With DMX, a man blessed with a vicious bark of a voice, there was no such thing as half-stepping. Born Earl Simmons in 1970, the Yonkers-raised MC arrived as the physical embodiment of unbridled energy—a one-man distillation of fellow rugged New York acts like Wu-Tang Clan.
On his 1998 debut, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX’s aggressive vocals projected his imposing presence across songs like the minimal, clanging “Get at Me Dog” and rowdy breakout “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” But X scaled back the pugnacity on that same album’s introspective “How’s It Goin’ Down,” which featured R&B singer Faith Evans and painted a picture of a complex relationship headed down the wrong path. DMX would revisit that sensitivity on the heartfelt “Slippin’,” from 1998’s Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, which found him expressing a desire to live a less tumultuous life. Though the rapper’s two sides may seem to have been at odds, he always thrived when he let his emotions fly unrestrained. In 1999, he released …And Then There Was X, where even the anthemic “Party Up” served as a prime example of DMX’s uniquely intense take on hardcore hip-hop. But whether ferocious, amped up, or introspective, the MC remained grounded by his faith, which, especially in the later years of his career, he approached with nothing short of absolute devotion. He died on April 9, 2021. Rest In Power “X”!