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Every few years, an artist comes along in rap who helps alter the playing field and shift the paradigm for the foreseeable future. During the latter half of the ’90s, that artist was DMX, who emerged from the underground after wallowing in obscurity and became the hottest rapper in the game. In 1997, with some fans growing tired of the glitzy brand of rap dominating the airwaves and craving some hardcore action, the rapper arrived just in time to give the people what they wanted: Raw reality rap without the added preservatives.
Leaving listeners and critics in awe with his debut album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX would go on to become one of the most successful and recognizable figures rap had ever produced. With millions of records sold, various movie roles and an ample amount of controversy accrued during his peak years; DMX maintained his reputation as cultural treasure, even while facing various legal and personal battles. And when his time in the limelight comes to an end, he will be remembered as one of the greatest MCs to ever step in front of a mic.
In anticipation of DMX headlining REVOLT House in Austin, Texas on March 14; we highlighted seven memorable moments from the rapper’s career that helped stamp him as an icon.
1. Securing A Record Deal With A Wired Jaw
Prior to signing a record deal with Def Jam, DMX got into a violent altercation in Yonkers that resulted in him suffering multiple injuries, including a broken jaw. However, when Def Jam executive Lyor Cohen ventured out to meet X face-to-face and to see if the hype surrounding him was real, DMX didn’t let his jaw being wired shut stop him from putting on an enthralling live performance for Cohen. The impression DMX left on the exec was so strong that the label bigwig immediately made him a top priority in the Def Jam building, kicking off one of the most illustrious runs in rap history.
2. The “Get At Me Dog” Music Video
When it was time to film an accompanying music video to DMX’s 1998 hit single “Get At Me Dog,” director Hype Williams and the Ruff Ryder came to the conclusion that there was only one setting that could capture the raw intensity of the song: The Tunnel. Comprised of footage from a live performance by DMX in the venue, the visuals for “Get At Me Dog” — which were shot in grey and white — helped usher in a new era for rap, where the music and cultural aesthetics were gritty and raw.
3. Becoming The First Living Artist To Release Two Chart-Topping Albums In The Same Year
By 1998, hip hop’s ability to generate billions in revenue was no longer a secret with the culture’s biggest stars accounting for millions of records sold. That year, DMX made history by releasing two chart-topping albums in the same calendar year, when his first two studio albums — It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood — both debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. While 2Pac had reached the summit of the Billboard album chart twice in 1996 with All Eyez On Me and Don Killuminati: 7 Day Theory, the latter was released posthumously. This made X the first living rapper to achieve that feat.
4. His Starring Role In Belly
When listing breakout acting debuts by rap artists, DMX’s role as Tommy “Buns” Brown in Hype Williiams’ 1998 crime-drama Belly is surely in the pantheon. Cast opposite Nas as the film’s lead character, DMX’s portrayal of the ruthless kingpin and gunslinger kept viewers glued to their seats, and has become one of the more acclaimed acting performances in rap. DMX’s appearance in Belly, which became one of the iconic hip hop-friendly films of the ’90s, would lead to additional roles in a list of blockbusters including Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds, Cradle 2 the Grave and Never Die Alone.
5. His Collaborations With Rap And R&B’s Elite
In addition to releasing multiple hit singles as a soloist, DMX melded his talents with some of the biggest names in hip hop and R&B over the course of his career, resulting in multiple classic collaborations. After generating a buzz with show-stealing posse cuts on LL Cool J’s “4, 3, 2, 1,” Ma$e’s “24 Hours to Live,” The LOX’s “Money, Power, Respect” and more; DMX matched wits with JAY-Z for “Money, Cash Hoes.” This was a monstrous collaboration that paired two of New York’s titans. On the R&B tip, joints with Faith Evans (“How’s It Goin’ Down”), Sisqo (‘What These Bitches Want”), Aaliyah (“Come Back in One Piece”), and Mary J. Blige (“Sincerity”) have only added to his reputation as one of rap’s premier collaborators.
6. The Hard Knock Life Tour
During the early years of their respective quests for rap supremacy, DMX and JAY-Z were considered two of New York’s most touted prospects among rap circles. As legend has it, X and Hov once engaged in an epic rap battle for the ages, and while it’s unclear who the actual victor was, the events that took place that day has led to some intriguing discussions about the two icons. Years later, when both artists built their respective empires, DMX and the Ruff Ryders partnered up with JAY-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records to embark on the Hard Knock Life Tour as co-headliners. Remembered as one of the most lucrative and culturally impactful events in hip hop history, the Hard Knock Life Tour was documented in the 2000 film Backstage, which gave viewers a glimpse of X’s raw star power and ability to commandeer a stage.
7. Releasing His Fifth Consecutive Chart-Topping Album
Names like JAY-Z, 50 Cent, Eminem, Kanye West and Drake are often mentioned as the most bankable rap artists of all-time. But, during the prime of his career, no artist could hold a candle to DMX commercially, genre aside. In 2003, when DMX’s fifth studio album, Grand Champ, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the Ruff Ryder became the first musical artist to release five consecutive chart-topping albums out of the gate. While multiple artists have matched or eclipsed this feat after the fact, DMX’s prime will always be remembered as one of the most dominant runs in music history and it secured his legacy as one of the greatest rap artists of all-time.
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