Earl Simmons, better known as the rapper DMX, died Friday at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., according to a statement from his family. He had been on life support for the past few days following a heart attack. He was 50.
"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 statement said. "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."
DMX had a signature rasp to his voice. He delivered his lines with a desperate aggression that propelled his debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, to multiplatinum-level sales. He followed it up with a string of chart-topping albums that included songs such as "Party Up (Up In Here)." His rise in music also gave way to acting in movies such as Belly, Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave.
DMX was born Earl Simmons in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in 1970. He told the podcast People's Party With Talib Kweli that as a child he suffered from asthma that would keep him awake at night. In his 2003 autobiography, E.A.R.L: The Autobiography of DMX, he wrote he was abused and neglected by his young mother. He ended up living in a children's home. When he was 14, he told Kweli a mentor of his tricked him into smoking crack. He struggled with drug addiction for the rest of his life.
On It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX reflected on his past: the robberies he committed and violence he enacted. It also introduced the world to his love of dogs, repeatedly using dog imagery and sometimes literally barking ad-libs. Later in his autobiography he would write about being a teenager and caring for stray dogs, tending to them as a way of coping with his troubled home life.
Shortly after his debut, he began acting in movies. In 1998 he and Nas co-starred in the crime movie Belly, where DMX played a young criminal on the rise. But as DMX's fame grew, so did his addictions. When he appeared on the reality TV show Iyanla: Fix My Life, he said that whatever problems he had with drugs before, "it was nothing like it was when I got money." He was also arrested multiple times over drug possession, animal cruelty and tax fraud.
DMX was a devout Christian, and he would end his live sets with a prayer. In a 2019 interview with GQ, he talked about being so overwhelmed after shows that he would need a private moment of his own to pray. "I just take a minute for myself and just, I thank Him, I praise Him. And I'm like, 'Thank you, thank you.' I'm like, 'Who am I to deserve this?' We all bleed the same blood."
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Earl Simmons, better known as the rapper DMX, has died following a heart attack and several days on life support. At the height of his popularity in the early 2000s, he was everywhere - on the radio and in movies, too. Simmons died today in New York. He was 50 years old. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.
(SOUNDBITE OF DMX SONG, "PARTY UP")
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: DMX's voice had a texture to it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY UP")
DMX: (Rapping) Y'all going to make me lose my mind up in here, up in here.
LIMBONG: He shouted and growled his way through a song, signaling an aggression that could really only come from desperation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY UP")
DMX: (Rapping) Dog is a dog. Blood's thicker than water. We done been through the mud, and we quicker to slaughter.
LIMBONG: DMX was born Earl Simmons in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in 1970. It was a rough childhood. In his autobiography, he talks about his young mom being neglectful and abusive. He was once hit by a drunk driver, and he had terrible asthma. He told the podcast "People's Party With Talib Kweli" in an interview last year that it would keep him up at night.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "PEOPLE'S PARTY WITH TALIB KWELI")
DMX: That's scary as a child, you know what I mean? That would be scary. And, you know, when I would get scared, like, then anxiety would set in, you know, and that makes it worse.
LIMBONG: He ended up living at a children's group home, and, as he notes in his autobiography, by the time he was a teenager, he was addicted to crack and had started robbing people, finally ending up in prison. These experiences all fed into his eventual debut album, "It's Dark And Hell Is Hot."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "F***** WIT' D")
DMX: (Rapping) There is a price to pay. How many lives will it cost? Come on. Since I run with the devil, I am one with the devil. And I stay doing dirt, so I'm going to come with the shovel.
LIMBONG: It's a grim album about violence and sin but also looking for a little grace and salvation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CONVO")
DMX: (Rapping) You tell me that there's love here, but to me, it's blatant. Nothing but all the blood here, I'm dealing with Satan. Plus with all the hate, it's hard to keep peace. Thou shalt not steal, but I will to eat.
LIMBONG: X became an even more devout Christian later in life, but there are nods to it all through his discography. By the late '90s and early 2000s, he was a full-blown star, with multiple records going platinum and acting in movies like "Romeo Must Die" and "Belly," where he plays Tommy, a young criminal looking to rise up in the drug game.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BELLY")
DMX: (As Tommy) I'm trying to get on, man. I'm hungry. You know how I get down, dog. I need this shot.
LIMBONG: DMX was actually on the set of his 2003 movie "Cradle To The Grave" when he recorded one of his biggest hits.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "X GON' GIVE IT TO YA")
DMX: (Rapping) X going to give it to you. He going to give it to you. X going to give it to you. He going to give it to you. First we going to rock, then we going to roll. Then we let it pop. Go, let it go.
LIMBONG: Through it all, X publicly struggled with his addictions, as well as a string of arrests and prison sentences for drug possession, animal cruelty and tax fraud. In 2013, he went on the TV show "Iyanla: Fix My Life," and talked about his relationship with drugs.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IYANLA: FIX MY LIFE")
DMX: Just because you stop getting high doesn't mean that you don't have the problem because it's a constant fight every day. Every trigger that was a trigger - you know, was a trigger when you got - it's still a trigger. Whether you act on it or not is something different.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLIPPIN'")
DMX: (Rapping) Ay, yo, I'm slipping. I'm falling. I can't get up. Ay, yo, I'm slipping. I'm falling. I can't get up.
LIMBONG: Brash as DMX's artistic persona might have been, he felt that talking about this stuff - mental health, past traumas, your feelings - was among the bravest things someone could do.
Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLIPPIN'")
DMX: (Rapping) I been through mad different phases like Masons to find my way... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.