DMX, the acclaimed entertainer whose first five albums debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart — making him the first and only rapper to achieve this — has died after being taken off of life support following a heart attack. He was 50.
DMX was born Earl Simmons on December 18, 1970 in Mount Vernon, New York. His troubled childhood paved the way for his rough ride through life. The son of Arnette Simmons and Joe Barker grew up in Yonkers, New York in a single-parent household with his two sisters. Simmons developed several allergies and bronchial asthma at an early age. As a result, he was often sick and his mother would have to take him to the emergency room. In his 2003 autobiography E.A.R.L., Simmons recalled “many scary nights” not being able to breathe.
Unfortunately, at a young age, he was abused by his mother and her boyfriends. His grandmother, Mary Ella Holloway, provided the nurturing care he desperately sought. Simmons was her oldest grandchild and in her eyes, he could do no wrong. The would-be rapper was a smart kid and in elementary school, his teachers recognized that. But behavioral problems in class and chaos at home would ultimately result in the 10-year-old being sent to the Julia Dyckman Andrus Children’s Home for 18 months. When he returned to Yonkers, Simmons roamed the streets like the stray dogs he would befriend. He was infatuated with canines. Dogs were loyal, he learned, and they offered him some protection in the streets.
At 14, his mother sent her son away to Children’s Village — a juvenile asylum. That’s where his passion for hip hop music formulated. He would rhyme and beatbox with his peers. After months at the upstate reform school, the teen was allowed to go home to Yonkers for a visit. It was then he met a 27-year-old Brooklyn rapper named Ready Ron.
With his acumen for beatboxing and Ron’s rap skills, the two formed a group. But, Simmons needed an alias. “DMX was the name of the beat machine kids were using and since I felt I was nice with the beats, I took that,” he explained in E.A.R.L. “It was strong, powerful. I liked the three letters and thought that it would be cool to make them stand for different things. So, when I went back to Children’s Village after my home visit, I was no longer Earl Simmons or even Crazy Earl. I was DMX. DMX The Beat Box Enforcer.”
The duo would travel to local neighborhoods to battle other emcees whenever they could. Later, Ron introduced 14-year-old DMX to hard drugs. Unknowingly, X smoked a “woolie,” a cocaine-laced marijuana joint that Ron gave him. According to his 2010 Behind The Music documentary, he credits that moment as the origin of his lifelong addiction to narcotics. “That’s where it all started,” he said. Ron awoke a beast, as the misguided beatsmith would commonly abuse the drug from then on.
Shortly after his introduction to crack cocaine, X landed behind bars again for robbery. Still in his teens, he was initially sent to a minimum-security facility in Rochester, New York. But, he escaped and made it back to Yonkers. His grandmother would later convince him to turn himself in. So, he did and was sent to McCormick Juvenile Institution. Inside his cell, he wrote raps and created a new moniker with the three letters he used as his alias. DMX The Beat Box Enforcer became DMX the Great, an aggressive undertaker-like emcee ready to take on all challengers.
Upon his release, he continued rapping at parties, clubs, and wherever else he could get his hands on a microphone. He would meet his first wife, Tashera Simmons, in 1989. The couple had their first child, Xavier, two years later. Unfortunately, DMX’s pension for petty crimes and street life had him going back and forth to prison. That’s where he wrote his first prayer and where he believes God spoke to him.
With a new outlook on life outside of prison, a revitalized DMX re-emerged in the Yonkers rap scene where he eventually met the Dean family. Siblings Waah, Dee and Chauvin Dean recruited DMX to their new hip hop management company Ruff Ryders Entertainment. It was divine. DMX and the Ruff Ryders were a match made in heaven.
At first, record labels were reluctant to offer the brash, braggadocios and bold battle rapper who barked a deal. But, his friend Irv Gotti believed in him, his uncle Ray Copeland managed him and he was armed with the Ruff Ryders, and their upstart nephew Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean.
In 1992, X signed to Columbia Record’s Ruffhouse imprint, and released “Born Loser” and “Make A Move.” His notoriety was growing but his addictions wouldn’t subside until his grandmother was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1994. Her illness inspired him for the first time to completely sober up. “No matter how hard we are or how tough we still are, we need to be someone’s baby,” DMX said holding back tears on “Behind the Music.”
Grandma Holloway passing away sent the promising rapper spiraling downward once again as he resorted to drugs. Three tumultuous years later, Gotti got a job as an A&R at Def Jam Records. On his first day, he recommended signing DMX to the label’s President Lyor Cohen.
“Taking it back to the streets was going to be the idea behind how they wanted to market and promote me,” DMX recalled in his autobiography. Lyor said all the right things and with a new lucrative contract from Def Jam, a legend was unleashed. His first major label single “Get At Me Dog” was a rugged in-your-face anthem geared toward a demographic desperate for a mouthpiece. And the accompanying video, shot by Hype Williams, depicted X exactly the way Lyor and Irv imagined. It was authentic. X represented the ghetto with pride and was embraced for it.
From 1998 to 2003, DMX ruled hip hop radio and dominated Billboard charts. He had massive hits like “Party Up,” “Slippin” and “X Gon’ Give It to Ya.” X covered magazines like VIBE, XXL and The Source. In one of VIBE’s 1998 “NEXT” profiles, X talked about the reception he received from fans. “I stay getting love like that, and I love it. I’m gonna feed everyone,” he said. “There’s dogs out here who don’t have a voice. I’m here to soak up their pain and make it felt everywhere by spitting it out to a hot beat.”
The “Hard Knock Life” and “Anger Management” tours he went on sold out arenas. And he had an unprecedented five consecutive No. 1 albums: It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood, the 6X platinum And Then There Was X, The Great Depression, and Grand Champs. No other rapper has achieved this yet.
The chart-topping feat exalted X and his crossover appeal grew more enticing to filmmakers. He starred alongside Nas in the Hype Williams-directed 1998 cult-classic Belly. His acting chops were on display alongside the late Aaliyah in Romeo Must Die, and he appeared in the action thriller Exit Wounds with Steven Seagal. He acted in over a dozen films throughout his career.
The latter half of the 2000s were riddled with run-ins with the law for X. He released two more official albums: Year of the Dog...Again, which featured the hit “Lord Give Me A Sign” and his final album, Undisputed. In a valiant effort to address his drug abuse, in 2019, DMX canceled several shows to check himself into a rehab facility. The following year, he and Swizz planned to produce another album together. He shared details about its development in a recent interview with REVOLT’s “Drink Champs.” “I’m almost overwhelmed by how excited people are and not just excited by it, but want to be a part of it,” he said. “I’m the people’s champ. Not everybody likes me, but the people that do, love me.”
According to IMDB, DMX was also recently casted as the lead character Cowboy in an upcoming movie called Doggmen. The site also shows the multi-platinum entertainer was set to appear alongside Nas, Rick Ross and Luther Campbell in another new film called I Want It All.
The 50-year-old icon personified hip hop and sold more than 74 million records during his legendary career. Although his epic battle with the law and drugs rivaled his superstardom, DMX will always be remembered as one of the greatest rappers to ever live.
He is survived by his mother Arnette, his two sisters Bonita and Shayla, his ex-wife Tashera Simmons, his fiancée Desiree and his 15 kids. Rest in power to the groundbreaking Earl “DMX” Simmons!