DMX, the actor and rap icon whose unmistakable raspy vocals carried indelible hits including “Party Up” and “X Gon’ Give It To Ya,” has died. He was 50.
DMX, whose birth name was Earl Simmons, was hospitalized on April 2nd after suffering an apparent drug overdose and heart attack at his home in White Plains.
His family said in a statement that he died at White Plains Hospital on Friday with his family by his side.
“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” they said in a statement. “He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him. Earl’s music inspired countless fans across the world and his iconic legacy will live on forever. We appreciate all of the love and support during this incredibly difficult time. Please respect our privacy as we grieve the loss of our brother, father, uncle and the man the world knew as DMX. We will share information about his memorial service once details are finalized.”
Born in Mount Vernon in 1970 and partially raised in Yonkers, Simmons had a troubled childhood marked by poverty and physical abuse, as well as time spent in group homes and several brushes with the law. Naming himself after an Oberheim DMX drum machine, he started to gain a following in the mid-90s before releasing both his debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and its followup Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood in 1998.
With singles including “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” and “Slippin’,” DMX became an immediate success, and his aggressive and unmistakable style served as a rougher, rawer counterpart to a rap scene which was at its most flashy at the time. As Stereogum put it, “People loved him. He represented darkness and struggle at a moment when rap seemed like it was trying to distance itself from those things. His mere presence was revolutionary.”
Journalist Andrea Duncan-Mao, who conducted DMX’s first interview on MTV and and covered him extensively between 1998-2002, told Gothamist, “DMX was the most charismatic artist I’ve ever covered, a commanding and peerless performer with a vulnerability that connected with so many. He wanted to be a voice for others who also battled demons and it’s heartbreaking he wasn’t able to defeat his own. I will always remember him as a powerful spirit with a big heart. His smile too, when you got to see it, was full of life and love.”
DMX released eight studio albums altogether, plus a handful of compilations and one mixtape.
As his family wrote: “Everything about DMX was unremittingly intense, from his muscular, tattooed physique to his gruff, barking delivery, which made a perfect match for his trademark lyrical obsession with dogs. Plus, there was substance behind the style; much of his work was tied together by a fascination with the split between the sacred and the profane. He could move from spiritual anguish one minute to a narrative about the sins of the streets the next, yet keep it all part of the same complex character, sort of like a hip-hop Johnny Cash. The results were compelling enough to make DMX the first artist ever to have his first four albums enter the charts at number one.”
In addition to his rap work, he also had a career in acting, starting with a lead role in Hype Williams’ film Belly; he’d go on to appear in over a dozen more films and TV series, including Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds and Cradle 2 The Grave.
He continued to struggle with drug addiction throughout his career, and as the Times noted, he was arrested repeatedly “for fraud, assault, driving under the influence and without a license, and weapon and narcotics possession, among other things.” He went to jail in 2008 after pleading guilty to charges of drug possession, theft, and animal cruelty; he was sentenced to a year in prison for tax evasion in 2018.
Since getting out of jail, he had been actively working on a new album for Def Jam, and he participated in a popular Verzuz battle with Snoop Dogg.
In an interview with rapper Talib Kweli in 2020, he opened up about his battle with addiction and how it impacted his life: “Drugs were a symptom of a bigger problem,” he said. “There were things that I went through in my childhood where I just blocked it out—but there’s only so much you can block out before you run out of space,” he said. “I really didn’t have anybody to talk to about it. So often talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness. When it’s actually one of the bravest things you can do.” You can watch that interview below.
You can check out some more tweets and tributes to DMX from friends, peers and admirers below.
RIP DMX. No one radiated more agony, pain, and atomic energy. The Cerberus from Yonkers, who suffered for all of our sins and his own. Maybe the rawest rapper of all-time, no pretense or frills, just pure adrenaline, lawless genius, and reckless abandon. The struggle incarnate. pic.twitter.com/P80t1GQHEa
— Otto Von Biz Markie (@Passionweiss) April 9, 2021
RIP DMX – he saved Def Jam, and brought back a grittiness and deadliness to East Coast rap when everyone thought that the shiny suit era was going to take over. I wrote three blurbs in this: “What These Bitches Want, “How’s It Goin Down, and Blackout.”
RIP to a rap superstar. https://t.co/l9x3VjJJtZ
— Jayson Buford (@jaysonbuford) April 9, 2021
One of the most electrifying artists of all time. I loved his voice, his stories, his energy. Feel lucky to have spoken to him a few times, to have screamed my lungs out at his concerts, and really, just had his music while my musical tastes were forming. Dark Man X forever. pic.twitter.com/oM7j5pgxsG
— Jason Lipshutz (@jasonlipshutz) April 9, 2021
RIP DMX. Thank you for being the soundtrack of my childhood.
— Burna Boy (@burnaboy) April 9, 2021
RIP Earl Simmons 💔the most fearsome and most vulnerable, ugliest and most beautiful..the most hip-hop and the most human https://t.co/M6TYAglvA4
— Jay Smooth (@jsmooth995) April 9, 2021