Me, My Dad, and DMX
By the nature of their profession, music stars get elevated.
They’re elevated by the very stage on which they perform, illuminated by bright lights cascading onto them. All of it assists in separating these celebrities from the masses they entertain. It’s as true of hip-hop as any genre — maybe more so, with the presence of so many larger-than-life personas in the culture. Bravado and braggadocio are staples of a genre that spins yarns of millionaire playboys and godfather kingpins, young rhyme-spitters blending fact and fiction into lyrical tirades meant to entertain and manifest the wealth that eludes so many.
And then there was X.
DMX was unique during an era when god MCs walked the Earth. He was lyrical but seldom went over your head. He commanded respect from the streets and the mainstream but didn’t fancy himself king of New York like The Notorious B.I.G. before him. He went platinum but never excessively flashed the wealth that came along with it. He was the most human of his class of megastars, the most real. Few have been able to match his emotional resonance, and that looks to remain true for a very long time.
The voice. The rawness. The seething emotion. Dark Man X was a squall, a fury incarnate. A celestial body bound in the flesh of a man. Whether locked in a cypher or in prayer, he could pull your emotions to the surface simply by putting his own on display.
As for us, we do the work of remembering the ways X touched our lives. For me, X is intrinsically tied to my relationship with my father.
My dad may have looked the part of a Wall Street executive, but even he could relate to the realness that X brought to every track. Sometimes that was desperation, that loneliness that often defines life on the streets. Sometimes it was the need to be loved but the inability to ask for it.
In the middle of my sophomore year, I’d been unenrolled from my high school in Yonkers and sent to live with my dad in New York City. My pops was an old head who appreciated hip-hop casually. For me, hip-hop was life.
One time, I was hanging out with my friend Trav when my father decided to give us a ride. It was the first time they’d met, and my dad was dressed to the nines: three-quarter-length coat, slacks, and a dress shirt. Sharp and serious chic that bordered on intimidating. As soon as we plopped into the car — and before the silence could get even more awkward — my pops cranked the volume on “Bring Your Whole Crew,” the sinister second track from X’s second album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. Trav immediately burst out laughing.
“Oh my god!” he said, as X issued threat after threat to a nameless enemy. “I thought you were going to put on classic jazz or something.”
My dad may have looked the part of a Wall Street executive, but even he could relate to the realness that X brought to every track. Sometimes that was desperation, that loneliness that often defines life on the streets. Sometimes it was the need to be loved but the inability to ask for it. Sometimes it was rage, a deep resentment for a world that looks down on you — that is, when it notices you at all. And sometimes, it was just pure, raw “unfuckwitableness.”
X’s self-belief was legendary. With every breath, he manifested greatness. When Def Jam didn’t initially want to sign him, he created enough buzz to make Lyor Cohen himself show up at a Yonkers studio to meet him. As the legend goes, X rhymed with such a ferocity that the screws in his broken jaw popped out.
Despite his issues outside of the studio, X was nothing less than a hip-hop legend. He owned his struggles with substance abuse, depression, and mental health. And no matter how far he fell, he always kept his faith.
That’s what makes his loss hit so hard.
Now that he’s gone, there will be a chorus of naysayers and trolls who use the lowest points in his life as ammunition for their derision. Even days before his passing, the New York Post (pillar of journalism that it is) ran a story about X’s multiple foreclosures. I guess the writer figured it was necessary to remind people of his prior hardships as he faced his greatest one. But that doesn’t matter to us.
We knew X.
We knew that he wasn’t defined by his anger but by his love. He won’t be remembered for his demons but honored by his hope of overcoming them. In the end, he couldn’t. And it hurts.
But his pain has always been ours to share.
On an Instagram Live session about a year ago, X spoke about loss amid the pandemic as he read and shared his thoughts on “the word.” And while his message was powerful at the time, for those who mourn him today, it’s a prescient consolation:
“My condolences to the family of everyone who has ever lost someone. As a family member or a friend, we feel that pain. But we feel that pain because we’re going to miss them being with us. ’Cause if you think about where they are, hey, they’re in a better place.”
For a man whose life was a constant struggle of trying to walk the path and falling from it, he can finally rest.
To this day, my dad, Trav, and I still laugh about that moment in the car. To this day, I can still recite most of the lyrics on that album from memory. It was me and my dad’s riding-out album.
So thank you, Earl Simmons. Thank you, Dark Man X. Thank you for giving me and my father music to bond to. Thank you for giving all of yourself for as many years as you did.