New York – DMX, the hardcore hip-hop star whose ominous, snarling raps chronicled the violence and struggles of the American street, has died. He was 50 years old.
The rapper’s longtime lawyer confirmed DMX’s death to AFP, after a statement from his family widely shared on social media said the artist born Earl Simmons died after nearly a week on life support following a heart attack.
“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” the statement read.
The family said information on a memorial service was forthcoming.
The agitated rapper — who reigned over the late 1990s and early 2000s with hits including “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” and “Party Up” — was among hip-hop’s darkest stars, laying his inner demons out for the masses in gritty, hard-driving anthems that gained him commercial and critical acclaim.
Raised in the New York suburb of Yonkers, the artist endured a grim childhood, growing up in the projects with his mother and siblings where he suffered abuse.
At 14, he entered a cycle of incarceration that would persist throughout his life, committing robberies that regularly landed him in jail.
Gaining a reputation as a problem child prone to rage-fueled outbursts, Simmons was in and out of homes for troubled boys for much of his youth.
Even after he achieved celebrity for his artistry, DMX continued to have run-ins with the penal system, with charges including drug possession, animal cruelty, reckless driving, failure to pay child support and tax evasion.
In November 2017, he pleaded guilty to evading $1.7 million in tax payments between 2002 and 2005, spending a year in US federal prison and paying $2.3 million in restitution.
‘Dude is really ill’
But while his colorful criminal record made headlines, it was his blunt, confessional raps delivered with his singular deep-throated growls that left an indelible mark on hip-hop’s sound.
“DMX was a brilliant artist and an inspiration to millions around the world. His message of triumph over struggle, his search for the light out of darkness, his pursuit of truth and grace brought us closer to our own humanity,” said Def Jam Recordings, the label with which DMX released some of his most iconic albums, in a statement following his death.
“DMX was nothing less than a giant.”
He began beatboxing in the mid-1980s, starting to write his own lyrics and peddle mixtapes.
The charismatic artist spent most of the 1990s making a name for himself in New York’s local underground scene, especially in rap battle rings.
It was late in that decade that he grew into the gravelly, raw, menacing style imbued with hypermasculinity that would become his calling card.
In the mid-1990s, he famously battled with Brooklyn’s up-and-coming star Jay-Z, who was then primarily an emcee, for hours in a smoky pool hall in the Bronx.
“It was dope. DMX, at the time, I had never really heard of DMX. I didn’t know who this kid was,” the producer Ski Beatz, who was in attendance, told the site HipHopDX.
“But to hear him rhyme live, I was like, ‘This dude is really ill’.”
‘Let it out’
DMX’s love of dogs was such that he integrated barks and growls into his teeth-baring brand of rap.
“Your dog will die for you,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1999.
“That’s how dogs get down, unconditional love. Humans are not really capable of unconditional love.”
He released his debut major-label single “Get At Me Dog” in 1998 with Def Jam, which came off his first studio album “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.”
The album debuted at number one on Billboard’s top album chart and boasted another hit single, “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” ushering in commercial success that would last for years.
Defying his ferocious, testosterone-addled image, DMX from time to time also bared his goofier side, notably in an impromptu remix of the holiday classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that went viral in 2012.
He was vocal about his commitment to Christianity, even expressing hopes of becoming a pastor.
DMX suffered from addiction to drugs including crack, which he said began as early as age 14.
“I didn’t really have anybody to talk to,” he said in late 2020 in an emotional interview on Talib Kweli’s weekly podcast.
“In the hood, nobody wants to hear that… Talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness, when actually it’s one of the bravest things you can do. One of the bravest things you can do is put it on the table, chop it up, and just let it out.”
Tributes poured in to the late rapper from fans and fellow artists, including his peer Missy Elliott, who called the loss “heavy for the HipHop family.”
“Even though you had battles you TOUCHED so many through your MUSIC and when you would PRAY so many people FELT THAT!” she wrote on Twitter, adding “your LEGACY LIVES ON.”
Additional reporting by Sandisiwe Mbhele