Rapper DMX Tries to Overcome His Demons and Stage a Comeback

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Looking at rapper DMX's life is like watching someone punch himself in the face repeatedly. You can easily picture a cherubic angel sitting atop one of the big black guy's shoulders, telling him not to snort that line of coke or skip that appointment with his probation officer. But on the other shoulder, there's a horned red devil prodding him with a pitchfork, urging him to just go ahead and do it.

For DMX, choosing between right and wrong is an extreme struggle — and it's never sounded fiercer than on his unreleased double album, Walk with Me Now and Fly with Me Later. His gruff, deep voice bursts out of him on these tracks, almost like he's barking, truly the sound of a man who calls himself the Dog. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all there, the words of an everyday man falling down and trying to get back up.

Lyrically, his new songs paint a striking picture of his duality. He makes liberal use of the words "nigga" and "faggot," and raps about "breaking shanks" in jail and feeding people to javelinas — but then he's also rapping repentance and praying to God.

There are jazz horn samples, funk beats, and rhythmic record scratching on "It Ain't My Fault," and screaming '70s classic rock guitar that drives "The Way It's Gonna Be." And it all sounds phenomenal.

Whether DMX is rapping about shooting people on the streets over an infectious club groove or praising God over somber piano and church bells, his lyrics are raw and heartfelt, filled with tight rhymes wrapped around beats that make heads bob. It feels like dancing and crying at the same time. Even if you can't specifically relate to shooting someone or being in a jail cell, you can relate to being conflicted, and to the struggle of trying to do the right thing when everything is going wrong. That's the story of DMX's life. His music speaks to a lot of people.

DMX is the only hip-hop artist in history to have five straight albums debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, including two in one year. He has sold more than 21 million albums worldwide. His huge fan base has dwindled as his legal problems have mounted. But he could be like troubled NFL quarterback Michael Vick, staging a triumphant comeback and silencing haters with an MVP-type performance. Because now, for the first time since 2006, there are two albums' worth of great new DMX music ready for release.

And for now, anyway, no one can buy them.


You can hear a few of DMX's new songs exclusively here, but don't expect an album anytime soon. The new DMX record was scheduled for release in March, but it's been repeatedly delayed while the rapper (real name: Earl Simmons) tries to get himself out of trouble — again. He is incarcerated at the Alhambra prison complex in Phoenix — and, in news surprising to his fans but perhaps not to those closest to him — he is being held in the prison's mental health ward.

Simmons, 40, has been in and out of group homes and jails his whole life. His criminal record includes more than 20 arrests across the nation, for rape in New York in 1998 and a stabbing in Denver in 1999 (he was acquitted of both), animal cruelty in New Jersey in 2002 (he pleaded guilty), and numerous drug possession charges.

He has done drugs for decades, mostly marijuana and cocaine. At times, he's also been a heavy drinker. When he got famous, his manager, Nakia Walker, says people kept his missteps quiet, so he tended to get off easy. But now he's in prison again for a probation violation stemming from failed drug tests, and since he's been away from the business for a while, all the media have to focus on are his repeated arrests.

But the fact that DMX is behind bars is only one reason his album hasn't come out yet. There's also wrangling over music licenses, investors, and publishing royalties, all compounded by the fact that, after years of paying legal fees and being a free-spending rap star, DMX is virtually broke.

Her Royal Majesty's Records, which owns the licenses to his album, doesn't want to release the record while DMX is incarcerated — and says it needs more backers for distribution and promotion. The fact that DMX can't promote the record has kept investors away, and he can't afford to put money behind it himself. And his onstage outburst in Scottsdale in November toward Def Jam Recordings president Jay-Z, his former collaborator and potential benefactor, hasn't helped his comeback aspirations.

Over several weeks in late 2010, reporters were granted access to Simmons, his management team, his family members, and people who've worked with him on the new material. With the exception of two brief local television interviews, that access has been exclusive, right up until Simmons' most recent court date on charges of probation violation.

Many famous rappers from troubled backgrounds — including Lil' Wayne, T.I., and Too Short —have been jailed on various charges. But DMX has sold more records in the U.S. than they have, and his rap sheet is the longest.

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9 comments
sekesegyename
sekesegyename

You are a strong black brother, and your struggle has not been easy. No one can judge you, for we all have  sinned and come short. I encourage you to listen often to this particular web site.

mosque7.org His messages don't miss a beat. You are not alone. God was with the prophets in the past, and he'll be with you. Come all the way clean. God sees and know all things.Go back to the beginning, because you can't fight all those Pharoahs.. Get you house in order. God will bring you out. Hold on, and be strong.  Alafia

Yorated
Yorated

IAM RALPHY JESUS SALAS JR I SPENT 2 YEARS WITH DMX IN CHILDREN VILEGE HE IS THE BEST FRIEND ANY ONE CAN HAVE, HE IS ALWAYS IN HEART AND PRAYERS, LOVE YOU MY BROTHER YOU STAY SRTONG, YOU ARE GODS SON RALPHY AKA RATED R 1st TEAM PROD LLC

cierra jones
cierra jones

i dnt care if dmx have a prblem cu i no partialy hw he feel i stll listen to hys musiq t2da cu hes real he speks upon hys lfe wit no lys n really i luk up to hym as a male rapper cu he feels pain he wnts hlp n i c it i lu u dmx an my drems will sty truuue (GROWL).............

Carlosegodinez
Carlosegodinez

I can't believe that the author didn't cite "Belly" That's the coolest movie ever. I grew up on that movie. I'm also surprised the author didn't talk about the song on the album "It's dark and Hell is hot" where he talks to Damien. The article was really informative, but bias.

Romanowski45
Romanowski45

"Many famous rappers from troubled backgrounds — including Lil' Wayne, T.I., and Too Short —have been jailed on various charges. But DMX has sold more records in the U.S. than they have, and his rap sheet is the longest."

Now why you have to lump in Too Short with these guys? How many times was he arrested ?I could find one for his attack on a Security Guard, in Boise last year. And I googled that from bed.

The SF WEEKLY'S stories start to sound and look like the NY Post.

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linaimai

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Vera
Vera

Life is not fair. Simmons is blessed but he is his-own-worst enemy.Good news, God helps those that help themselves.

steve
steve

X hold yah head, you'll make it back soon!

 
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