Just after DMX lost his liver, kidney, and lung functions in multiple organ failures amid the week-long battle to end his coma, his family would spend with him what turned out to be his final moments. The Grammy-nominated rapper suffered what was described as a “catastrophic cardiac arrest” that tailed what was suspected to have been a case of a drug overdose after years of battling cocaine addiction and undergoing rehab.
Before the gloom that saw him breathe his last on Friday at White Plains Hospital in New York, DMX was one of America’s most successful musicians of the late 1990s and 2000s whose achievements earned him a place in music history when he became the first artiste whose five albums hit number one in the Billboard charts. Imbued with lyrical prowess, DMX flexed this laudable ability to be bankable while retaining hardcore credibility as a rapper.
He sold 14 million copies in the US and earned three Grammy nominations just as he was ushered into his career as the star of blockbuster movies like ‘Belly’, ‘Romeo Must Die’, ‘Exit Wounds’, ‘Cradle 2 the Grave’, and ‘Last Hour’. After the death of rap heavyweights such as Tupac and Biggie, DMX became an unrivaled reigning king of hardcore rap. The musician was also adjudged a rare commodity; a commercial powerhouse with street integrity to show off.
Kicked out of school, assaulted… DMX’s tumultuous upbringing
DMX was born Earl Simmons in Mount Vernon, New York on December 18, 1970, to Arnett Simmons and Joe Barker, who were 19 and 20 respectively when they gave birth to him. He was the second child of Arnett, who gave birth to two daughters and two stillborn sons. As Barker didn’t want Simmons to keep DMX, she cut off contacts with the family as soon as he was born. As a child, DMX suffered bronchial asthma and was often rushed to the emergency room due to breathing difficulties.
At a point in his childhood, DMX was hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street and suffered minor injuries. He had argued that his family could have received up to a $10,000 settlement but his mum refused to open a case over claims that it went against her faith. DMX went through a disjointed childhood that included being beaten by his mum and her boyfriends. At the end of fifth grade, DMX was kicked out of school and sent to Julia Dyckman Andrus Children’s Home for 18 months. At 14, DMX began wandering the streets of Yonkers (where they had settled) to escape abuse.
He found comfort in befriending stray dogs that walked the streets at night. After some time, his mother sent him to a boys’ home. There, he bonded with other students from New York over their shared love for hip hop music. After performing for his friends, they encouraged him to continue writing music at the behest of his teacher.
Returning home to his mum, DMX met Ready Ron, a local rapper who sought to become Earl’s partner after observing his beatboxing skills. DMX got his stage name from an instrument he had used at the boys’ home, the Oberheim DMX drum machine.
Sold mixtapes in New York street corners straight out of jail
DMX got his start in music in 1984 beatboxing for Ready Ron. After his time in prison, he began writing his own lyrics and would perform at the local rec centre for young children. After going to prison again in 1988, he began taking rapping more seriously, dedicating almost all of his free time to writing lyrics and also meeting and rapping with K-Solo while incarcerated. When DMX was released that summer, he began producing and selling his own mixtapes.
He rapped over instrumentals from other songs, sold them on street corners, and built a local fan base in New York. In 1991, DMX recorded his first demos ‘Unstoppable Force and Three Little Pigs’. Columbia Records signed him to its subsidiary label Ruffhouse a year later before the rapper released his debut single ‘Born Loser’. It was gathered that the single did not receive much airplay, prompting the record label to cancel the rapper’s contract.
He did a second single ‘Make a Move’ in 1994 and made an appearance alongside Jay Z, Ja Rule, and Mic Geronimo on the classic underground track ‘Time To Build’ on Mic Geronimo’s debut album in 1995. He also appeared on LL Cool J’s single ‘4, 3, 2, 1′ in 1997. His additional guest spots were on Mase’s singles ’24 Hrs. to Live’ and ‘Take What’s Yours’. This was as The LOX’s single ‘Money, Power & Respect’ created a strong buzz for DMX who was — at that time — an unsigned rapper.
Debuted five consecutive albums (of eight) at Billboard no 1
DMX released his debut major-label single ‘Get at Me Dog’ in February 1998 on Def Jam, a multinational label. It was certified gold by the RIAA. His first major-label album ‘It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot’, which included the single ‘Ruff Ryders’ Anthem’ came in 1998. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart in the US and sold over five million copies. Later that year, DMX did his second album ‘Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood’. It also debuted at number one on Billboard 200, where it stayed for three weeks and got certified Platinum four times.
His third and best-selling album ‘And Then There Was X’ came in December 1999 and also debut at number one on Billboard 200. The project’s most popular single ‘Party Up’ became his first top-10 hit on the R&B charts. The album was certified six-times Platinum. After legal issues, he put out his fourth album ‘The Great Depression’. His fifth body of work ‘Grand Champ’ once again debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 charts, placing DMX as the only musical artist in history to release five consecutive albums (his entire album catalogue at the time) at number one.
He informed the public that he planned to retire. However, DMX signed to Columbia Records in January 2006 and recorded ‘Year of the Dog… Again’. The body of work missed Billboard’s number one spot by a few hundred copies.
Aspired to be a pastor but struggled with cocaine addiction
In 2009, DMX claimed that he would pursue preaching in New Jersey but will also continue to produce music. He completed a Gospel album prior to his incarceration. It was gathered that he had semi-retired to study the Bible more in an effort to give messages behind the pulpit. Although he admitted to being spiritual as opposed to religious, DMX had further clarified the statement, saying: “I will not be a priest. I will be a pastor. I’m already a deacon. I will be a pastor.” In 2012, he added that he hoped to soon give his first sermon in a church setting and bring people closer to God.
But over the course of his music career, DMX also spoke of his cocaine addiction which began at age 14 after he smoked a marijuana cigarette laced with it. The rapper, who had undergone rehab, claimed he was also battling bipolar disorder. In February 2016, he was found unresponsive in a Ramada Inn parking lot in Yonkers. He was resuscitated by first responders and given Narcan before being rushed to the hospital. A witness said he ingested some substance before collapsing, but police found nothing illegal on the property. DMX’s last rehab was in 2019 after he finished a 12-month sentence for tax evasion.
Escaped jail as a kid, multiple arrests, and eventual death
DMX was first sent to prison in 1986 for stealing a dog from a junkyard. He did two years in the juvenile unit of Woodfield Prison in Valhalla, New York. After starting his sentence, he and his cellmate successfully escaped until his mother had him turn himself in which he did at the McCormick Juvenile Detention Centre in Brooktondale.
He was jailed again in 1988 for carjacking and was later moved to a higher security prison after attempting to extort a fellow inmate for drugs. He was released in the summer of 1988. As a celebrity, DMX’s multiple arrests have been for resisting arrest, animal cruelty, reckless driving, unlicensed driving, drug possession, and identity falsification.
On April 4, 2021, Nakia Walker, DMX’s former manager, revealed that the rapper was in a “vegetative state” with lungs and brain failure and no current brain activity. Three days later, Steve Rifkind, his manager, said he was in a coma and that he was set to undergo tests to determine his brain’s functionality which would allow his family to “determine what’s best from there”. The musician was however pronounced dead on April 9, 2021.
DMX had fifteen children. He was married to his childhood friend Tashera Simmons in 1999 and they had four children but separated in 2010. His fifteenth kid was with his girlfriend Desiree Lindstrom in 2016 after his extramarital affairs.