11 of DMX’s most impactful songs
At his peak, DMX could ensnare listeners with a manic delivery and direct lyrics that often didn’t leave room for interpretation.
DMX didn’t rap as much as he barked. At his peak, he could ensnare listeners with a manic delivery and direct lyrics that often didn’t leave room for interpretation. It was visceral and in your face, and at the time he blew up, a foil to the glossy rap that characterized the era.
Blessed with charisma, a granite, made-for-superstardom baritone and a tongue that couldn’t help but speak the truth, X mixed in his hardcore tracks with confessionals that felt like blood-lettings (“Slippin’”) and on songs like “How’s It Going Down,” he could even get romantic. At his best, he could basically do everything and because of his honesty, he had no trouble trying to do so.
The result of his knack for storytelling and his all-around talent was tons of platinum plaques and a lifetime’s worth of indelible music for fans everywhere.
Today, in memory of X, who passed away of a heart attack on April 9, REVOLT takes a look at his 11 most impactful songs. Check out the list below.
1. “How’s It Goin’ Down”
While it was his menacing growl that made him famous, DMX (mostly) trades in the barbarics for charm on “How’s It Goin’ Down,” a surprisingly tender offering from his debut album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot. Mixing a conversational flow and convincing warmth with frankness and details straight from the streets of Yonkers, X remakes rap love songs in his own image. Here, having your girl transport cocaine for you is just as ordinary as having her pick up something from the corner store, and threatening to beat up her baby’s father —rather than killing him — is a sensible compromise. X’s even-keeled delivery and a smooth Dame Grease beat sell the angle and as a whole, “How’s It Goin’ Down” proves he’s the whole package. The track was further immortalized when Drake interpolated the hook for his 2016 song “U Wit Me.”
Like Tupac Shakur before him, DMX cast aside two-dimensional gangsta bluster in favor of genuine emotion, combining aggressiveness with vulnerability for a compelling portrait of inner city survival. That approach is embodied by “Slippin,” a tragically emblematic song that stands as one of X’s best. Spitting over a forlorn saxophone sample from Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Moonstreams,” X sheds tattoo tears for his innocence as he reflects on being abandoned by his family and left in group homes and, eventually, to the streets of Yonkers to survive, a path that led to his storied battle with drug addiction. With striking autobiographical details and a somber hook that doubles as a motivational speech, “Slippin’” is as powerful a song as X ever released and in the wake of his death, it’s gained a tragic layer of poignance.
3. “X Gon’ Give It To Ya”
From the outset of his career, one thing was always clear: Whether it was violence, sadness, happiness or the sadness that can come after those things, X was going to give it to you, raw and unfiltered. So, with its imperial horns, marching band percussion and confrontational lyrics coated in manic energy, “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” plays out like a stylistic mission statement from the Yonkers rapper. “I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing/Only nigga that you know who can chill, come back and get the streets open/I’ve been doin’ this for 19 years/Niggas wanna fight me? Fight these tears,” he raps, pouring out his soul in the process. This one peaked at No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but it got a second life after it was included on the Deadpool soundtrack in 2016. It was certified platinum in 2017.
4. “Ruff Ryders Anthem”
DMX’s most important single is one he didn’t even actually want to do. According to Swizz Beatz, who produced the track, X thought the track had too much of a rock influence for him to hop on, but Ruff Ryders’ co-founders Darrin and Joaquin Dean convinced him to take it on, and the rest is history. Featuring sitar keys and an instructional chorus that feels more like an army chant than the hook of a breakout single, “Ruff Ryders Anthem’’ distills the viciousness X would become known for. “Took it then we split it, you fucking right we did it,” he snarls on the first verse of the song, which plays out like an extended death threat. This wasn’t his first single — that honor belongs to his nearly as dope song “Get At Me Dog” — but, it is the one that crystallized his superstar status. Twenty-three years after its release, “Ruff Ryders Anthem” remains an anthem for the ages.
5. “Party Up (Up in Here)”
If rush hour traffic were a song, it’d sound a lot like “Party Up (Up in Here),” the raucous anthem that served as the second single from DMX’s 1999 album …And Then There Was X. As its title implies, this one sees DMX let loose, and it’s all about the vibes — even if his customary death threats are still present. The hook is designed for repeating and the beat demands that you blast it as loud as you can, so it’s no surprise this became one of X’s most indelible bangers. It also peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it his highest-charting solo song ever.
Being that his debut album is called It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, it only makes sense that the devil makes a cameo appearance. Mr. 666 himself does just that on “Damien,” a song that finds X making a deal with a dude from ’round the way that happens to be Satan in disguise. Over the course of the track, a clinic for storytelling, X essentially sells his soul to the devil in order to level up in his career, and the result is a string of murders. Rappers making songs with religious overtones wasn’t necessarily new even in 1998, but this track shows X had more storytelling chops than he was given credit for and that fact, combined with the song’s ominous theme, makes it one of the most iconic in his catalog.
7. “4,3, 2, 1”
LL Cool J’s evisceration of Canibus was the story of LL’s “4,3, 2, 1,” but DMX’s charismatic turn on the track was another notable moment on his path to rap stardom. For this one, X combines casual threats and clever turns of phrase for a verse that further established his artistic ethos. “Let me get what’s between your sock, cause it’s better to give/Than receive, believe what I say when I tell you/Don’t make me put you somewhere where nobody’ll smell you,” he barks, with his last bar being the sort of inventive death threat only the best rappers can deliver. At this point, X, with his distinctive rasp and rugged lyrics, had built a name for himself with standout verses on Mase’s “24 Hours to Live,” The LOX’s “Money, Power, Respect” and more, so the buzz surrounding him by December 1997 was already crazy. Holding his own on a track with LL Cool J, Method Man and Redman only solidified his next-up status. With that in mind, it’s only right that “4, 3, 2, 1” reads like a countdown, because when it dropped, X’s career was ready for liftoff.
8. “The Convo”
On It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX made time to dance with the Devil (“Damien”) and speak to God. “The Convo” is the other half of the equation. On the track, a precursor to 2006’s “Lord Give Me a Sign,” X asks God why he’s faced the hardship he has only to conclude that the man above was helping him the whole time. It’s an earnest early look at X’s spirituality, which would continue to be a fixture of his music.
9. “Who We Be”
Considering the fact that his first five albums debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, the idea that DMX was ever an underdog feels strange. But, before all that success, X was a boy who was abandoned by his family and left to languish in prison for multiple sentences over a period of years. He was part of the forgotten and dispossessed, and he speaks for them on songs like 2001’s “Who We Be.” Bouncing across urgent bass, X spits about the elements of life in list-like fashion, whether from the hood to universal things like your parents and a love-hate relationship with them. The track was nominated for Best Solo Rap performance at the 2002 Grammy Awards.
10. “Get At Me Dog”
“Get At Me Dog” was DMX’s first official single, and with its collection of shouts, barking ad-libs and ferocious bars, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate tune for him to start things off. The opening of the verse, in many ways, is a two-bar distillation of his entire career mantra: “What must I go through to show you shit is real?/And I ain’t really never gave a fuck how niggas feel.” The track went on to go gold just three months after it was released in 1998 and obviously, it was the first of many.
11. “Money, Power, Respect”
Leading up to the release of his debut album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX had a string of stellar guest spots that helped get the world at large familiar with his sound. The LOX’s Lil Kim-assisted single “Money, Power, Respect” was one of them. Hopping on a track with other rap legends in the making, X more than held his own with a gruff delivery and memorably gruesome bars that could outmatch anyone else’s. Plus, this one peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which is the best of X’s career.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Below, our gift guide highlights some of our favorite Walmart finds for anyone in need of a home refresh.
“REVOLT Black News” correspondent Kennedy Rue counts down the top five moments from the 2023 Billboard Music Awards, including surprising wins, historic firsts, and dope performances. Sponsored by Amazon.
On Oct. 10, Walmart unveiled a brand new, state of the art creative studio on the campus of Central State University.
The Walmart HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour made its final stop at Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) and left a lasting impact on students and alumni alike.
After unveiling their state of the art creative studio on the campus of Central State University, Walmart brought the HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour to Virginia State University (VSU) on Oct. 13.
Walmart HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour brings attention and wisdom to North Carolina Central University
On Oct. 17, Walmart brought the third stop of the HBCU Black & Unlimited Tour to North Carolina Central University (NCCU).
In October, Walmart unveiled a brand new, state of the art creative studio on the campus of Central State University. The HBCU located in Wilberforce, OH was the first stop on Walmart’s Black and Unlimited HBCU Tour.
In this new episode of ‘Bet on Black,’ food and beverage take center stage as aspiring Black entrepreneurs from It’s Seasoned, Black Farmer Box, and Moors Brewing Co. present their business ideas to judges with mentorship from Melissa Butler. Watch here!
Groovey Lew on hip hop style, Johnell Young's industry secrets, BGS salon's wig mastery and more | 'Black Girl Stuff'
Fashion King Groovey Lew on masterminding hip-hop’s most iconic looks. Actor Johnell Young reveals the secret to breaking into the entertainment industry. Celebrity hairstylist Dontay Savoy and got2B ambassador Tokyo Stylez are in the BGS Salon with the perfect wig install. Plus, comedian Lauren Knight performs.
REVOLT is continuing its impactful partnership with Walmart by teaming up to showcase Black creatives at HBCUs all-across America. The panel consisted of three experienced, accomplished Black HBCU alumni: Actor and media personality Terrence J, entertainment attorney John T. Rose, and actress and “REVOLT Black News” correspondent Kennedy-Rue McCullough.
The health of a community can often be traced to the health of the environment that surrounds it. In Atlanta, a woman named Dr. Jaqueline Echols has dedicated her life to helping ensure that people in economically underserved communities have clean rivers – for better health and for the joy of outdoor recreational space.
On this all-new episode of “On In 5,” multitalented Nigerian artist Pheelz opens up about waiting for his opportunity to fully express himself through music, his inspirations and emotions, and the musical icons he grew up admiring. Watch!
Kareem Cook talks growing up in The Bronx, studying at Duke & networking | 'The Blackprint with Detavio Samuels'
On this all-new episode of “The Blackprint with Detavio Samuels,” the host and REVOLT CEO sits down with Kareem Cook. Throughout the introspective episode, Cook talks growing up in The Bronx, studying at Duke and being nervous to be in the South at the time, network vs. education, taking advantage of your opportunities, and connecting with Debbie Allen. Watch!
Tiffany Haddish on therapy, wild fan interactions & the upcoming 'Haunted Mansion' movie | 'The Jason Lee Show'
On this all-new episode of “The Jason Lee Show,” the one and only Tiffany Haddish sits for a must-watch conversation about wild interactions with fans, her new movie ‘Haunted Mansion,’ bringing her therapist on dates, and being present. Watch the hilarious interview here.
For this all-new episode of “On In 5,” singer-songwriter BNXN discusses his journey from IT to music, finding his voice and originality, linking up with Wizkid for their hits “Mood” and “Many Ways,” and what fans can expect from him this year — including a new album. Watch the full episode here!
In this exclusive interview, DDG opens up about his fashion inspiration, what drew him to girlfriend Halle Bailey, dealing with negative opinions about his relationship, and more. Read up!