Don’t revise DMX’s past to make yourself feel better about who you used to be

No revisionist history required

“I’m not a nice person!” — DMX

Yes, that is a picture of Stewie Griffin smoking weed from 2006. DMX… playing by Elvert Barnes on Flickr

Rapper DMX, a.k.a. Earl Simmons passed away at the age of 50 this week. A complicated figure with an intense and difficult history, his death has spawned an outpouring of support. It’s great. I loved DMX too, and I think we should honor his memory as a cherished artist whose presence moved us in many ways for over 20 years. He, and by extension his art, was brutal, honest, and real in a violent and often vulgar way...

…however.

Please do not dishonor this man’s memory by reinventing DMX as some sort of saint. Your appreciation of his honesty and realness means you need to be strong enough to hold these two thoughts in your head:

  • DMX was a gangster rapper who made raw music.
  • Earl Simmons was a troubled figure who lived his life in a country and industry that routinely failed him, to the point that he continuously turned to drug use and crime to deal with what would have driven most of us to suicide.

We don’t love DMX because he prayed in his songs occasionally. We love DMX because after 13 previous tracks of killing and fucking his way through New York, he desperately needed too.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hasn’t seen it myself, but people be posting tweets about how DMX’s music wasn’t about “killing and women” — and it sounds like revisionist history. It’s maddening to me. Did they not listen to his rhymes at all? DMX was all about violence, crime, and punishment. How can the same people be upset at Lil Nas X’s Montero and its satanic imagery now be celebratory of DMX’s music, which talks about, amongst other things, home invasions, murder, and potential prison rape?

Y’all are playing yourselves and need to cease and desist immediately.

Knew what I was doin, everyday that I’ve been doin it (okay)

Seein niggas havin a good time, so I’mma ruin it (yeah)

I had this whole thing planned where I was going to go over all the most memorable lines from my time listening to DMX back in the day. I was going to comb through DMX’s rap sheet and talk about all the crimes he’d done to prove my point. But honestly they’re all so horrible that I would just be upsetting people during their mourning period. Listen, DMX struggled. I’m sure we all knew that, but we have to be careful not to separate the man from the deeds and the deeds from his art.

Like rapper David Banner, author of Like a Pimp, once told me on Twitter about Malcolm X:

And he’s right! DMX was more than a rap legend who struggled with drug addiction. He was a father of 15 kids, an entrepreneur, a friend and confidant. He was a poet. He loved dogs to the point where we went around the world rocking stages in a dog collar. He was threatening, a bit of an overactive puppy, a movie star, and a gangster rapper that may have killed more people on wax than the whole of NWA.

He provided hope to many because he came from a world darker than their own. People found hope in his murderous lyrics because they found something in him taking power and agency from others. People found hope in his stories of overcoming adversity through music and perhaps found solace in seeing someone who acquired so much succumb to his demons time and time again. That’s what late stage DMX did for me. When it comes to being bad or weak or never getting over what damaged us, we’re not alone. We are all hurt. We are all struggling. We are all a potential danger to someone else and need to stand by that rather than hide from it.

It’s the complexity that made him legendary. It’s definitely there in the music, please don’t excise it in your remembrance of him.

Ok… Maybe a few lyrics

So I’d say my favorite DMX period was early on when he’d show up on other rappers’ tracks, typically at the end. With his wild style and unique delivery, he’d be the anchor on even the best rappers’ cuts. I’d always liken DMX to how Wolverine would show up in other heroes’ story arcs. Logan isn’t the strongest or most powerful hero, but if he’s in your book, he’s going to kill people.

The verse that is probably DMX’s cleanest that isn’t one where he is addressing his God. In fact, there’s still tons of pretend murder. It’s a guest verse on 24 Hours to Live by Ma$e featuring The Lox and DMX from 1997. The song is about the last things they would do if they had only 24 hours left. DMX takes a surprising turn for his last moments with his wild ass socialism rhymes:

But I gots to make it right, reconcile with my mother

Try to explain to my son, tell my girl I love her

C-4 up under the coat, snatch up my dog

Turn like three buildings on Wall Street, into a fog

Out with a bang, you will remember my name

I wanted to live forever, but this wasn’t fame

Thanks for blowing up some REAL criminals, X.

Copywriter, songwriter, and performer. Part time curator of old things you don’t remember, but kind enough to explain it for you if you need.

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