The world lost hip-hop giant and rap legend, DMX. The 50-year-old tragically passed on Friday in White Plains, N.Y. surrounded by loved ones.
DMX’s life points to an unspoken tale of mental health in Black America. Though known for his gruff voice and catchy hooks, there is more beneath the unorthodox lyrics he penned. In several songs, DMX blatantly identified his mental health issues, sharing his conditions of manic depression, extreme paranoia, and bipolar disorder among other things. Music became a space where the rapper could cope with the undealt trauma that followed him from childhood through his life.
DMX, whose given name was Earl Simmons, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, on December 18, 1970 to teen parents Arnette Simmons and Joe Barker. He moved with part of his family to the New York City suburb of Yonkers while still a young child. Abandoned by his father and abused by his mother and her many boyfriends, DMX was fated to rough beginnings. When DMX was only 14 years old, Ready Ron (30), a rap mentor and brother-figure who he looked up to, introduced him to crack cocaine by passing him what he thought was marijuana. He recounts this night in an interview stating, “a monster was born.” He tearfully repeated, “Why would you do that to a child?”
This pain found its way into the music. DMX’s long-standing battle with drugs, a dark childhood, and their impact on his life informed his music with his most popular songs nodding towards his troubled past and persisting traumas. In his song “Pain,” DMX relives the events of the night that would change his life forever, saying: “I smoked crack at 14 for the first time / Given to me by a [explicative] 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.” For X, it was about emotional honesty.
Black men are notoriously conditioned to suppress their emotions, as vulnerability or any expression of feelings is immediately diminished to “a sign of weakness”. This creates the generational curse of toxic masculinity, leading young boys who cannot process their emotions to adult men who turn to substance, violence, crime, or abuse as a result of emotional neglect. In many ways, X-man became a mouthpiece for fans, particularly Black men, who otherwise were unable to address their pain. DMX was a Gen X icon who gave Black men a stronger voice. “The X-Man's public persona reflected the kaleidoscopic nature of Black masculinity in the late 1990s. DMX raged against stereotypes of Black criminality even as he invoked, then subverted, the tropes of thug, gangsta and hoodlum into a showcase for Black artistry.” (CNN)
DMX had bark and bite, finding fame in the ‘90s and ‘00s with his distinctive, hoarse vocals. The Yonkers artist, who sold millions of records and was nominated for three Grammy Awards, was the first musician whose first four albums consecutively debuted No. 1 on the Billboard chart. His star power translated to the big screen as the star of blockbuster action films. X starred with the rappers Nas and Method Man in Hype Williams’s 1998 gangster film, “Belly”; appeared in the 2000 action movie “Romeo Must Die” with Jet Li and the R&B singer Aaliyah; starred with Steven Seagal in the 2001 action film “Exit Wounds.” Fans were also able to get a closer look at his personal life with the BET channel airing the 2006 reality series “DMX: Soul of a Man.”
Unfortunately, DMX’s battle with addiction followed him throughout his life until his tragic death, suffering a coma-inducing heart attack as a result of an overdose. DMX is survived by his fiancée, Desiree Landstrom, his children, and his mother. “Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” the Simmons family said. “He loved his family with all of his heart, and we cherish the times we spent with him.”
Today, I end with this quote from the late DMX:
"I learned that I had to deal with the things that hurt me. I didn't really have anybody to talk to… in the hood, nobody wants to hear that. Talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness when actually it's one of the bravest things you can do. One of the bravest things you can do is put it on the table, chop it up, and just let it out."- People's Party with Talib Kweli (2020)
Thank you DMX for your hard truths, your artistry, and your bravery. May we look to what you’ve left behind to get us through tough times and to dance to in more festive times. Your legacy will live on; legends never die.
Rest in Power.
Peace & prayers,