Estimated reading time: 19 minute(s)
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.”