The rap world received tragic news on Friday (April 9th) when it was announced that legendary rapper and actor Earl “DMX” Simmons was pronounced dead as a result of a heart attack. He was 50 years old. DMX, who was hospitalized on April 3 after being found unresponsive, was put on life support in an effort to preserve his life, but ultimately was unable to be revived from his “vegetative” state. The announcement sparked an outpour of grief from Simmons’ family, peers, and fans alike.
Debuting in 1998 with his multi-platinum debut, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, the rapper would go on an unprecedented run through the rap game, breaking and setting numerous records throughout the peak years of his career. Releasing eight studio albums and starring in numerous films, DMX is regarded as one of the most iconic figures of his generation and one of the greatest rap artists of all-time.
In celebration of his life and legacy, we highlighted ten ways DMX impacted, influenced, and changed the rap game forever.
1. Brought the streets back from the “Shiny Suit Era”
DMX was a bit out of place upon his arrival on the rap scene in 1997. At the time, hip-hop was engulfed in a full on blitz of glitz and glamour, led by Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, which had a chokehold on the charts with their lighthearted, sample-friendly brand of commercial rap. With the death of The Notorious B.I.G. leaving the throne of New York City rap vacant and fans clamoring for something other than the usual, DMX came to the rescue, disarming the hip-hop populous with his gruff tenor, rugged aesthetic, and a lyrical style and sonic sound born out of the concrete. Following the release of his classic debut, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot in 1998, with millions of records sold, the people all but confirmed that it was a new day for street rap, with DMX at the forefront of the movement.
2. Popularized dropping multiple albums on one year
Years before rap artists dropped projects at a rapid pace, DMX did something out of the ordinary, releasing his sophomore album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, just months after making a seismic splash with his debut. Recorded at the behest of Def Jam Lyor Cohen, who was looking to further capitalize on the X hype, for a price tag of one million dollars, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood continued DMX’s dominance, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, making him the first artist in history to achieve that feat. As time would pass, this feat would be achieved by the likes of Future, who famously dropped two albums a week apart that both topped the albums chart, as well.
3. Brought vulnerability to the forefront
In a culture that’s often accused of being hyper-masculine, with plenty of machismo to spare, DMX brought a refreshing balance upon his arrival in the rap game. Numerous artists had share and shown pieces of themselves and their innermost feelings and thoughts on wax before, but for DMX, these displays of vulnerability were free for the world to see, as he famously cried while onstage during live performances on various occasions. Displaying a child-like innocence and yearning for unconditional love musically, in interviews, and elsewhere, DMX helped allow artists to be and show more of themselves, not only in the booth, but while living life itself.
4. Helped make embracing your spirituality a trend in hip-hop
Religion and spirituality are common themes within hip-hop if you delve beneath the surface, but when you close out your debut album — as well as live performances — with a prayer, it’s clear that you’re in tune, on both levels. Praise of one’s Lord and Savior are largely reserved for award speeches, yet, DMX’s relationship with God was always palpable and at the core of what he represented as an artist and a man. Once stating that he would halt his music career to focus on ministry and spreading the word as he knows it, DMX helped make embracing your spirituality a thing in hip-hop.
5. Brought motor bike culture to the mainstream
The music video for DMX’s definitive single, “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” begins with a man hitting a wheelie on a motor-bike with the Ruff Ryders logo emblazoned on it, an opening scene that not only helped set the tone for the video itself, but an influx of Black bikers in the hip-hop community. Utilizing his popularity and platform to showcase the Ruff Ryders stable of talented bikers, a number of his videos incorporate motor-bikes and four-wheelers in some capacity, a trend that would catch on and continues to live on today by a new generation of rap artists. A classic muscle car enthusiast himself, DMX may not have been hitting wheelies on the freeway, however, his role in helping bring biker culture into the hip-hop consciousness like never before cannot be ignored or understated.
6. Birthed rap’s Rated R action hero
DMX was far from the first rapper to parlay his rap career into a shot at Hollywood, as stars like Will Smith, Queen Latifah, LL Cool, Ice Cube and others took that leap years prior. That said, DMX’s role in the 1998 crime-flick Belly thrust him into being rap’s leading man quicker than you can say Tupac Shakur, with his masterful performance drawing rave reviews. Untrained in the arts and noticeably rough around the edges, DMX proved to be a natural, prompting bigwig movie executive Joel Silver to tap him to appear in three hit films, Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds, and Cradle 2 the Grave, in which he was cast as an action hero and leading man alongside the likes of Steven Seagal, Jet Li, and late R&B star Aaliyah.
7. Launched an entire hip-hop empire
Prior to becoming one of the biggest powerhouse record labels in rap history, Ruff Ryders Entertainment was a management company looking to get its feet in the door of the industry. That goal became a reality after linking with DMX during the early ’90s, who helped Ruff Ryders founders Joaquin “Waah” Dean and Darin “Dee” Dean first gain a deal through Ruffhouse/Columbia before building the seismic buzz that made Def Jam come knocking. As the biggest new rap star on the planet, X’s light shone brightly over Ruff Ryders as a brand and the rest of their roster, which helped secure their distribution deal with Interscope Records, where they went on to sell millions of records.
8. Gave dogs a seat the hip-hop table
Dog is a man’s best friend, and a number of rappers, particularly Snoop Dogg, are even synonymous with them. However, while others before him merely used canines for imagery and accessories for photo ops, DMX truly embodied the spirit of that phrase, brandishing his love for pitbulls like the heart on his sleeve. From catching his first criminal charge for stealing a junkyard dog to tattooing the name of his beloved pooch, Boomer, across his back, DMX’s relationship with dogs is one of the aspects of his personality that endeared him to rap fans worldwide.
9. Shifted the stigma surrounding drug addiction in hip-hop
In hip-hop, the stigma surrounding drug addiction is a prevalent topic, with a number of artists admitting their struggles with drug abuse, and some tragically succumbing to it, in recent years. DMX, who acknowledged his own addiction throughout his career, was the first mainstream rap artist to speak candidly on their experience in that realm, humanizing himself, as well as others, in the process. That transparency has helped open the door for others to come forward with their own testimonials, an aspect of his legacy that is often overlooked.
10. Became a chart topping rapper on his own terms
Having one or two albums that were the top-selling albums upon their release is a considerable accomplishment for most artists, but in the case of DMX, it doesn’t even scratch the needle. With the release of Grand Champ in 2003, DMX made history by becoming the first artist in the history of music to have their first five studio albums top the Billboard 200, placing the Dark Man in a class of his own. What makes him unique is that he never chased trends or comprised his style. DMX was making hits on his own terms, whether it was releasing rugged songs like “Get At Me Dog” or melancholy singles like “Slippin’” or straight gospel records like “Lord Give Me a Sign.”
Preezy Brown is a New York City-based reporter and writer, filling the empty spaces within street and urban culture. A product of the School of Hard Knocks, Magna Cum Laude. The Crooklyn Dodger. Got Blunt?