DMX, the iconic rapper who helped build the Ruff Ryders label into a powerhouse during the late 1990s, has died.
The Yonkers-bred MC, born Earl Simmons, passed away on Friday (April 9) after experiencing a heart attack triggered by a drug overdose. He was 50.
“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. 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,” his family said in a statement. “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.”
As of Sunday (April 4), DMX had been on life support and was in a “vegetative state,” according to his former manager.
White Plains Hospital also said in a statement: “White Plains Hospital extends its deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Simmons, as well as his friends and legions of fans who expressed their unwavering support during this difficult time. Earl Simmons passed away peacefully with family present after suffering a catastrophic cardiac arrest.”
One of rap’s biggest underdogs, DMX catapulted into mainstream glory in 1998 when the East Coast crown was up for grabs. After the passing of The Notorious B.I.G. in 1997, New York yearned for a new king. With Nas and Jay-Z considered promising replacements to the throne, a young, spirited DMX pounced on the opportunity to spar with the city’s elite.
Before officially entering the mainstream circuit with his magnum opus, 1998’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, X proved his competitive fervor when he and Jay first battled in the mid-’90s. As legend has it, X took a cab from Baltimore to New York to partake in the main event. To this day, the contentious Bronx royale highlighted X’s bruising delivery, scrappy wordplay, and grit-and-grind mindset.
“It was both of their styles at their purest forms. DMX was definitely on that barking, that whole thing. That was his whole persona. His voice was just raw,” producer Ski-Beatz told HipHopDX in 2011 regarding the infamous showdown.
The Darkman’s dog-eat-dog mentality continued when he signed to Ruff Ryders/Def Jam. Like his Bronx battle against Jay, X didn’t shy away from the competition. Out the gate, he blitzed the hip-hop game with hard-hitting features, most notably LL Cool J‘s “4, 3, 2, 1” (Remix), Mase‘s “24 Hrs. to Live,” and The LOX‘s “Money, Power, Respect.”
Then, in 1998, his signature growl and bark found a home on his debut album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot. After flexing his aggressive aura on his singles like “Get At Me Dog” and “Stop Being Greedy,” he put the rap game on notice when he and a young Swizz Beatz carved out “Ruff Ryders Anthem” — an ode to their burgeoning crew.
The album zoomed to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, cementing his status as a superstar. Following the release of It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, X’s pursuit for rap dominance continued when he doubled down and dropped his second album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, later that year.
While juggling his newfound music fame, X segued into acting. He proved he was a natural when he starred alongside Nas in the hip-hop classic film Belly. His role opened more doors on the movie side, as he later was featured in Romeo Must Die (2000), Exit Wounds (2001) and Cradle 2 the Grave (2003).
Seven months after the release of It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, X scored his second No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood in December 1998. That feat made him the second rap artist after Tupac Shakur to have two albums released in the same calendar year go No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Though X’s tough exterior lured listeners in, it was vulnerability and bone-chilling honesty that served as his best attributes. Tracks such as “Slippin” and “I Can Feel It” offered glimpses into his mindset when he encountered the hard times in his life. Those rough patches were often his double-edged sword. As a child, he was abused by his mother. He was sent away to children’s homes. At 14, he tried crack cocaine. And though his troubled youth served as great material for his songs, it would later have a toll on his adult life, where he would experience substance abuse.
After being charged with tax fraud in 2017, DMX spent a year in prison. Upon getting out, he canceled a slew of shows to check into rehab. In 2019, he struggled with drug addiction again and went back to a rehabilitation facility.
“In his ongoing commitment to putting family and sobriety first, DMX has checked himself into a rehab facility,” his Instagram told fans. “He apologizes for his cancelled shows and thanks his fans for their continued support.”
Those moments also strengthened X’s resiliency. He leaned on his faith as Jehovah’s Witness to carry him on. The power of prayer was one of X’s hallmarks, especially throughout his albums and performances. Before he exited a set, he fittingly placed a bow on his performance with a heartfelt prayer.
“One thing about Dog is that it never really mattered about the money,” Swizz Beatz told Billboard in 2018. “You never seen X in a fancy car. You’ve never seen him with an excess [amount] of jewelry on. X gave his money away to a lot of people. People don’t do that. X is just a different type of person. That’s why I still support him and his family to this day as my brother, no matter what he’s dealing with or whatever. We’ve slept on the floors together. We did real s— together. X is just unique.”
With five No. 1 Billboard 200 albums to his credit, X wasn’t just a rapper — he was a fighter. He fought demons. He fought the odds. He slept on floors. He did whatever he needed to do to push on because that’s all he knew how to do. Now, with him finally at peace, he no longer needs to fight. The dog can finally walk away, knowing his legacy will always be remembered and respected.