

This entire story is just really, really fucking sad. 

I've loved DMX the artist ever since I was first introduced to him in the Pontiac Grand AM of the kid that drove me to school in 1997 (shoutout Seth Fox). "Ruff Ryders Anthem" blew my fucking mind the first time I heard it. It was the first time a rap song had fired me up in a way that I thought only hard arena rock was capable of. 

I'd been publicly rooting for DMX's (third, or fourth now) comeback for a while now.

I just blogged a couple weeks ago news of his new album he'd been doing with Swizz Beatz almost being complete. And news of the heavy collaborations announced, including Bono from U2.

Back in July I documented the fuck out of his Verzuz Battle with Snoop Dogg, round by round.

As DMX stans like Clem will tell you, people forget just how many hits DMX has and just how massive he was in the 2000's.

He's always reminded me of Allen Iverson in that regard. Both were around in that weird 2000's era that saw technology explode, but was still pre-social media and round the clock entertainment so it feels neither one of them (and others that peaked during that era) get the recognition and appreciation they deserve. I'm not saying Allen Iverson and DMX weren't unbelievable or appreciated, quite the contrary, they were even better than they get credit for. 

People really do forget or don't realize just how massive DMX was 20 years ago. 

In 1997 he was a bigger free agent than KD, Lebron, or Giannis. He'd created so much buzz on the mixtape circuit and on huge features that he had every record label under the sun barking up his tree (pun intended). 

When people heard him on Ma$e's "24 Hours To Live" the buzz only grew louder. His unmistakable raspiness in his voice, hard core lines with his high energy cadence that sounded like he was shouting was one of a kind. 

There’s a famous story of Irv Gotti signing on to Def Jam as an A&R and immediately wanting to sign DMX. The execs laughed at him so he threatened to quit.

Gotti took the president of Def Jam at the time, Lyor Cohen, and Dame Dash to a studio to hear DMX in person. They arrived to find his jaw wired shut, due to a brawl he got in a day earlier with somebody. He still rapped for them and blew them away.

He eventually took a deal from Lyor Cohen and Def Jam and put the label on his back, coming straight out the gates flying, with one of the biggest debut albums of all time- It's Dark and Hell Is Hot which he released in May 1998. 

To say this album was massive would be a giant understatement. 

You couldn't walk through a parking lot without hearing a track off it pumping from a car, or when turning the dial on your radio. 

We're talking arguably the greatest intro track on a rap album ever (2nd place 50 Cent's GRODT

The track was SO fire that the biggest boxer of all time, Mike Tyson, used it as his walk-out song for his return fight after the infamous Evander Holyfield incident.

We're talking Ruff Ryders Anthem. A song so big-time that it still goes just as hard 24 years later.

             

Every rap album in the 90s needed to have that quintessential rap/r&b smooth joint for the ladies and X had his along with Faith Evans with "Hows It Goin Down?"

Another monster Swizz and Dame Grease hit- "Get At Me Dog"

And of course "Stop Being Greedy"

The debut set the tone for the next 5 years in hip hop and shifted the dynamic not only back to the East Coast, but to the aggressive, in-your-face, street-tough sound. It didn't just have hits it had anthems that have stood the test of time decades later.

Ruff Ryders were the coolest crew on the fuckin planet. Everybody wanted to rock their jackets, and race four-wheelers down the streets. DMX was a megastar.

His debut album was still white-hot in the streets and on radio when 7 months later on December 22nd he dropped Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood, seemingly out of nowhere.

I remember not even knowing it had come out and walking into a Newbury Comics and seeing it on the shelf. The cover freaked me out because I can't stand blood, but at first I thought it was a mixtape. 

To release your debut and a follow-up not only within a year of each other but in the same year, seven months apart was unthinkable at the time. (Remember, everything was physical back then. Digital music didn't exist). Dej Jam and DMX were making a major statement.

It turns out that Lyor Cohen made DMX a bet after the success of It's Dark and Hell Is Hot. He bet him $1 million dollars he couldn't finish another hit album before the year's end.

DMX quickly got to work with his team of producers Swizz Beatz, Dame Grease, DJ Shok, and P. Killer Trackz and they completed the task in 30 days which is an outrageous feat. 

The result was a second #1, triple platinum-selling album making him the first rap artist to ever accomplish the feat. It featured Jay-Z, Marilyn Manson, The Lox, and Mary J Blige and was much darker and hardcore than his first album. It's shock value of not just the cover art but the album's composition sucked people in. He showed the conflicted and vulnerable side of himself which ended up resonating with fans from all walks of life, cementing DMX as a musical icon.

Yes it was darker than the first album, but it was still laced with bangers.

And if you thought DMX's year couldn't get any bigger, he went and starred in Hype Williams' movie, Belly. 

(sidebar- somehow this movie is not in Jeff and Kenjac's Movie Database, but trust me when I say, if you're looking for a movie to veg out to this weekend, throw it on. Criminally underrated. Unreal soundtrack. And pretty good acting performances from Method Man, DMX, Nas, and others. Plus it has the greatest opening scene of all time)

From there DMX was basically playing with house money. 

As any artist in music will tell you, one of the hardest things in the world to do is have a successful sophomore album. You either put out a debut and it flops and nobody ever heard of you, and it's slim chances you're ever heard from again. OR, you crush it and the pressure is insurmountable and your second effort can never live up to the first. If it does, you're usually anointed one of the great ones and go on to have a memorable career. 

For DMX to follow up his first two albums with … And Then There Was X is just ridiculous when you think about it.

His debut single, one of the rawest and hardest-hitting songs in rap music history,  "What's My Name" lead the way-

Seriously try to listen to this song and not jump out of your seat when those piano key strikes hit. I dare you.

That was followed up by arguably his biggest hit ever, "Party Up" 

Just an absolutely perfect song in every regard. Still sets the party off no matter where over 20 years later. Still sets stadiums and arenas off over 20 years later…

That was followed by the obligatory r&b jam "What These Bitches Want" featuring Sisqo. And yes, it banged.

The album sold 698,000 copies in its first week and went on to be certified 5x Platinum making it DMX's best-selling album to date. 

He followed that up with some less-acclaimed but still successful releases-

The guy was one of the biggest rappers of all time yet for some reason he's often overlooked in the discussion. 

That will probably change now that he's gone. Which really sucks. 

It's shitty that the public goes above and beyond to celebrate artists when they pass away and not moreso when they're still alive to actually appreciate it and feel the love. Maybe that's just human nature?

The reason the story of DMX is so sad is because, as often happens, he fought a lifelong battle against his demons, and his demons ultimately won. 

There are some heartless people out there that maybe have never had a loved one deal with addiction, which I envy. But for those of us that have, we all know how the story goes. We are shocked and confused at first, followed by anger, rage, and indignancy. "How could they do this to us? To themselves? What horrible selfish pieces of shit". Then, hopefully, that's followed by education, understanding, and acceptance. You realize its a sickness, a scientific chemical imbalance caused by poor choices, but nearly impossible to reverse. And so begins the battle. 

It's fucking torture. 

On you and everybody that cares for the addict and even more so for the addict.

He clinically suffered from bipolar disorder, was hit by a drunk driver as a child, had severe childhood bronchial asthma that left him hospitalized almost nightly as a child, and that's just the beginning.

The famous dog barking? Because he would befriend stray dogs when he was on the streets hiding from his abusive mom and her boyfriends.

DMX was an addict, but not by choice we came to learn this past November. Which makes this story even more heart-wrenching.

(-“Talking about your problems is viewed as a weakness, when its the bravest thing you can do" - DMX)

NY Post - And at age 14, a man he trusted — who was twice his age — gave him his first taste of drugs. 

“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. 

“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.”

Beyond fucked up.

Hearing those closest to him describe him casts a different light on who he was as a person versus who we his fans saw as a musical icon.

“He will take the shirt off his back for anybody. If he walked down the street and saw a family struggling, he would help them right there, with groceries or whatever he needed, no matter if they were white, black, or whatever. I’ve seen it a million times. None of this stuff is ever publicized.” - Dame Grease 

“There’s no one who knows him who doesn’t love him. He’s a loving, caring friend. He’s a dog. He thinks of himself as a dog. It’s crazy, right. When you think of a dog, the first thing you think of is loyalty, he’s a by your side motherfucker. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, a dog is going to be by your side. That’s DMX. That’s why I never judge him. I don’t care if he’s high as a kite, or sober, I love that X as much as the other X. I love the X that’s free and I love the X that’s in jail right now. That’s my dog.” - Irv Gotti

Rest In Peace to Earl "Dark Man X" Simmons. A one of a kind musician that shaped the sound of rap music at the turn of the century.

p.s. - for YEARS I was convinced Def Jam fucked up an entire shipment of orders to the northeast and accidentally pressed CDs and vinyl with a mistaken clean version of "Slippin" on them. Could never figure out why the entire disc was explicit except that song. Still don't know the answer but the first time I heard the dirty version of it and my jaw dropped.

p.p.s. - if you wanna watch some of the craziest 45 minutes you'll ever see check out DMX's Woodstock 99 set.