DMX: Don’t Try to Understand debuted on HBO Max on Thursday (Nov. 25). Chris Frierson, the director of the new documentary, recently sat down with Rolling Out to discuss a variety of topics related to the film, including why he pursued the story and how he partially owes his sobriety to the iconic artist.
Frierson explained to the outlet that he pitched his movie idea to Mass Appeal in 2018 right around the time X wound up in jail for tax evasion. The 37-year-old filmmaker befriended X’s manager, Pat Gallo, and initially wanted to shoot scenes inside of the West Virginia Federal prison X was sent to. However, the warden wouldn’t allow them to do that, so Frierson would have to wait until the Ruff Ryders rapper was released in 2019 to begin filming.
“You know that thing when you meet somebody famous and you’re super disappointed. It was the complete opposite of that,” Frierson said. “It was like everything I hoped for in a human being, I saw over a couple days. And I think possibly he saw something in our coverage that he wasn’t necessarily used to in the questions we were asking.”
Frierson went on to say that he was inspired to create DMX: Don’t Try to Understand because he’s “always been really interested in people whose narratives have been shaped by the media, whether that be film people or artists, musicians…” “Everybody likes the underdog story, on top of that I think that he resonates with people in a way that most hip hop artists dont — just to be frank,” he said. “Theres been such a lack of humanity in the way he had been represented, to me at least, in the media.”
The director, who also hosted a Mass Appeal podcast about Freaknik, said that he didn’t have to stage scenes to show a certain side of X. He explained that viewers typically “get to see an angry Earl a lot,” but “they don’t get to see a pensive Earl” or a “frustrated with reason Earl.” “[DMX’s] Humanity comes out because those things are all emotions that we as human beings experience,” Frierson said. “The intent was really to show those relationships he has with his family, those relationships he has with his past abuse, the relationship he has with addiction. And these are all things that most Americans, or people in general, have relationships with.”
Frierson revealed later in the interview that he suffered his own addiction problems with alcoholism. In fact, he found out that DMX was hospitalized a few days after he checked himself into rehab for the disease earlier this year. “That was hard [for me],” he said. “I partially owe my sobriety to him, to a certain extent, because the last thing he said to me was that I was going to be alright.”