April 13, 2021 – so he found himself “possessed by the darker side,” bound to a cycle of drug dependence and insufficient rehab. Fame changed his life, but not in many of the ways that mattered … 

“Slippin’” is a stunning centerpiece in DMX’s catalog, a liberating sermon where he got to purge his long-standing demons. Thirty seconds into the video, he’s shown in the back of an ambulance on a stretcher as paramedics try to revive him. Nearly 23 years later, he laid in a hospital bed on life support for a week as fans hoped for a miracle—though it was already a miracle that he survived for as long as he did. He died at 50 after an apparent overdose and a heart attack, following a long battle with drug addiction. Many prayed for him, but it wasn’t the usual stock prayers. These were acknowledgments of DMX’s faith and how he moved about the world with it. “A Love filled praying child of God named Earl has been called on,” Q-Tip tweeted on April 9. Missy Elliott wrote, “Even though you had battles you touched so many through your music and when you would pray so many people felt that.”

Many pop stars co-opt religious imagery, but few did it as earnestly and seamlessly as Earl Simmons, who made spirituality his mantle in life. He tucked his hardships into lyrical scriptures and tried to reconcile the struggle to be good and the temptation to entertain evil forces. DMX made gospel rap for the unconverted and for those who’d long lost touch with religion, for those who couldn’t manage their family trauma because no one had taught them how. His music reflected a generation of Black children left unprotected by the world and its systems, who suffered but dared to emerge victorious anyway. 

He revealed the fragility of being young and uncared for, and his entire rap career was a search for meaning.  DMX’s salvation was inevitably tied to hip-hop’s. It’s no coincidence that, because of his gritty vulnerability on records and in his performances, he contributed to the explosion of rap into the mainstream in the late ’90s. During an era when the genre was defined by endless yachts and flashy clothes, he offered brave, hardened, and angry songs that more gravely reflected the tragedies under which the culture was born, not where it had arrived. His frenetic energy was nothing without his spirituality, though it was also a reflection of his lifelong addictions. After a show on the pioneering Hard Knock Life arena tour in 1999, he questioned his good fortune: As producer Irv Gotti once recalled in an interview, X broke down backstage after performing and screamed, “Why, why God, why me? I ain’t supposed to be shit.”


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