When I was 16, LL Cool J released his Phenomenon album, and I had to cop that joint, seeing as LL was the center of my universe back then. In hindsight, Phenomenon wasn’t LL’s greatest body of work, but it did include a stand-out track that made everyone take notice. That song was “4,3,2,1.”
There was a multitude of reasons for the hype behind “4,3,2,1.” First of all, the song featured Redman, Method Man, Canibus, and Master P did a verse on the remix. Secondly, the song is infamous for igniting a beef between Canibus and LL that would last for years to come. Third, “4,3,2,1” introduced us all to an up-and-coming rapper that would soon be a Hip Hop legend: DMX.
Like most people, when I first heard DMX, I was taken in by his gruff voice and delivery (plus, he was cute). Don’t hate me for saying this, but despite the fact that I loved his verse, I wasn’t sure if I’d hear anything else from X again. However, as the months went by, and I noticed all my friends could talk about was DMX’s rhyme on “4,3,2,1” and how they couldn’t wait for his new album to drop, I knew he was here to stay. When the summer of ’98 rolled around, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot was released.
As usual, I have to keep it 100 on this blog. I purchased It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot because word on the street was that there were some copies out there that featured Canibus and LL’s respective diss songs as bonus tracks (if anyone else remembers that, hit me up in the comments section!). As fate would have it, my copy of the CD didn’t include either song, but that ended up being a blessing in disguise. After giving the album a thorough listen, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot soon became my official summer break record. I rocked out to that CD on a near-daily basis, and songs like “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” “How’s It’ Goin’ Down” (one of my favorite DMX songs, by the way), “Stop Being Greedy,” and “Get At Me, Dog” stayed in heavy rotation. I damn near wore my Sony Discman out in 1998.
Over the course of the next few years, X continued to bless me with great music. When I took my high school graduation trip to Myrtle Beach in 1999 (going to the beach immediately after graduation is part of the religion down here), my homegirls and I listened to “Top Shotter” (also known as “Here Comes the Boom”) the entire trip. As a matter of fact, my best friend made it her business to get out of the car and dance every time it came on…right in the middle of the street. She continued to do that for the next few years, and I’m quite sure if she heard the song now, she’d still have the urge to do it again.
By the time I was a Freshman at Clemson, DMX released “What’s My Name?“, “What These Bitches Want” (another one of my favorites), and his biggest single, “Party Up (Up In Here).” Even though my Freshman year wasn’t the best of my college career, one of the few fond memories I have of that turbulent time is getting hyped whenever “Party Up” came on. Whenever they played it at a party, man, we brought the house down! To this day, if I hear “Party Up” come on SiriusXM Fly, I sing it to the top of my lungs. Plus, I lived for that video.
For every hardcore/club banger song, X made a deep/spiritual one. He also had tracks like “Damien,” “I Miss You” (which brought a tear to my eye when it was first released), and “Slippin’.” It makes perfect sense seeing as DMX was a deeply spiritual man who never hesitated to pray publicly and/or hold an online bible study.
X also released “Who We Be” in 2001, which spoke to the socioeconomic issues that African-American people have to face. On a side note, when X was fighting for his life, I watched the “Who We Be” video, having forgotten about the song over the years (more on that later). The fact that the video or the song didn’t win any awards is beyond me.
Seeing as DMX was a handsome and talented man whose star was steadily rising, it only made sense that he’d make a foray into movies. Circa 1998, he and Nas starred in the film Belly, directed by Hype Williams (known for making music videos such as “Doin’ It” and “California Love“). Again, I have to be honest…I could never get into Belly. It’s since become iconic among the Hip Hop community, and I did enjoy the opening scene in the club as well as X and Taral Hicks’s love scene (don’t judge me), but that’s about all I liked about the film. Maybe I’ll give it another chance for old times sake. Maybe.
The DMX films I loved were Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 Tha Grave, the latter especially. Yes, Cradle 2 Tha Grave was like a Romeo Must Die reunion, but I still loved it, mainly because in that movie, X was a leading man and had a lot more screen time. As a matter of fact, the only gripe I had against Romeo Must Die was that it didn’t have enough Dark Man X. However, it did produce yet another DMX banger, his “Back in One Piece” collab with the late icon, Aaliyah.
Speaking of Aaliyah, she and X became very close while shooting Romeo Must Die, and when she died, he appeared in her tribute “Miss You” video and gave a heartfelt speech dedicated to her memory.
Sadly enough, I lost touch with X after 2003 or so. I didn’t hear too much about him unless it involved his troubles with the law, which he had a lot of. DMX had a lot of pain in his life, which led to him having an ongoing drug addiction. No matter how much fame and success he achieved, the demons always seemed to take over, and over time, it began to affect his career. Circa 2013, I happened to catch him on an episode of VH1’s Couples Therapy, and the scene I watched shocked me. X was talking about how he had a strained relationship with his mother, and wound up breaking down crying. That’s something I never thought I’d see, and it blew my mind. However, now that I know more about the pent-up hurt that DMX carried for years on end, it’s more than understandable. Looking back, I wish he released even more of that pain and healed it.
Last year, X and Snoop Dogg had their Verzuz battle. When it originally aired, I missed it (to be honest, I’ve only caught one Verzuz battle in its entirety, and that was the Brandy vs. Monica episode), but everyone kept mentioning how the fellas brought the house down. As a matter of fact, Lovelyti still talks about how much fun the show was. Many still brand the DMX vs. Snoop Verzuz to be the best in the bunch.
On April 2, 2021, it was announced that DMX suffered a heart attack caused by a drug overdose and he was on life support. Over the course of the next week, I prayed that he’d be okay and started listening to his music again. I came across so many tracks of his that I’d forgotten about, and all the memories came flooding back. I went back to 16 yr. old me, wearing out my It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot CD while playing Nintendo games; and 17 yr. old me, cruising down the Myrtle Beach strip and jammin’ to “Hot Shotter;” and 18 yr. old me, doing my homework in my dorm room and bobbin’ my head to “Party Up.” Conflicting reports about X’s condition were released on a near-daily basis, but I still prayed for him to improve and held out hope. Sadly, DMX died on April 9, 2021.
He was 50.
By the way, I finally watched X and Snoop’s Verzuz battle. It was everything all the fans made it to be. 😭😭
—Written by Nadiya