DMX Turned Agony and Atomic Energy Into One of Rap’s Most Titanic Legacies - GQ
Apr 11, 2021 6 mins, 4 secs

The Cerberus from Yonkers described the acts of terror in his autobiography, E.A.R.L.: “bullets go straight, but a dog will always stay on target.

A dog is gonna chase you through buildings, across streets, over cars.” That doubles as the best way to describe DMX’s off-the-leash hellhound attack: a carnivorous, demented growl willing to stalk his prey into the bowels of the earth, sinking his fangs into beats and snapping cervicals.

As a teenager, X was known to steal guard dogs from the junkyard, and if you didn’t know any better, you would assume that’s who taught him his rap style.

He was the first living rapper to have two albums go platinum in the same year, and the only one to have his first five studio albums debut at #1.

In the School Street projects of Yonkers, they called him Crazy Earl.

Sometimes she’d curse him out by screaming, “you ain’t shit…just like your father.” His father, Barker, was largely absentee, an artist who painted watercolors of street scenes to sell at local fairs and malls.

By the time X reached elementary school, Barker moved to Philadelphia and entirely disappeared from his life, but X inherited his father’s drawing talent.

But his mother refused to let him live there, and eventually, the devil and the streets of Yonkers claimed victory.

He’d be shipped off, return to Yonkers, get in trouble, and exiled once again.

He didn’t even have the chance to bring his clothes from home.

In the Ruff Ryders Chronicles, DMX broke into tears, describing the betrayal as a defining moment of his life: “right then, I learned to pull away, conceal, and bury whatever bothered me.

Several months later, he and another child would be arrested for arson.

In his defense, he claimed that he didn’t want to set the school on fire, just see if the flames would turn blue.

After 18 months, DMX returned home.

Despising his family life, he started spending the night on the streets, sleeping in Salvation Army clothing bins, and trying to befriend stray dogs.

He’d become a fledgling master of the beat box, taking his rap name from the Oberheim DMX digital drum machine that defined the percussive sounds of the old school.

There isn’t much about education in the Yonkers section of E.A.R.L.

School was just a way to rob the other kids.

He developed a strict three stick-ups a day regime: before school, after school, and late night.

He claimed that the morning shift was the “pressure robbery,” following kids on their way to school or running up on teenagers with money at the corner store.

The next week, he showed up to Yonkers High with a sawed-off shotgun taped to his leg.

“Maybe all the months in my room in School Street, all the years in group homes and juvenile had got me ready for what would be a nightmare for most human beings.

Constantly in and out of jail, he battled anyone who wanted to test him, including K-Solo of the Hit Squad, whom X claimed ripped off his “Spellbound” style (a song included on X’s first demo).

Most nights were spent walking through Yonkers with Boomer, his 40 lb.

But if he found a rap battle, it was just as good.

By 1988, he claimed to have over 200 songs about “stories, philosophies, and old fears.” DMX became an acronym for “Divine Master of the Unknown.”.

A label deal never arrived, but word of his skill eventually reached Joaquin “Waah” Dean, a hustler trying to exit the streets for the music industry.

First, the co-founder of Ruff Ryders needed a future star to mold.

The Ruff Ryders era began, but the path was strewn with gauntlets and setbacks.

Seuss” Elliott, who produced X’s debut single, “Born Loser.”.

He’d had his first child with his future wife, Tashera and kept getting locked up and serving “skid bids” that ranged anywhere from 90 days to six months.

The advance from “Born Loser” netted Ruff Ryders and DMX somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000, which the Dean brothers used to set up Powerhouse, an office/studio in Yonkers.

at a pool hall on 145th Street in the South Bronx.

The Ruff Ryders crew were there to battle Original Flavor, a group led by a pre-Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z.

For all the respect on the streets, failure reigned.

X claimed that Suge had never seen an MC that raw and wanted to sign him immediately.

Puffy passed on him in favor of The Lox, the Yonkers trio that X had initially brought into the Ruff Ryders fold.

Irv Gotti landed an A&R job at Def Jam, where he screamed to anyone who would listen that they needed to sign DMX before quitting, telling president Lyor Cohen that he’d rather “be on the streets than work at such a “wack label.” The reverse psychology paid off.

The songs that flooded the streets are forever ingrained in the memory of every rap fan who lived through the DMX era.

The throwing-bodies-off-a-bridge bangers that first popped up on DJ Clue mixtapes: “Niggaz Done Started Something” and “Get At Me Dog.” The latter was a posse cut with the Lox that was retooled to become the lead single off of his Def Jam debut, 1998’s It’s Dark and Hell is Hot.

When he appeared alongside Silkk The Shocker and Kurupt on the cover of the June 1998 Source (as part of the “Rap’s New Generation” issue), he told the magazine: that “muthafuckas forgot the streets…this rap shit shouldn’t have went anywhere else but the street.

A close listen of his debut reveals subtly complex black lung melodies; he was both the last great rough, rugged, and raw ‘90s rapper, and a harbinger of the harmonic pop sensibilities that would dominate the next generation.

Of course, there was “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” which crossed him over into the world of festivals and pep rally bands.

The song only reached #93 on the Hot 100, but it’s hard to trust someone between 30 and 45 who doesn’t know every syllable to the hook.

Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood followed up just six months after the debut, after Lyor Cohen famously offered X a million dollars if he could deliver a sequel in the same calendar year.

I can make one brotha’s pain be understood by the world.” Kanye falsely claimed that rapping about Jesus was hip-hop’s third rail, but DMX somehow pulled off offering prayers to the lord on an album purchased by every teen in America -- one that happened to feature the Anti-Christ superstar, Marilyn Manson.

I know what it takes to live.

For the younger generation, he sadly became something of a meme, spurred by his version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and his failure to know who Barack Obama was in 2008.

His Ruff Ryders labelmate Eve aptly summed it up in the Ruff Ryders documentary: “he got the world, but lost his soul.”.

I'm just the one that's givin' it

'Cause I will know where I'm headed, 'cause I'm so tired of the sufferin'

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