DMX (Contemporary Musicians)
Within a year, rapper DMX rose from the streets of Yonkers to become one of hip-hop's most popular and prolific stars. His raw, aggressive lyrics focus on strength and survival, keys to overcoming the adversity of life on the streets. DMX provided an alternative to the glamorous images and tunes of contemporary rap artists like Puff Daddy, he gained a formidable following with his first debut album, It's Dark and Hell is Hot. He increased his audience exponentially with his immediate follow-up album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. Both albums reached number one on the Billboard charts in their first week, making DMX the first recording artist in music history to have his first two albums reach number one within a year. DMX toured throughout the country with various hip-hop festivals, helping to establish himself as a rap icon with the power and prestige of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.
Born Earl Simmons in the School Street Projects of Yonkers, New York, DMX, also known as Dark Man X, was a lonely boy. Despite his five sisters, the future-rap star was often left alone to walk the streets of his neighborhood, to entertain himself and find his own answers. From this, he says, came his inner strength and his penchant for examining his world, inside and out, an ability that would later be the primary appeal in his candid lyrics about ghetto life. In his solitude, DMX also learned to befriend dogs, developing such a strong bond with his canine friends that he had the name of his former pet, Boomer, tattooed on his back after he was struck and killed by a car. DMX currently owns two pit bulls and often employs dog imagery in his lyrics, exemplified by his smash debut single "Get At Me Dog."
Still an unknown quantity when he signed to Columbia Records in 1992, the new rapper was given very little attention from the label, and his promotional single "Born Loser" came and went unnoticed. DMX protested the label's neglect and was let out of his contract. The Source magazine was, in this case, the only source for predicting DMX's bright future by bestowing upon him, in 1991, the prestigious "Unsigned Hype" award a year before he signed with Columbia.
In the years following DMX's failed first attempt, he honed his rugged-voiced and gritty beat by appearing on the singles of several of his contemporaries. He appeared on LL Cool J's "4,3,2,1" and Mic Geronimo's "Usual Suspects." He also wrote and performed an impressive rap, "Money, Power, Respect," for fellow Yonkers recording artist The Lox. He also appeared on Mase's "24 Hrs. to Live," Ice Cube's "We Be Clubbin' (Remix)," and Onyx's "Shut 'em Down," all the while creating a name for himself and building the hype surrounding his debut album. It's Dark and Hell is Hot was released in May of 1998 by Ruff Ryders/Def Jam Records, whom he had signed with in 1997. The album, promoted by the hugely popular single "Get At Me Dog," shot up the Billboard charts to number one and sold over a quarter of a million copies in its first week.
To support the release of his first album, DMX was scheduled to join the "Survival of the Illest" tour with fellow hip-hop artists Onyx and Def Squad. Before the tour could begin in June of 1998 in Roanoke, Virginia, he was forced to return to New York, where he was arrested on charges of rape, sodomy, and unlawful imprisonment, filed by an exotic dancer. He posted bail and rejoined the tour. The allegations followed him until August, when he was cleared of the charges after the results of a judge-ordered DNA test came back negative.
Cleared of the allegations, DMX continued the remarkable year that transformed him from unknown Yonkers MC to worldwide hip-hop hero. He teamed with video director Hype Williams to star in the controversial film "Belly," which was shut down in mid-production for several months because of the excessive violence used to portray urban life. Williams said of DMX in an interview with MTV in July of 1998, "I had heard his vocals and lyrics for many, many years, and I knew he was a tremendous talent. I just didn't know how big of a talent and I didn't know how big of an actor he would be. In actuality, in my opinion, he's a better actor than a rapper, and people are really going to get a real strong sense of that come November 4." The film debuted, earned little financially, and continued to rouse criticism, but DMX was already hard at work on his follow-up album.
Released in December of 1998, Blood of My Blood, Flesh of My Flesh didn't disappoint his fans. It reached number one, like its predecessor, and disappeared from the shelves at record speed. DMX recorded this album in the tradition of his debut, intending to convey the raw, personal trials and obstacles of ghetto life. "I want Flesh of My Flesh to be like my connection to the community," he told Def Jam Records. "I want to say what's on my peoples' minds, soak up all their pain. I've learned that when I take it all in, I can make one brotha's pain be understood by the world."
With his follow-up success, DMX became the first recording artist in music history to have his first two albums reach number one within a year, according to Billboard. "I wrote fast," DMX told MTV in January of 1999. "I wrote 'The Prayer,' 'Ready to Meet Him' [quickly]. I wrote a lot of joints, you know, but I still got joints to just pick from. I could put out an album right now with joints I've already done, and they're blazin'."
DMX continued to make hip-hop history as part of the "Hard Knock Life" tour, organized by himself and fellow rap artists Jay-Z, Method Man, and Redman. The tour, perhaps the largest and most powerful of its kind, launched in March of 1999. Regardless of DMX's future, he already claimed his place as a prominent figure in music history. "I think society is finally ready to deal with reality," DMX told Def Jam Records in February of 1998. "So for that reason I ain't got no choice but to blow!"
"Born Loser," Columbia, 1993.
It's Dark and Hell is Hot, Ruff Ryders/Def Jam, 1998.
"Get At Me Dog," Ruff Ryders/Def Jam, 1998.
Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, Ruff Ryders/Def Jam, 1998.
"DMX's Hip Hop's Hottest Artist since 2pac," Yahoo! Music: DMX, , (March 7, 1999).
"DMX," MTV News Gallery, , (March 15, 1999).
"DMX," Def Jam, , (March 7, 1999).
"Dark Man X," DMX, http://members.tripod.com/~dragonblack/biography.html, (March 7, 1999).