by Tariqah Shakir-Muhammad, Shawntell Muhammad and Jihad Muhammad
Father. Soon-to-be husband. Hip hop prophet.
These are the names most will remember for hip hop icon DMX. The legendary artist passed away in New York, according to a statement released by the family. He was 50 years old.
“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end. He loved his family with all of his heart, and we cherish the times we spent with him,” the family said in the April 9 statement. “[He] inspired countless fans across the world, and his iconic legacy will live on forever.”
Born Earl Simmons, he grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., and began writing music at a young age despite a turbulent childhood and struggles with addiction. His transparency about his struggles and past shared in his music helped inspire millions worldwide.
“DMX didn’t hide behind the pain, he was very transparent with the pain,” said national community organizer, activist and rap artist YoNasDa LoneWolf.
“That’s why everyone is feeling like, ‘man, this was someone that was just so open and vulnerable.’ … So, a prophet died this week, but in the holy scripture we look at them as testimony and carry on.”
The man behind the songs “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” and “Party Up (Up in Here)” used his distinctively gruff voice and thoughtful messages in his rhymes to become one of rap’s biggest stars.
The Grammy-nominated performer died after suffering “catastrophic cardiac arrest,” according to a statement from the hospital in White Plains, New York, where he died. He was rushed there from his home April 2.
His family’s statement said DMX died with relatives by his side after several days on life support.
Memorial plans were not yet set at Final Call press time.
He rapped with a trademark raspy delivery that was often paired with growls, barks and “What!” as an ad-lib—built a multiplatinum career in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but he also struggled with drug addiction and legal problems that sometimes put him behind bars.
“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,” his record label, Def Jam Recordings, said in a statement describing him as “nothing less than a giant.”
Fellow hip hop artists remembered him likewise, with Eve praising him as “one of the most special people I have ever met” and Nas calling him “Gods poet” in an Instagram post.
DMX made a splash in 1998 with his first studio album, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot,” which debuted No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The multiplatinum-selling album was anchored by several hits including “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” “Get At Me Dog,” “Stop Being Greedy” and “How It’s Goin’ Down.”
DMX followed up with four straight chart-topping albums including “… And Then There Was X,” “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood,” “The Great Depression” and “Grand Champ.” He released seven albums, earned three Grammy nominations and was named favorite rap/hip hop artist at the 2000 American Music Awards.
DMX arrived on the rap scene around the same time as Jay-Z, Ja Rule and others who dominated the charts and emerged as platinum-selling acts. They were all part of rap crews, too: DMX fronted the Ruff Ryders collective, which helped launch the careers of Grammy winners Eve and Swizz Beatz, and relaunch The Lox, formerly signed to Bad Boy Records. Ruff Ryders had success on the charts and on radio with its “Ryde or Die” compilation albums.
DMX made his way as an actor. He starred in the 1998 film “Belly” and appeared in 2000′s “Romeo Must Die” with Jet Li and Aaliyah. DMX and Aaliyah teamed up for “Come Back in One Piece” on the film’s soundtrack.
The rapper would later open Aaliyah’s tribute music video, “Miss You,” alongside her other friends and collaborators, including Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim and Queen Latifah, after Aaliyah’s 2001 death in a plane crash at age 22.
The rapper starred in 2001′s “Exit Wounds” with Steven Seagal and 2003′s “Cradle 2 the Grave” with Jet Li.
The Hard Knock Life Tour in 1999 featuring Jay-Z, DMX and others, was one of the most successful hip hop tours ever. The tour was secured by members of the Fruit of Islam. Hashim H. Muhammad, a Chicago hip hop artist himself and F.O.I., helped secure DMX throughout the multi-city event. He shared how during a stop in Milwaukee, DMX want to go to the city. Hashim Muhammad accompanied him visiting ’hoods. DMX gave and received love as “an extremely humble, spiritual, and fearless brother,” he said.
On the Atlanta leg of the show series, a video later shown in a movie about the tour captured Hashim Muhammad in an impromptu rap “cypher” with Jay-Z, DMX and others. After the freestyle, which is an iconic hip hop moment, Hashim Muhammad recalled how DMX pulled him close in a show of love and respect. “He wanted to stay grounded, he did not want to get the big head,” said Mr. Muhammad.
The Hard Knock Life Tour also included Redman, Method Man, and special guests Ja Rule, Eve, Beanie Sigel, and Amil. This was a major tour since venues and promoters weren’t booking shows for fear of violence. Abdul Aziz Muhammad was asked to work with security based on his work with R&B singer Monica.
Aziz Muhammad had Hashim Muhammad and Damon Muhammad, also known as “Young Khan The Don,” as part of the security team and a hip hop collective. The Hard Knock Life Tour lasted three months without violence. “It was actually being on this tour that we saw the effect that DMX had on the audience.
He had an attraction power similar to that of Tupac. He was raw, by himself and the people were vibing with him. Swizz Beatz was his DJ at the time,” said Damon Muhammad. He recounted a private conversation where DMX shared his thoughts about mortality.
“One of the main things he wanted to share was that he didn’t believe he would live past 30. He was 28 at the time. I quickly began to dispel that just by sharing with him that we have the ability to strive to live a better quality of life and to transform our life,” said Damon Muhammad. He shared how the life giving teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad changes lives and assured DMX his life could change too.
During a Chicago stop DMX visited The Final Call Building, home to the newspaper and Min. Louis Farrakhan’s video ministry, the Nation’s Salaam restaurant, and Muhammad University of Islam. Abdul Aziz Muhammad said, “We had over three months of communication with him and all of the artists in the Hard Knock Life Tour … We really bonded.”
“All of the artists enjoyed and benefited from the presence of the F.O.I. Many of them began giving the greetings while on tour, and even when things could have gotten out of hand it was out of respect for the Nation and the F.O.I. that it didn’t. We thank Allah for his guidance and in the words of Jay Z, ‘they said this tour couldn’t happen, that it would be violent but we did 54 cities without one act of violence,’ ” he added. It also grossed $18 million.
But while DMX made his mark in music and entertainment, the rapper faced a personal struggle with drugs. His addiction first took hold at age 14 when he smoked a marijuana cigarette laced with cocaine. He said in an interview that he didn’t know the marijuana given to him by an older friend he trusted included crack cocaine.
“Earl Simmons was a wonderful, caring father, and a sensitive, thoughtful man,” said Lyor Cohen, a former executive at Def Jam, in a statement. “Unfortunately, Dark Man X took over and ran amok, tormented and struggling to find the light. … DMX gave me the inspiration to keep going at Def Jam when rap became soft and silly.”
DMX planned a 32-date tour to mark the 20th anniversary of “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot.” But the rapper canceled a series of shows to check himself into a rehab facility in 2019. In an Instagram post, his team said he apologized for the canceled shows and thanked his fans for the continued support.
DMX took the initiative to help the less fortunate. He gave a group of Philadelphia men advice during a surprise appearance at a homeless support group meeting in 2017, and helped a Maine family with its back-to-school purchases a couple years later.
Ms. LoneWolf said she was blessed to be able to work with DMX how he touched others.
“So, many would seek DMX for a prayer because it wasn’t like he rehearsed it, it wasn’t for show. It was because he loved God, he loved Jesus. DMX was the closest thing for a lot of people what a prayer sounded like,” she added.
“The ancestor known to us as ‘Dark Man X’ walked a complicated walk on this earth,” said writer and culture critic Jamilah Lemieux. “His experiences were forever informed by the trauma of his childhood, which can make the spotlight a dangerously complex place to be. Hearts around the world are grieving a man who so beautifully articulated pain that is all too common in so many of our communities.”
“I felt a very special place for him as a man, as a human, a Black man, and what he represents spiritually. As a spiritual being, he super exceeded what the world was thinking of in terms of his music. His purpose here was bigger than music,” commented Lakeisha Gray-Sewell, who runs the Chicago-based Girls Like Me mentoring group.
“That no matter what we deal with, there’s a higher force using us to be instruments to bring us all closer to grace and bringing us close to loving each other for who we are,” she said.
James Amir of Public Enemy and Hip Hop for Justice told The Final Call, “The hip hop world lost a talented, great brother. … I think the music is one of the most important things that he inspired; the way he did the music, his originality, in terms of how he delivered it, I just think he was an excellent performer, and inspiring in being himself.”
He continued to say that as a father and potential husband DMX will be greatly missed.
“The big part of his story for me was when he was introduced to crack at 14. For me, it speaks volumes more to the adults that were around him at that time. Had he not been introduced to crack; he may not have been hospitalized at this point.
That’s the unfortunate part about it, somebody put him on that course,” commented For the Culture radio host Faraji Muhammad, who is based in Baltimore. “Here’s a man who showed us what resilience looks like, here’s a man who showed us what perseverance looks like.”
Student Minister Al Shaheed Muhammad of Dallas, Texas, is also a hip hop artist. “From what I saw from DMX, I remember when he first came out. From what he evolved into, he showed the people the purpose of prayer. Most hip hop concerts you go to, most artists don’t pray.”
Min. Muhammad said DMX’s song “Slippin’ ” inspired him at a time in his life when he felt he was struggling and needed to pick back up.
Many took to social media to express their condolences and best wishes to DMX’s family.
“Prayers for DMX and his family,” wrote Missy Elliott on Twitter.
Rapper T.I. wrote, “Shake back Big Bro. We made plans Maaaan We got s— to do!!! We laughed so hard about how far we’ve made it in life this night. I appreciate you so much for pulling up & and checking on a n—-. So now I’m tellin you like you told me … This too shall pass …We need Real 1s like you around!!! #PrayersUpForDMX.”
“It’s so sad to hear about the passing of DMX. He was a true legend to the hip-hop community,” added rapper Chingy in a statement.
“#mydog X I know that you are in the place of peace you deserve. I will be forever grateful to have known you. You were one of the most special people I have ever met. Full of Humour, talent, wisdom honesty and love and most of all loyalty,” rapper Eve said in an Instagram post.
“RIP DMX. I pray for the comfort of your children and loved ones,” actress Viola Davis said on Twitter.
“Rest In Peace DMX, a true legend. It was truly my honor to work and get to know you,” actor Jet Li said on Twitter.
“What they thought was a battle ended up being a family reunion. Of 2 Doggs who loved everything about each other thank. U. X for loving me back. C u when I get there,” rapper Snoop Dogg, who faced off against DMX in a Verzuz battle last year that drew more than 500,000 viewers, said in an Instagram post.
“Rest easy king Hug my Babegirl Aaliyah when you see her !!!!” said producer Timbaland on Twitter.
“Earl you had and still have a heart of gold. You and Baby Girl will meet again with all the beautiful people we have lost. Will never forget your kindness. NEVER! Blessing to your family! Eternally!” said Diane Haughton, the mother of the late singer Aaliyah, said on Instagram.
(Imani Ali and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)