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Celebrities & Fans Pay Tribute to DMX

I first saw DMX live over 20 years ago. The late rapper was part of a huge arena tour opening for Jay-Z, who was at the top of his game at the time while touring in support of his smash album Vol.2 … Hard Knock Life. While the night should have belonged to Jay-Z, if truth be told I can’t remember a thing from his set. What lingers on some two decades later is DMX’s ferocious performance. While DMX was also riding high at the time with his second smash album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, he took the stage with something to prove. Backed by only his DJ on the enormous arena stage, his energy and passion made the night feel exciting and dangerous – it was the same kind of focused intensity that he would bring to his now iconic Woodstock ’99 performance a few months later.

DMX’s death at just 50 years old has shaken his fans and fellow artists alike. While the rapper and actor had many personal and professional highs and lows over the course of his career, he always seemed to bounce back stronger and eager to tackle the next challenge. In many ways, his all-too-human struggles made him more relatable than most celebrities of his stature — it was clear that he was constantly struggling to be better, an inspiring notion for his legions of fans around the world as they worked through their own issues.

Born Earl Simmons, his early life was filled with horrific family abuse. As a young teenager he would roam the streets of Yonkers in New York to escape from his abusive mother, often befriending stray dogs, a motif that would become a central part of his persona in later years. In and out of group homes as a teenager, Simmons resorted to robbery and carjacking before discovering his talent for lyrics and rhyming.

After making some underground waves in the early ‘90s (including a mention in The Source Magazine’s taste-making Unsigned Hype column), DMX eventually signed to Def Jam Records and unleashed his smash debut album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, in 1998. Featuring the inescapable single “Ruff Ryders Anthem” backed by producer Swizz Beats’ hooky electronic beat, the album hit number one on the Billboard charts in the U.S. and went on to sell an astonishing five million copies. Less than a year later he would release Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, head out on the aforementioned tour with Jay-Z, and perform a legendary set at Woodstock ’99 before 200,000 raucous fans.

While his musical career was taking off, DMX also ventured into the world of acting, starring in films like 1996’s Belly (alongside fellow rappers NAS and Method Man), Exit Wounds (co-starring Steven Segal), and Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave, both co-starring the martial arts legend Jet Li. While rappers appearing in hard-edged crime films was nothing new, DMX made a mark in these roles due to his intense and believable performances – after all, it was a life he knew well.

DMX was jailed 30 times throughout his life, with charges ranging from armed assault and drug possession to a strange case of pretending to be a federal agent. While his constant run-ins with the law almost became a pop-culture punchline at one point, DMX was trying to find a path to salvation.

His Christianity found its way into his music in the form of actual prayers interspersed between album tracks, and he aspired to be ordained as a pastor. That push and pull between his often-violent life and drug addiction (he was introduced to crack cocaine at just 14-years-old and would develop a lifelong habit) and his deeply-held faith would form the backbone of his personal life and career, which would play out publicly in front of his millions of fans.

"I watched him take everyone’s pain and make it his own."

In the days following his death, fans and fellow artists flocked to social media to share their memories of DMX, demonstrating his wide-reaching cultural impact. His streaming numbers shot up 900% as people revisited classic tracks like “Up in Here” and “X Gon’ Give It to Ya,” songs that always lit up any party or club when they dropped.

His long-time collaborator Swizz Beats posted a heartfelt message on Instagram, writing “I’m truly beyond devastated !!!!!! But I’m so happy my brother is no longer in pain. I watched him take everyone’s pain and make it his own I send my love and support to his entire family My brother we will never let them forget your name and you will live forever.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Swizz Beatz (@therealswizzz)

Missy Elliott acknowledged his battles with his demons in post on Twitter, writing “Even though you had battles you TOUCHED so many through your MUSIC and when you would PRAY so many people FELT THAT! This is heavy for the HipHop family but your LEGACY LIVES ON & your SPIRIT. Continued Prayers for X family & friends for STRENGTH/HEALING.”

Chris Rock recalled talking with DMX about their children, while also underscoring the pain of early childhood trauma and its contribution towards substance abuse: “DMX So sad such an amazing person and artist. Last time I saw him we just talked about our kids all day. If anyone out there has a friend or family member that suffers from addiction don’t judge just show them love and support. Childhood Trauma is real.”

Usher offered a somber tribute, stating that “We all are a work in progress, remember to let your loved one know how you feel while you can.”

R&B star Brandy also sent her condolences, posting: “Words can’t describe. DMX, Rest In Peace, Power, and Love. We will forever be grateful for your inspiration and your art. Prayers up for his family and everyone who is touched by this loss.”

Acclaimed producer and rapper Pharrell highlighted DMX’s unique rapping style, which allowed him to navigate his way through beats like no one else: “The space you saw in a beat, the pain you would squeeze out of the moment, and the words that would come of it makes you one of the best to ever do it. The Master sent for his legend to shine with the rest of the stars now.”

Saturday Night Live star Chris Redd delved into his early love of DMX, and how that passion extended to all the artists DMX worked with: “My childhood and love for music would not have been the same without this man. DMX was easily my favorite artist growing up. I had every album, every ruff Ryder song, followed any artist he endorsed. Man….RIP the dog. There will never be another like him.”

One of the most touching tributes came from the late R&B singer Aaliyah mother (Aaliyah and DMX appeared together in 2000’s Romeo Must Die) who wrote: “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!”

Alongside the slew of celebrity tributes, social media was filled with stories of DMX’s humble interactions with the public over the years, from in-depth conversations about race and fame with a stranger on a plane to joyfully crashing an Albanian wedding after he discovered the ceremony in his hotel lobby following his show in Prishtina, Kosova.

In spite of his success, DMX always seemed to retain and celebrate his working-class roots. Like a hip-hop version of Bill Murray, there are numerous tales of DMX suddenly appearing in regular people’s lives and providing an unforgettable moment. Who can forget DMX jumping into the kitchen at an IHOP in Buffalo to make omelets, or moping the floors at a Waffle House at 4:00 am to give the staff a break, stating “The minute you get too big to mop a floor or wipe a counter, that’s the exact minute you have life fucked up.”

There are so many ways to celebrate the life and career of DMX, from revisiting his deep music catalog to popping in your old DVD of Romeo Must Die. As much as he was known for his hard-edged persona, DMX also had a sense of humor about himself, which he used to great disarming comedic effect over the years. He stole Chris Rock’s 2014 Top Five film by playing a version of himself locked in prison who professes that he’s tired of rapping and has so much more to offer before busting into an unexpectedly earnest version of Nat King Cole’s “Smile.” (“Smile though your heart is aching / Smile even though it’s breaking,” he sings eloquently before breaking into his standard gruff DMX phrasing.)

Another DMX turn that made the rounds on social media this week was his appearance on the sitcom Fresh off the Boat. Once again playing himself (if you have DMX you might as well use him to his full potential) he played an uncharacteristically Zen flower enthusiast dispensing love advice to a young Eddie Huang (played by Hudson Yang).

On “We Done Son,” episode nine of the show’s second season, DMX tells Eddie: “When I first started growing orchids, I thought they needed the most expensive soil and lights to blossom. They died. That’s when I realized that all they really needed was time and attention. You don’t need to get your girl a gift. You need to give her your time.”

RIP DMX, and thank you for giving us your time for so long.

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