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DMX, gravel-voiced hip-hop star who battled law and addiction, dies at 50

DMX, the raspy, growling New York rapper who rose to fame with his 1998 blockbuster debut, “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot,” and became a chart and tabloid mainstay for years after, has died at age 50. He was hospitalized on April 2 after suffering a heart attack following a reported drug overdose, and had been in a vegetative state, according to his manager.

“We are deeply saddened to announce today that our loved one, DMX, birth name of Earl Simmons, passed away at 50-years-old at White Plains Hospital with his family by his side after being placed on life support for the past few days,” said a statement released by his family. “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. 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.”

DMX was a dominant figure in hip-hop and popular music in the late 1990s and 2000s. Each of his first five albums reached No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.

Those works solidified his reputation as an intense performer who moved boldly among party and sex-themed music and songs that brashly chronicled his demons, abusive upbringing and struggles with his faith. Seven months after his Def Jam debut, DMX released his second album, “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood,” during 1998’s Christmas week. The album sold just shy of 700,000 copies in its debut week, according to Billboard.

At the peak of his success, DMX crossed over into acting, with roles in action films such as 1998’s “Belly,” 2000’s “Romeo Must Die” and 2001’s “Exit Wounds.”

News that Simmons was hospitalized was first reported by TMZ, which said the artist was taken to a critical care unit at White Plains Hospital in New York at around 11 p.m. Friday. Artists such as Missy Elliott, Swizz Beatz, Ice-T, SZA and Chance the Rapper posted their best wishes on social media for Simmons and his family.

Throughout much of his life, DMX battled addiction, and he was arrested multiple times. Charges included drug possession, animal cruelty and tax fraud. In recent years, he became more outspoken about his difficulties. “Talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness when actually it’s one of the bravest things you can do,” Simmons told hip-hop artist Talib Kweli last year on Kweli’s interview show, “People’s Party.”

In that same interview, Simmons said his drug use began at age 14, when he said he was unknowingly given a crack-laced blunt by someone he considered a mentor.

“Drugs were never a problem; drugs were a symptom of a bigger problem,” Simmons told Kweli. “There were things I went through in my childhood where I just blocked it out.”

Earl Simmons was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on Dec. 18, 1970. He was raised in housing projects in Yonkers, N.Y., and lived with his mother and five sisters.

“I knew that nobody really wanted me here,” Simmons told The Times in a 1999 interview in which he spoke of his childhood and the lack of a father figure. “I played with people. I basically got people to respond to me how I wanted them to. I was called manipulative before I knew what the word meant. It wasn’t a bad thing with me. I just wanted people to respond to me a certain way. I learned early how to get that. I didn’t want extra praise or glorification. I just wanted to be liked.”

After appearing in the late 1990s on songs by a number of high-profile artists — LL Cool J’s “4, 3, 2, 1” and Mase’s “24 Hrs. to Live” among them — Simmons became one of hip-hop’s hottest up-and-coming stars, with one of its most unmistakable voices. Led by its lead single “Get at Me Dog,” “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot” was released in May 1998 and sold more than 250,000 units its first week.

DMX was a foundational member of the collective known as the Ruff Ryders, along with the Lox (Sheek Louch, Styles P and Jadakiss) and Eve, which vied for supremacy in a hotly contested era of New York City hip-hop. He was often cited as an influence on the similarly intense and throaty rapper Pop Smoke, who was shot and killed in L.A. in 2020.

DMX’s bestselling album, 1999’s “… And Then There Was X,” featured one of hip-hop’s signature anthems, “Party Up (Up in Here),” which reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Simmons’ ability to bare his inner turmoil — and frequent brushes with the law — made him ripe for the age of reality television, and in 2006 BET aired the six-episode series “DMX: Soul of a Man.” But it was his early work that earned him comparisons to Tupac Shakur and granted him a slot on a co-headlining tour with Jay-Z in 1999.

“People were looking for another Tupac, and [DMX] came along and he had that sort of energy and attitude about him. There was nobody else like that,” Cypress Hill’s B-Real told The Times of Simmons’ quick ascension to the top of the charts.

Simmons was eager to speculate on why his music — equally confrontational and confessional, addressing his life in sermon-like tones and in the context of God and the devil — resonated with audiences. “It’s easier to sin, but it hurts my heart,” Simmons rapped in the divine “Ready to Meet Him,” from his second album.

DMX was known for this confrontational and confessional songs.

(Larry Newmeister / Associated Press)

“That’s what people are going through,” he told The Times. “To live is to suffer and to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.

“If they don’t know what’s going on in life, if they’re living a fairy tale, it’s not for them. They don’t want to hear it…. Just the fact that someone feels their pain [is why they listen to me]. I share with them and I soak it up and spit right back. Here’s your problem magnified, and now you no longer feel alienated for having that problem. Your problem has become the world’s problem.”

The most notorious incident in a life full of struggles with the law occurred in June 1998, when Simmons was arrested on charges of rape in New York. The charges were later dismissed.

Though he was regularly seen with dogs and preached about the value of pets, he faced animal cruelty charges in 1999 when police found 13 pit bulls and various drug paraphernalia in his New Jersey home. He was again arrested in 2008 when a search of his Arizona home resulted in the discovery of dog carcasses and abused pit bulls. In 2013, he was arrested three more times.

In 2019, Simmons completed a one-year prison sentence for federal tax evasion and soon after cut short a tour to check himself into a rehab facility.

Of his extensive rap sheet, he once told The Times, “It didn’t really bother me because I’ve always been one to not really give a [expletive] about what people think or say about me…. If anything, they helped me sell a few more records. It didn’t hurt me. As long as I know who I am, all that other stuff is irrelevant.”

All told, Simmons is said to have been in and out of prison some 30 times, is the father to more than a dozen children, and had recently been plagued by bankruptcy woes.

In 2014, he was part of an ill-advised publicity stunt to box George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin who was acquitted of the unarmed black teen’s murder. The rapper’s spokesman at the time said the bout was never officially confirmed. “DMX has promised to ‘beat his ass,’ but no contract or paperwork has been signed or agreed to,” the spokesman said.

The artist had continued to perform as he neared 50 and had recently announced a smattering of live dates this spring in Texas and Indianapolis. In early 2019, he appeared at one of Kanye West’s “Sunday Service” events to lead a prayer.

Simmons was reported to be working on new music — his first proper album since 2012’s “Undisputed” — telling GQ in 2019 that he had re-signed with Def Jam. “It’s good to be back home. I wanted to be a part of Def Jam since 1985, when the movie ‘Krush Groove’ came out,” he told the publication, citing Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as contemporary artists he admired.

Of his new music, he told GQ: “The standard that I hold myself to is the same: Better than everything I hear. I need to be better than everything that I hear.”




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